Easter 3

Sermon Title: Sermon – Easter 3
Date: 7th May 2017
Preacher: Roxanne Addley
Church Calendar Date: Easter 3
Lectionary Reading: John 10:1-10, Psalm 23

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord,

Be my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Jesus said: “I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

What a punch line!  It’s actually a verse that resonates with me deeply. For the last 2 ½ years I have been working down the road at Baptcare in a part time role called Mission Integration.  It’s a project that finishes at the end of the year and is all about integrating Christian mission across Baptcare’s operations.  It’s about a faith based organization wanting to own its faith identity.  In 2015 we rolled out a new Mission statement “Partnering for fullness of life with people of all ages, cultures, beliefs and circumstances”.  “Fullness of life” is a direct quote from this last verse of our Gospel today, depending on translation.  As part of the mission rollout, I visited sites across Baptcare running focus groups and asking the question “what does fullness of life mean to you?” And of course there was a huge range of responses from our very diverse workforce. But a common thread ran through these responses and that was that fullness of life meant more than just dealing with the day to day.  There was something in there about wholeness and fulfillment.  So today I want to explore with you what Jesus meant when he said “I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Well you might remember that about 4 weeks ago I preached on Chapter 9 of John’s gospel about the man born blind.  You might also remember that the Psalm 23 was also the psalm that day.  I did a bit of double take when I saw the double up and actually checked the lectionary.  Sure enough, Psalm 23 is included in the readings for both weeks.  And as I read about the text and reflected on God’s message to us, it makes sense.  You see, if you read these two chapters, they go together.  Of course, when they were originally written, they didn’t have chapters and handy paragraph headings.  These first ten verses of John’s chapter ten are actually Jesus’ ongoing commentary about the situation with the Pharisees who had just rejected the man born blind in the previous chapter and expelled him from the synagogue.

And Jesus’ commentary uses a familiar metaphor when talking about our relationship with him: that of the shepherd and the close relationship that the shepherd has for his sheep, he knows them and they know him, he leads them and they follow him.  This is contrasted with the thief and the bandit, those that don’t care for the sheep, who indeed come to harm the sheep, just like the Pharisees who reject the man born blind.

But his listeners didn’t understand him, so he uses another metaphor.  This time contrasting the thieves and the bandits with the gate keeper.  Then he clarifies the meaning of being a shepherd and a gate keeper. He says “whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture”.

So who is Jesus speaking to?  Well, he has at least two audiences.  The people in general and the educated ones, the Pharisees, who are the religious leaders.  And the metaphors are full of meaning for both these groups of people.  For the people, living in an agrarian society, the role of the shepherd is common and well understood.  For the Pharisees, the language is full of biblical significance.  Just listen to the words of Psalm 23 from the Old Testament which the Pharisees would have known well.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

So here we have Jesus claiming to be the shepherd, saying that it is through him that we are saved and find pasture, and that he comes to give life in all its fullness or abundance.  The Old Testament echoes are obvious and this is sacrilege in the Pharisees’ eyes.  Jesus was a radical in his day, just as I am sure he would be today.

So what does it mean to be saved, to find pasture, to have fullness of life?  It’s a question that I have been confronting this week, with my family, because my sister has just been diagnosed with breast and bone cancer.  Both my sisters live in the United States and both have claimed to be staunch atheists in the past.  Katherine said to me over the phone this week, “I believe in everything now Roxanne, keep praying for me”.  And Ingrid said “I’ve been doing a lot of meditating Roxanne and directing positive energy towards Katherine, and that’s my prayer, we really believe in the same overall thing, it just looks different!”  For my part, I have just been so thankful to have my faith and to be able to lay my sister’s health in Jesus’ hands and channel our psalm today, Psalm 23.

Which brings us back to our readings and the meaning of fullness of life.  Well one thing we do know about the Gospel of John is that there will always be layers of meaning and today is no exception.  If we look at the meaning in the here and now, in our everyday lives, life in abundance, our green pasture, our still waters, reflect to me that great sense of grace that we receive from Jesus when we accept him into our lives.  That sense, that despite our humanity, our weaknesses and failings, we are loved and accepted by God completely and unfailingly in abundance.  It’s not something we earn, it is something that is there abundantly for everyone by bringing Jesus into our lives.  Our lives, as we live them today, are made complete, are made whole, with Jesus.

But John was also pointing to another meaning in our Gospel today.  Further down in chapter ten, he elaborates on the meaning of abundance and his good shepherd identity.  In verses 27-30 he says:

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.  What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”

Well this is indeed Good News!  It’s actually the central theme of the Gospel. Life in abundance is also eternal life.  And Jesus and God are one.  And no one and nothing can take us away from God when we accept his saving grace.  What a comfort this is, in good times and bad.

So how do we use this teaching in our day to day life journey?  Perhaps after church, even over coffee, you can ask yourself, your friends and family what does life in abundance mean to you?  And how does God bring you fullness of life?  What has God’s Grace meant in your life?  And perhaps then, you can ask yourselves, how can I share this abundance, this overflowing love that God gives to us all?       Let’s end in prayer.

Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the abundance in our lives and everything that comes from you.  We pray that as we continue our Easter journey, that you will guide us in spreading your love among our family, our friends and those we encounter in our lives.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.