“Abundant Life”

May 1, 2023

The Scripture

John 10:1-10

10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, 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. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

The Sermon

The passage this morning takes place when Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, now the Pharisees have often been at odds with Jesus. To you and me this story about shepherds and sheep does not relate much to our lives, but the Pharisees would have a connection and could easily relate to what Jesus is talking about. So, as a quick review who are the Pharisees? You’ll remember the Pharisees were Jewish leaders, distinguished from other groups because of their belief that all Jews had to observe the purity laws and follow the stick adherence to the laws and traditions of the Jewish people. So, as we read this passage there are some questions, we should be asking ourselves why would Jesus be telling them this parable? How does it connect to thieves and bandits and the shepherd guarding the gate?  

I want to begin my telling you about my own experience with sheep. It all began with a family trip to Ireland. As we drove down country roads on very narrow roads, we routinely could look outside and see sheep grazing in the rolling hills. So peaceful so quiet. But then when we drove up a hill, Bob stopped the car immediately because lying in the road was a sheep. The sheep was not moving, and it was right in the middle of the road. I gasped as I thought someone had hit the sheep, there are no stop signs when these sheep wander across the road you know. They just roam wherever they want to go. Bob slowly drove around the sheep who was dead still.  I thought surely this sheep was dead, I was quite sure and then when we drove away, I looked back, the sheep jumped right up and when back into the field. I think the sheep was playing possum…probably just resting on the road because it was warm. Ha! I think they are smarted than we think?

I can laugh about this now as I can still see that sheep standing up right after we went by but in reference to our scripture passage, herding sheep and caring for them was serious business in ancient days, it was a lifestyle, a means to survive. I think we need to understand a bit more about sheepfolds, sheep, gates and shepherds to fully grasp what Jesus is saying here. The sheepfold was often created by stones piled on top of each other in a circular pattern. The sheep would go through the narrow opening and be safe during the night when predators would be lurking nearby. The shepherd would stand by the gate, or the opening and only let the sheep in. As long as the shepherd blocked the gate, the sheep would be safe. But Jesus offers a little different twist to this parable as he doesn’t talk about predators; like wolves, coyotes, foxes, or other wild animals, no Jesus speaks of thieves and bandits. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. You see thieves and bandits rob and take things, destroy things but they aren’t known to come and kill and eat something, right?

I have heard this passage used as way to divide the people who are “in” from the people who are “out”. And the only people who are in are the ones to believe in Jesus. Is Jesus saying the Pharisees are “out” because they don’t accept him as divine, called by God? I don’t think that is what he is saying to them. And you might at this point ask why? It all falls on what Jesus says at the very end of this passage, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Let’s stop here and think about this just a minute. Jesus is saying the whole reason he came to earth is for you and me to have abundant lives; rich, lavish, plentiful lives. Could it be that Jesus is saying that the strict rules, the blind adherence to all the laws and the traditions tied to rigid behaviors and all the demands the Pharisees put on the people are robbing them of this abundant life that God wants for them? Were the Pharisees taking the joy out of the lives of others, destroying their faith?

This brings me to ask, how are you doing with this life we have been given, this abundant life that Christ promises? Life doesn’t always feel life giving, does it? Abundant? How do we find abundance right here and now with all that our church is going through? Is it even possible? I just happen to come across an article about a sole survivor of a plane crash and how she looked for moments of abundance surrounded by scarcity. Our survivor Annette Herfkens was flying with her fiancé along with 23 other passengers for a romantic vacation. The plane crashed and right before her eyes was her dead fiancé. She had 12 broken bones in her hip and knee alone; her haw was hanging; one lung had collapsed. She remembers that “The most vivid image from the hours that followed the crash, and from the subsequent eight days spent in the jungle with moans and cries of her fellow survivors slowly silencing, was of being “surrounded by leaves”. Green and golden, sequined with dew, sunlit through her eyelashes. Time and time again she turned her focus on them, their light, their colors, movements, away from the man beside her, now dead.  Here is her poignant conclusion, “If you accept what’s not there, then you see what is there…I accepted that I was not with my fiancé on the beach…Once I accepted that, I saw what was there – and it was this beautiful jungle, she says. She said, “I stayed in the moment, and I trusted that they were going to find me…I did not think; What if a tiger comes: I thought: “I’ll deal with it when the tiger comes. I did not think: ‘What if I die?” I thought; “I will see about it when I die. She describes this experience of “Moment after moment after moment” as mindfulness before its time, before we all know the word for it. Herfkens ended up writing a book. In reflecting why, she survived she says, I really think that why I survived is because I got over myself,” she says. “You get over your little self, then you get your instinct to work, then you get to connect with other people and then you achieve stuff.”

Abundance was found among tragedy! I believe if we hold to the truth that Jesus, the living Christ came to give us life, abundant life, we have some part in finding that abundance. Annette found abundance by staying in the moment, accepting what wasn’t there, and focusing on what was there. Finally, she was able to see the bigger picture, that connected her in new ways to others. She did not let the thieve and bandits slip into her mind, leaving fear and hopelessness. And we too must not let the thieves and bandits slip into our small minds, stealing away from us, the ability to take in the goodness that is all around us. Let’s keep our eyes on the shepherd and take in the abundant life that is given to us. Amen