Toward Abundant Life

Photo Credit: angus clyne via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: angus clyne via Compfight cc

A sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter based on John 10:1-10.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

We pick up this morning with John’s gospel narrative.  Seven weeks ago on the 4th Sunday of Lent, we read all of John 9 about the man who had been born blind whom Jesus heals.  You may recall that Jesus, after telling his disciples that the blindness had nothing to do with sin, spat into some dirt, made mud and rubbed into the man’s eyes.  He then told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  He did and he miraculously received sight.  But the religious authorities got mad because Jesus had done this on the Sabbath.  After an inquisition, they tossed the man out of the synagogue—his place of worship for a long time.  He came to Jesus, expressed his belief and worshipped Jesus as Lord. Jesus declares, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.”  The religious types overhear this and their feathers get ruffled.  “Surely, we’re not blind, are we?”  To which Jesus says, “Absolutely.  And not only that, but you’re the ones with sin.”

And then he says the words we just read, about the sheep pen and the gate leading into it.  How the shepherd comes in by the gate but the others who sneakily try to climb over the walls are nothing more than thieves and bandits.  That sheep will only follow the shepherd because they know his voice, while the voice of a stranger calling for them will only cause them to scatter.

But the Pharisees are still hooked by his previous comment that they can’t see.  They don’t get Jesus’ figure of speech or parable at all.  They seem to be both blind and thick.  Here’s the formerly blind man in front of them who has decided to follow Jesus since they have run him out of the synagogue.  And Jesus tells them that sheep will only follow a true shepherd because they know his voice.  The now-seeing man follows Jesus.

Nothing doing.  So he tries again.  This time more plainly.  “I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.   The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

They either get it or else they don’t know how to respond, because they don’t say a word just yet.  They simply listen as Jesus goes on to say that he is the good shepherd, an image that has become a favorite within Christian iconography.  He watches over his followers and leads them, protects them and keeps them safe.  He knows them by name and they follow his voice.  And he brings them to abundant life.

I’m struck by the one thing that’s missing in this conversation.  Despite its presence throughout the healing story, Jesus doesn’t say anything about sin.  The disciples thought that sin caused the blindness in the man, as did the Pharisees.  When those religious leaders cast him out of the synagogue they tell him he was born entirely in sin. Finally, Jesus’ responds to the Pharisees’ query on whether they were blind with these words:  “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But know that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (Jn 9:41)  If I were to ask Joe or Jane Christian why Jesus came into the world, the odds would heavily skew toward an answer like, “He came to save us from our sins,” with some adding, “so we can get to heaven.”  But Jesus in saying that he’s both the gate and the good shepherd doesn’t even mention sin.  He simply declares, “I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved.”  Many hear the word sin in there almost instinctively.  However “have we,” as theologian David Lose puts it, “perhaps influenced in small part by Paul and in greater part by medieval interpretations of Paul, adopted a primarily negative view of salvation?”[1] A view that focuses solely on salvation from sin?

Which might make us ask what’s the point of Christianity anyway? Or maybe I should put it, what’s the point of following Jesus?  Is it to be forgiven of our sins in order to get to heaven once we die?  Is that it?  We stumble through this life as best we can hoping for the hereafter where we will finally be at peace?  Is that the point of the salvation that Jesus offers?

Lose writes, “Salvation is often understood as the erasure of our sin and failure rather than the creation of new life and possibility. Forgiveness of sin is wonderful, of course, but … if that’s all we understand salvation to be we are, at best, only back to square one and miss that Jesus offers not just life, but life in its abundance. … [T]he heart of the Gospel is the resurrection promise of life and possibility and potential and power. That we are not only saved from something but also for something, for life in all its abundance here and now.”[2]

Jesus is the gate to abundant life.  Here and now.

What might that look like for you in your life right now?  Let me be clear and say I don’t think it means financial prosperity and materialism, which is what our culture tells us the supposed good life includes.  Maybe it’s a friend to come alongside as you deal with difficulty in your life.  Or recognizing the void you have can’t be filled in doing more work but in spending time with your family.  Perhaps, as an unemployed person, it means finding a way to engage in meaningful volunteer work while you wait for a job to come through.  Or making time to do something that feeds you, especially if you are working through a hard time.  A hike or cooking more or reading a novel or running or working in the garden or painting or playing an instrument.  Maybe things in your life are hitting a high point, your relationships are strong with others and with God and you truly enjoy God’s gifts.  If so, how then can you share the gifts of joy and peace with others who might need them?

More often than not, I think it comes down to truly seeing.  Abundant life may be there in front of us if we could just notice it.

In the Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, there is a scene where the old world of Narnia has passed away entirely, and a new world has come to be.  The entrance to this new world was a door that appeared from the outside to lead into a small stable. There were some dwarves who, like many others, had come into the new world by passing through the door.  Although the door opened up into the new Narnia—a land of great joy and light that the others see immediately—the dwarves can’t imagine that they are anywhere else than in a dingy, dirty, stinky old stable.

So that is exactly what they see.  Try as they might, the others who are taking great delight in the new world can’t convince the dwarves that instead of being in the dark, straw-filled room, they are really sitting on the grass in a world more wonderful than they could ever imagine.  The dwarves know that they went into a stable, and nothing would change their minds.  Aslan, the Christ figure of the story, finally says to those trying to help, “You see, they will not let us help them.  They have chosen cunning instead of belief.  Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and [they are] so afraid of being taken in, that they cannot be taken out.”[3]

We come to this place to follow our shepherd, to enter by him into a place of safety and care and joy.  He came to give us abundant life now, not just in some future time so far away from here.  So many in this world want to take that life away from us—enticing us to make priorities of things that are not important, coaxing us to stay outside of Jesus’ guidance.  But they are no more than thieves and bandits.  He wants to bring us salvation so that we may truly experience a life of Easter resurrection.  He’s calling to us and we know his voice.  Let’s follow him together and see what amazing things can happen.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

[1] David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher: Abundant Life Now.”  http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3198 accessed May 7, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] CS Lewis. The Last Battle. Collier: New York, 1970. Pg.148.