By Rev. Andra Townshend O'Neill
Extravagant: “exceeding the limits of reason or necessity, lacking in moderation, balance, and restraint, extremely or excessively elaborate” (Merriam-Webster).
God’s activity in this world is extravagant.
I think in part it is a matter of translation, when you attempt to translate God’s grace into human life, the result is just beyond anything we can imagine. Even the slightest hint of God in our midst leads to gifts beyond imagination.
In the gospel from the first Sunday in February we heard the story from Luke (5:1-11) of the fishermen at the shoreline, cleaning their empty nets after a long night of fruitless fishing. They return to the water to allow Jesus to speak to the crowds that had gathered and at the end, almost as an afterthought, Jesus suggests that they head out to the deep water and instructs the men to “let down their nets for a catch”. It seems as though this must have been diﬀerent than how they may have gone about casting the nets most days and after this long night and day the men were reluctant. They did not realize that they were in the presence of God.
As you know, the nets were cast, and the catch was so massive that another boat was called out to help manage all the fish. Where there had been nothing there was now more than could be imagined. Fish nets breaking, boats sinking, fish everywhere.
The extravagance of God.
The next Sunday in February we hear the Beatitudes.
In a society where the poor, the hungry and the despised had little to hope for and no expectation of being noticed, Jesus comes along and calls them by name. Identified and recognized he tells them that not only are then seen but they are blessed. These are words that they would not expect to hear after a lifetime of believing that their poverty, hunger and exclusion were the result of God’s disapproval of them. These words would pour over these people with such abundance that they too likely had diﬃculty managing the gift, this redemption so great that it was breaking chains that no one could see.
The extravagance of God.
I hope that you can think of a time in your life that God’s extravagant love has washed over you, a time when you found yourself both joyful and somewhat bewildered by what God does in and through this world. Often it is moments in our natural world when we think - this beauty is beyond imagination, more than I could have hoped for, or it may be moments that we have witnessed God acting in the lives of those we know and love or in our own moments of need.
I ask you to consider what it is to embrace the extravagant love of God. To receive it and share it with others. To decide that your church or your own family or you personally are going to look for what is possible through the lense of God.
Yes, our budgets are important but please remember that after the fish were wrestled onto shore and the people of the village were fed for weeks to come, Jesus asked the disciples to come and be fishers of people.
God shows us what can be done when we are with God and God is with us. And then God calls us to come, follow and then go and witness.
As we move into this New Year let’s remember that our nets have been filled to the breaking. God’s love for us is extravagant. It is unreasonable, lacks in moderation or restraint and is quite frankly excessive!
May this extravagant love energize you through the rest of this pandemic and encourage you to find your own extravagance in your giving, leading and your hope for all that is to come for those who have been blessed with the call to be followers of Christ and witnesses to his grace.
Rev. Andra T. O'Neill is the rector of St. Mark's London and a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.
(Featured photo: Cassiano Psomas/Unsplash)