Easter 4- 5/3/2020 – St. Paul’s
In the gospel lesson for this week, I was drawn towards the last verse, John 10:10: In the NRSV version we heard….10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
A slightly different translation…New Living Translation (NLT) says: 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Another different translation says….New Century Version (NCV) 10 A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I came to give life—life in all its fullness.
In this culminating verse of our Gospel, Jesus is calling the people to follow the shepherd who leads us towards abundant life.
How does this work during the pandemic? Pandemic life as usual is not life in all its fullness. We look around us these days and we see numbers rising of those who have or have had the virus as well as those who have died as a result of COVID-19.
Going about life as usual is not life abundant. Opening things up is not life abundant but economy abundant. Life abundant values people. Values the front line over the bottom line….the elderly over the economy How do we value life abundant for all of us.
So here are some questions which came to mind this week concerning the pandemic and the gospel….please know I do not really have the answers but have and will continue to ponder the questions and possible answers:
What does it mean to have life abundant when headlines tell us about death?
How does life abundant come to those poor and marginalized people who are disproportionately hurt by this pandemic?
What does it mean to have abundant life when we are part of an ecosystem?
What does it mean to cultivate abundant life for and to anyone and anything in our midst?
What does it mean right now in the midst of death to offer spaces for abundant life?
A beautiful Hebrew phrase we used to say growing up in my family was L’Chaim! means to life! It is a toast to life, a salute to the incredible miracle of being among the living. It is a word which recognizes life, rejoices in it, affirms it, and does so in such a way as to include the all-important note of celebration and appreciation.
10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Such a sentence has no small appeal to our mind and imagination as we try to picture the abundant life which is promised. We are not lacking for images from the world in which we live. The abundant life? Why of course! Fancy cars…nice homes, great food, places to travel. These are symbols which come to mind quickly. And I do not mean to put them down. But they symbolize something very different from the kind of abundant life our Lord offers.
It would be a mistake to begin a line of thought which sharply divides the spiritual from the physical life we have from God. That is an old temptation into which the church has too often fallen. But, be that as it may, the abundant life which Christ himself is and which he provides is by no means a sum total of a list of all the best products which our consumer society enjoys. It begins with the soul within us, and reaches outward to embrace and sanctify the blessings put into our lives.
10 A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I came to give life—life in all its fullness.(John 10:10)
Abundance – life in all its fullness — and God’s word to us.
Keep in mind, there is a tension in this text. It is the clear word that Jesus is the gate – and not the others who claim another truth – the thieves and bandits – or as one commentator suggests – the imposters. Who are these other – these thieves and imposters who tempt us to find God through other gates? Well, in my experience, they are all of us when we proclaim Christ in ways that do not embody Christ. And so, any of us who fail to love others with the very breath and substance of our lives – any of us who are not willing to lay out our well being for the sake of others – well, we are like those thieves and imposters that Jesus describes. When we are so determined to achieve something at all costs concerning peace that we fail to do the hard work of conflict resolution and reconciliation, we rob the church and the world of authentic community. When we are so determined to achieve something at all costs concerning unity that we turn our back on covenant and accountability, we rob the church and the world of integrity. And when we are so determined to achieve something at all costs concerning purity that we legalistically destroy the sweetness of the fellowship, we rob the world and the church of joy. It is in the full balance of the three – peace, unity, and purity – that we begin to experience the abundant life as Jesus offers it.
As we move forward into the world, how might we imagine – yes how might we spiritually see the image of God embodied in our beloved, beleaguered, and disease-ridden world? In other words, what might abundance look like in my life?…your life? What might an abundant world look like in all of creation?
Abundance – life in all its fullness—-How will this play out in the tri-county area in which we find ourselves? Maybe we can talk about this as the days move on.
The Teacher of Galilee never promoted a lifestyle of material poverty! He taught holy abundance instead of holy deficiency saying, I have come that you might have life and have it in great abundance.
Of all of the images in our gospel for today and more, Jesus is teaching, first and foremost, that God is here and now…right in the midst of this pandemic. God is an experience of abundant life which is available to all. God is also the immediacy of judgment, of discernment and truth, that is there for all those who have ears to hear it. God is the experience of love and forgiveness. Above all, this experience is now, and is not dependent upon correct belief or behavior. It is available to all who hear and see it, at every moment.
A few days of ago, Bishop Michael Curry—Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church—urged us to navigate this time of pandemic following a clear rubric. Episcopalians use The Book of Common Prayer to worship, and rubrics are the instructions about how to conduct worship.
The clear rubric for us, he said, is the Rubric of Love. And that is our rubric for recognizing the sane and healing voice of Jesus. If it’s about love, if it propels us to love our neighbor and all of God’s creation, then the voice we hear is Jesus’ own voice.
For the abundance of blessings you shower upon us.
Forgive us the many ways
We have turned your gifts into our achievements
And so forgotten your generosity.
Open our eyes
To see that everything is a gift,
And that every gift is to be shared for your glory.