May 7, 2017 sermon Life, In All Its Abundance

John 10:1 – 10 – Life in all its abundance.

We don’t really have a mission statement here at Sunshine Uniting.  When we did our forward planning last year we did talk about what areas we wanted to prioritise.   Reaching out to multi-cultural communities, youth. But not exactly a mission statement as such. But I do have a candidate. I love that second half of John 10:10.  I reckon with the modern culture that every organisation, if not individual, has to produce a mission statement it could make a pretty snappy one.  “What are you on about, Jesus/Church?”  “I have come that you may have life and life in all its abundance”.  Short, sharp, to the point.  It could work.

To be honest I have to say I am glad we got to that quote in today’s section from John’s gospel; and only just; the last few words of the last verse in today’s reading.

Up to then I had been trying hard to hang in with the reading but found it had been pretty heavy going with the metaphors piling up against each other.  The author of John’s gospel even more than the other three gospels just loves using all these images for Jesus.  Jesus is the door, the light, bread, the vine, the way, the truth. Now each one of these images is terribly rich, but one at a time is more than enough to feed off. 

Reminds me of the minister who turned up at a small country church to take the service, and there were only two worshippers so he cancelled the service.  At the door greeter those who had come one of them says – you know I am a farmer and if only one of my cows come at feed time I would make sure they got a feed.  A couple of months later the same thing happened but this time the minister thought better of his decision previously and made sure he went through the whole service including a half hour sermon.  At the door the same guy did not look too happy and the minister said, but you told me that story about how if even one cow turned up you would feed it.  Yeah, the farmer replied, but I would not make it eat everything for the whole herd.

Today the images and metaphors tumble over each other and if we were honest, we might say it could get a trifle overwhelming.  Jesus at various times through the preceding nine verses is the gate, and then the shepherd, and we are not quite sure if he might even be at one stage, the gate keeper.   I for one have some sympathy for the disciples v 6 “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them”.

So thank God for v 10 “I have come that you may have Life”.  Life I think I can understand; or if not understand at least relate to.  After all, isn’t this what each and every person seeks?  Life and the fullness thereof?  This is not a quest that divides religious people from secular people.  This is not something that only people with special esoteric interests pursue.  No, this is the Holy Grail. Life and life in its fullness.

Sometimes we do get a bit too religious.   By that I mean drawing away from Life into a narrow compartment where particular so called religious things happen.  It means thinking people who are “religious” are more sensitive… like when the guys at the Men’s Shed apologise when they swear in front of me.   Because I am religious.  Or I may not be very interested in football… because I am religious.  Or I would not enjoy a beer on a hot day… because I am religious. More religious even than Jesus who never struck me as a particularly religious.

Leroy goes to the revival and listens to the preacher. After awhile, the preacher asks anyone with needs to be prayed over to come forward. Leroy goes up and the preacher asks, “Leroy, what do you want me to pray about for you?”
“Preacher,” says Leroy, “I need you to pray for my hearing.”
The preacher puts one finger in Leroy’s ear and he places the other hand on top of Leroy’s head and prays and prays and prays. After a few minutes, the preacher removes his hands and stands back.
“Leroy, how is your hearing now?”
“I don’t know, Reverend,” says Leroy. “My hearing’s not until next Wednesday.”

So we would do well to concentrate not so much on being more religious than Jesus, but living life to the full as Jesus invites us to do.

The New Testament has two different Greek words that are both translated by our one English word, “life”.  But they are not separate or opposed to each other.  Or at least not necessarily.  Both are the good gift of God and are found and are at home in this created world we dwell in. First, “bios” meaning simply physical,  mortal life,  what every living creature has;  and then sometimes the bible uses the word “zoe”, and this refers to a quality of life brought by, or breathed into us, by the Spirit. Life lived in harmony with the Creator and the creation.  Life alive to all possibilities and responsiveness.  Not all bios is marked by zoe. Thus, while zoe needs bios for its existence, (in this world at least, after all we do not waft around as disembodied spirits) the reverse may not be true.

The role of true Christian faith then is to drive us into the world to live as disciples of the Christ.  Look again at the reading and see the activity of the sheep (that is us; i.e. the flock, the church, Christians).  We are not pictured as huddling together; doing our religious thing in a corner, intimidated and fearful of a world that is too threatening or complex.  On the contrary (the shepherd) calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.   When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them… Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.  So at least one of the major functions of the Shepherd is to be leading the sheep not into, but out of the sheep fold.  Out grazing and exploring and delighting and  transforming and witnessing in the world

           The Celts had prayers for getting dressed and going to sleep, for waking up and for lighting the fire. They prayed for birth and death, healing and protection, hunting and herding, the farming and fishing. They prayed invocations to bless the loom and the land. Here, for example, is a “Milking Prayer.”

Bless, O God, my little cow,
Bless, O God, my desire;
Bless Thou my partnership
And the milking of my hands, O God.

Bless, O God, each teat,
Bless, O God, each finger;
Bless Thou each drop
That goes into my pitcher, O God.

These simple prayers are sacred acts. They’re tender and profound.

           They aren’t the formal prayers of the institutional church. They aren’t the ecstatic utterances of a miraculous vision. They are dignified, homely and eloquent, the ordinary and yet sacred stuff of life in God’s Spirit. In short, they’re holy because they’re holistic.

This, in turn, invites us to imagine that abundant life — and perhaps salvation itself — is highly contextual. For the blind man it is sight. For the single parent it might be companionship and help. For the bullied teen it might be acceptance and an advocate. For the impoverished neighborhood it might be dignity and the chance of self-determination. For the retiree, it might be involvement in a worthwhile cause. For … Well, you get the picture. Abundant life looks different in different places and to different people, but it always manifests itself as a response to whatever seeks to rob the children of God of their inheritance of life, purpose, and joy.

I gag whenever I hear someone on talk back radio or in the letters column of the paper putting forward the argument against Christianity in the public domain that faith is essentially a private matter and something that happens between God (if God existed) and the inner conscience of each individual.  Christianity has never held this view that would shrink God to the size of each individual conscience and abandon the world as the place of God’s transforming activity.  I feel pretty certain Jesus was not crucified for holding to the principle of the inner presence of God within each individual and let’s keep it all private.  No-one ever got crucified for saying keep a lid on it. May have had more to do with him challenging religious/political/economic and cultural values and practices arising from the conviction of God the Creator’s active, and yes, intimate, involvement in all aspects of Life.

John’s gospel fairly bristles with this overwhelming conviction that this world is the object of God’s powerful redeeming love and life is the good gift of God and we receive the gracious gift of this life through Jesus Christ.  Not a lot of talk about “religion” in all that