4/17/04, Easter 4-A
esus promises abundance and all of us want this new level of living. What believer, one who has already decided to give their heart to Christ, would deliberately choose a mediocre life or a failed life instead of life in all its fullness?
Psalm 23 describes God as being figuratively like our personal "Shepherd." We think of this divine relationship somewhat like the sign I spotted on a big sign board in front of a country church that said, "If God had a refrigerator, you would be his refrigerator magnet." Actually, it was more of a "used to be" country church for it was growing in "Growing Gwinnett County" where they paint mottos on towering water tanks along Interstate 85 that promise, "Come Experience the Good Life in Growing Gwinnett!"
Tom Wages, who has owned a funeral home in Lawrenceville for over fifty years and has watched his rural Gwinnett County become one of America's fastest growing, asked me as we rode together in the front seat of his hearse; "Preacher, what can we do to stop the killing of our teenagers in these new cars bought by rich parents?"
Perhaps our trying to create our earthly vision of heaven through the false hope of the “good life” is like the folks in Jesus' day who had tried to enter “through the wrong door.” Jesus is the gatekeeper of the sheepfold. He is the one who can grant the "abundant life." Or, as The New Living Translation has Jesus saying, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.”
In my mind abundance, or fullness, typically includes some degree of material sufficiency; yet, mammon can often separate us from God, as material abundance becomes our main focus. Wealthy Christians have a tremendous responsibility and struggle to be good stewards. Many manage it well and maintain an abiding joy. The love of money can be the root of evil and sadness, or it can be a blessing. Wealth alone can't bring abundant life, as Jesus defines it.
Jesus' idea of abundant living is primarily spiritual . The abundance in our souls can never be limited by physical blessings. Soulful abundance is always freedom from crippling worry. It includes an inner assurance of well being and safekeeping. Its source is not from our own doing. It cannot be achieved for it is always a gift from God. We do not find it as much as it seems to find us as we follow his leading. Abundant life involves a sense of calling, lay or clergy. It brings an inner assurance of salvation and an ongoing desire to draw ever closer to God. Abundant life survives any adversity.
"He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even thought I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me...” (Psalm 23:4)
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly ." (John 10:10, NRSV)
It seems that Jesus' promise of an abundant life comes as we willingly follow Him. This requires submission to the Almighty and admission that we are not as capable as we may have thought. We are like sheep that trust and follow our Shepherd's leading. We listen for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and we submit to His guidance. There have been times in my life when I have felt His guidance and direction so clearly that I could do nothing but submit. His will has always been perfect.
This may well be the problem for those of us who move to the suburbs and enjoy all of the modern conveniences. We sometimes take for granted the secure job, loving marriage and well above average children. We become our own “gods” and need no help, except from the occasional repairman. Sure, we honor Christ with our visits to his Church on stated occasions, but we have found our own good life and we are self-sufficient--- until the Highway Patrol calls in the night. It is then that we learn that nothing can separate us from our relationship with Christ, as long as we hold on. (Romans 8: 28-39) The Good News is that the Good Shepherd never loses track of his sheep and will bring us home again even if he has to nudge us along.
Jesus aggressively seeks us, but our relationship with him is conditioned by our desire to keep it. Unlike sheep, we have free will. Our mental picture is that of the famous painting of The Good Shepherd stretching out his long arm, risking his own life, to save the Lost Sheep from falling into the precipice. In John 10: 11, Jesus directly claims the Messianic mantle when he says, “ I am the good shepherd ; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
As I recall from my Boy Scout days, we were taught that if we ever got lost in the woods (and on every hike it seemed that some kid got lost) we were not supposed to run frantically around screaming, but were to get real quiet and listen. Granted it's hard for little lost boys, and self-sufficient folks, to sit quietly; but it's the beginning of being found again. Once quiet, we could hear the Scout Master's familiar voice calling out to us. Naturally we would shout back. Soon we would hear the familiar tramping through the woods of our trusted shepherd and he seemed to us a lot like Jesus coming to save us.
Jesus said that this is really why he came into the world, so that we might have, as Eugene Peterson translates it, "a real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." (10:10, "The Message")
He promises to lead us to abundance but we can choose to remain lost in the woods. Found-ness begins when we dream of a more and better life: An Abundant Life!
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor