Third Sunday of Easter - "The Way To Abundant Life"
I feel like I need to check in again with you all after I kind of bared my soul last week about wanting to ship my kids off to military school, and a bunch of other personal stuff.
But I have to tell you, this Coronavirus Quarantine has started messing with my head just a bit.
For example, I find myself losing track of time later in the day--I'll think it's like 4PM and that we need to start figuring out dinner plans, only to be informed that it's like 7:30PM.
Then I remember that I ate lunch at like 2PM, but the only way I know that is because I had fourteen zoom meetings before that and only had a half hour break which happened to be right at 2PM.
Also, our family entertainment budget has gone down to nothing. We had a big spending spree on board games early on in this, but other than the occasional movie rental, we're spending nothing.
And I bought gas like 6 weeks ago, so my gas bill has gone down tremendously.
But my food bill---let's not talk about that right now.
The problem is, I just want to go to the grocery store or the Costco just to walk around a bit, and to see other people, even if I can't tell their expressions because we're all wearing masks.
I was at the Costco the other day and actually contemplated, "What spices do we need right now?" That's when you know you've gone over the edge.
I've been talking to lots of people about these kinds of things, and we're all kind of experiencing them. It's good to laugh about it.
But there are some among us who are really struggling--dealing with loneliness, isolation, depression and a certain amount of existential dread as we begin to realize that this is not going away, and that everything is going to be different even when things "open up."
And God knows I've had my fair share of those days, too.
I have a tendency toward depression from time to time--it runs in my family. I am one of the lucky ones, though. It doesn't hit me all that often, but I've had a few days during all of this when it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and there was no way I was getting it off.
It's in those moments that I find myself grieving everything I've lost---we've lost. And then I begin to wonder if maybe we've lost too much... if maybe there's too much that's been taken from us during all of this, and we're never going to be able to find any of the good things again.
Even in the moment I'm thinking these things, I realize that this is just the melancholy talking, but it has got me thinking about the whole idea of living in abundance--the way that Jesus said he wanted us to live.
Have we been robbed of our abundance? Well if you think of abundance in terms of having enough money, resources, freedom, choices... then yes... Most of us have been robbed of our abundance.
But is that what abundance is all about?
Jesus once told his followers that the purpose for him coming into the world, the purpose for the Eternal Christ, the Messiah, the Logos, the Word of God coming into the world was to give life, in abundance.
So what did Jesus mean by this?
Abundant life in the sense that Jesus meant it is simply this:
Living abundantly means that you live with an eternal mindset, focused on the things that last forever, that truly matter. It means that you let go of a scarcity mindset and live heart forward, hands open.
So here's a question for us. How do you live an abundant life in a world where scarcity and lack seems to be the "norm?"
And I'm not just talking about toilet paper and bleach shortages. I'm talking about scarcity in the sense that we live small lives, scared lives, lives that are lived worrying whether there is enough.
Or whether we are enough.
Some of you have been feeling this. You have begun wondering if there will ever be enough again. Enough patience with your children. Enough time alone to think. Enough money to pay your bills. Enough energy to make it through the day--when every day feels like the last day.
Maybe you have begun to feel like you aren't enough anymore. And so your thoughts have spiraled to scarcity. You begin to live small.
And you are robbed of abundance.
So how do you make your way through this? It all comes down to who you listen to... where you put your trust.
Because... LISTENING TO THE WRONG VOICES CAN ROB YOU OF AN ABUNDANT LIFE.
The Bible passage we'll be exploring this morning comes to us from John 10:1-10 and it reads:
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.In the first century context within which Jesus delivered this teaching, the imagery of shepherds and sheep would have been one his listeners would have identified with on a number of levels.
There was a romantic notion about shepherds in the ancient Hebrew mindset that stemmed from the scores of moments in Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) where God is described as a shepherd, leading his people.
And there were also more than a few moments in the Old Testament where the Torah itself is referred to as a shepherd who leads Israel until the time when the Messiah comes to embody the Torah and truly become Israel's shepherd.
Jesus stepped into this conversation and into the cultural imagination of the people he was teaching.
But it seems as though he's using mixed metaphors here, right? First he's a shepherd and then he's a gate... which is it?
The truth is, you can get lost in the weeds trying to harmonize this, or you can focus on what Jesus was really trying to say.
First, we need to focus on the importance of the words "I Am," that Jesus keeps repeating. These are super important and they connect him with the same declaration by God to Moses in the book of Exodus.
Jesus is clearly making the connection between himself and God. And he wants his hearers to make this connection so he uses to different images that are inextricably connected.
You see, in the first century Middle East--the shepherd and the gate, are one and the same.
Show photos of sheep folds, etc.
Jesus wanted it clear---no mistaking. That the means through which God's rescuing love comes into the world is none other than himself. The word that is used to describe the abundant life offered through Jesus is the word zoe which means real and genuine life, the kind that flows directly from God.
There is an openness inherent in Jesus declaration here. He doesn't say these things to divide. He declares that his sheep hear his voice. Jesus doesn't say only the sheep of Israel, or only those who adhere to a particular set of doctrines and beliefs hear his voice.
The sound of Jesus' voice can be heard by everyone---if they are willing to hear.
And the fact that it's Jesus who acts as the gate creates more openness rather than creating division.
He pretty clearly states that those who try to use the gate as a divide are bandits.
So all of this imagery crashes in on verse ten, which is the key to the whole thing: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
It's like the author of John's Gospel is making the point over and over again. You know which voice is true. You know there's another way besides scarcity and fear... and Jesus is the way through to abundant life.
Jesus' voice, Jesus presence will lead you to the kind of life that is eternal, both here and now... the kind of life that is filled with holy purpose... the kind of life that is expansive, beautiful and open-handed.
But how do we know if what we are experiencing/hearing is Jesus? That's the big question that so many of us have at this point? How do I know for sure that the voice I am hearing, the presence I'm feeling is the real thing?
First, you need to consider the source---is the voice trustworthy? This has to do with your past, looking back and seeing the moments in your life where you felt so strongly that you were hearing a voice that was leading you to what you felt was an eternal moment and it happened...
My call to ministry...
Second, you need to consider the direction--where are you being led? This has to do with your present--what is happening right now. If you feel like the voice you are following is leading you toward places and spaces that suck the life out of you... that lead you to destructive behavior... that deny your truest self... Or that lead the world away from Jesus rather than toward him... You might not be hearing Jesus' voice.
Pastor who basically killed my friend's church... not called to ministry.
Finally, you need to consider the outcomes--is it truly abundant life? Sometimes we make decisions and we move in a particular direction, and then realize later that it was the wrong way to go. What we thought was going to lead us to abundance, lands us right back into spaces of scarcity. And typically it's because we were moving in a direction to satisfy our own needs, take control of things on our own.
Here's the thing, Jesus may lead us to time when we might feel as though we are experiencing scarcity--funds, resources, time, etc. But Jesus will never lead us to a place where we are forced to live in scarcity of spirit. We might go through hard times as we forge ahead, but if we find over and again that our spirit, our soul is being sustained, we are finding peace, new life, new ways of being in the world... we can trust the voice that's leading us.
My friends who adopted...
These are challenging times for sure, and it's important for us to know that the voice we are hearing is leading us to abundance, and not scarcity. Because listening to the wrong voices can rob you of an abundant life.