I would like to believe that our presence here in this Assembly is not only because the newly installed President, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Dutney, is a good friend, but more so because our respective churches are partners in mission. Your South Synod has partnership with our North Luzon Jurisdiction, United Church of Christ in the Philippines. And your Uniting College for Leadership and Theology is a sister seminary of our Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Baguio City, Philippines.
Besides, our feeding program for the street children in our city is supported by the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church.
And so, I bring you the warm greetings of our church and seminary community with the earnest prayer that this Assembly will indeed be successful and meaningful to everyone.
As a matter of fact, I'm learning from this Assembly, especially in the way you arrive at decisions by way of consensus. In my church we are still caught up with parliamentary procedures. One must be a good parliamentarian in order to participate actively in our own assembly deliberations. Our worship celebrations in this Assembly are just marvelous, beautiful, and meaningful!
I was given the task to share with you at least four Bible Reflections on the theme of this Assembly: Life Overflowing. I understand that our Bible Reflections are integrated in our daily worship services starting today.
Our Assembly theme is drawn out of a new rendition of the second portion of Christ's mission statement according to John's Gospel, which says, "A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life – life overflowing" (John 10:10).
This portion of Christ's mission statement is, of course, translated in various ways. Today's English Version (TEV) renders it as "...life in its fullness." New Revised Standard Versions (NRSV) also says, "...and have it abundantly." Contemporary English Version translates it as, "...and have it in its fullest." But I like very much this new translation of Dr. Andrew for the Assembly. For it is not only addressing the concerns and emphases of the Assembly, but I would say, it is also Biblically and theologically sound.
Life overflowing is more than just economic. In John's Gospel, a life that is satisfying, abundant, and lived to the fullest is a life that is lived in Christ. To have overflowing life is not just having a new house, a new car, new clothes, having the latest electronic gadgets, or what have you. For while these things could perhaps make life more comfortable for us, overflowing life is more than just material. To have life overflowing is to have life in Christ, or to put it in another way, to live the life of Christ.
Life in Christ is a life that does not steal, kill, and destroy. A life that steals, kills, and destroys is the life of thieves, as Jesus Christ our Lord clearly stated. Such is a selfish or self-centered, greedy kind of life. Jesus called the Temple in Jerusalem a "hideout of thieves!" (Lk.19:46). For many of those who were serving in the Temple at that time were using religious laws to exact temple revenues from the common people for their own selfish gain. In my country today, some would also jokingly call our House of Representatives in our congress as the "House of Representa-thieves" due to corruption and thievery in the government bureaucracy.
Moreover, life overflowing or life in Christ is also a life that is willing to be given up for others in obedience to God. It is not enough for us to realize that our life in Christ is indeed overflowing. It is also necessary for us to seriously ask ourselves, for whom does our life overflows? Yes, our life might be overflowing, but overflowing for whom?
If our life is overflowing only for our own selves, then such is not the kind of life that Christ lived. Such is the life of the Rich Fool who tried to accumulate as much wealth as he could for himself (Lk. 12:16-21). The life of Christ overflowed to others, especially to those who had less in life. Thus, Jesus Christ our Lord said, "I am willing to give up my life, in order that I may receive it back again. This is what my Father commanded me to do" (Jn.10:17-18).
Jesus Christ our Lord lived at the time when Palestine was a colony of the Roman Empire. The life he lived was obviously a threat to the powers-that-be. In fact, it was the high priest, Caiaphas, who advised the Jewish authorities that it is better that one man should die for all the people (Jn. 18:14).
But to those who were driven to the periphery of society – the sick, the sinners and outcasts – who were recipients of his ministry, Jesus' life was a source of hope and salvation. To those considered non-existent, it was a source of life. Indeed, life overflowing is motivated by genuine love for people, even for those who are unlovable. Jesus lifted up the poor and placed them at the very center of God's Kingdom. "Blessed are you poor," he said, "For yours is the Kingdom of God" (Lk. 6:20).
In my own country, to have life overflowing for the poor and oppressed is to live a dangerous life. Many of my fellow church workers and leaders had been brutally killed for living their lives overflowing in compassionate service for the poor and oppressed. But nevertheless, we are comforted by the thought of Christ saying, "Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it" (Mt. 10:39).
With all these things in mind, I have prepared at least four Bible Reflections for the four worship services that we'll be having starting today. I will be using the suggested Biblical texts as starting points, but I will also be using other texts to give focus on the various issues and concerns each day. With life overflowing as a general theme, I'll be developing sub-themes in each of the Bible reflections.
And so, for today we'll focus on the renewal of our commitment to the mission of God who is the ultimate source of life and who has called on us to choose life over the forces of death. Tomorrow, we'll also look into the ways of genuine and lasting peace. On Thursday, we'll deal on our proclamation of the reign of God in the midst of the reign of greed. Then, on Friday, we'll look into our vision of new heavens and a new earth and the healing of nations.
This address was delivered as part of a series of four Bible Studies delivered by Rev. Luna Dingayan and his wife Pearl at the 13th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. You can download the Bible Studies in a single document here.