May 3, 2020 / 4th Sunday in Easter / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Acts 2:42-47 / 2nd Reading 1 Peter 2:19-25 / Gospel John 10:1-10
Saved for Abundant Living
Each year on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, our gospel reading is drawn from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel. This day has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday – and this chapter is the one where Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd who has come so that we may have life and have it abundantly.
Knowing the context of this familiar story leads to richer meaning and a fuller understanding of what Jesus intends by abundant life. As it happens, the chapter immediately preceding this chapter and the one that follows were both readings that we heard in their entirety during the Sundays in Lent. Chapter 9 tells the story of the man born blind whom Jesus heals – leading to a controversy in the synagogue. It’s a story of exclusion and redemption. Because of his blindness, the man was an outcast in society. Then after he has been healed, he is kicked out of the synagogue for claiming that Jesus healed him. Ultimately, this man is twice blessed: He regains his sight. He is welcomed into the community of followers of Jesus. He experiences abundant life. Imagine the blessing of receiving things we often take for granted:
- Being able to see with your own eyes the rich abundance all round us: in the beauty of creation; in the faces of those we love.
- The blessing of being welcomed and included – of belonging.
Chapter 11 presents the story of Lazarus and his grieving sisters. We witness the sorrow and dejection brought on by the death of Lazarus. Even Jesus weeps. But Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. He came that we may have life, life in all its fullness. Lazarus is restored to the goodness and fullness of life. The story does not include his reunion with his sisters – but we can imagine their great joy.
These two stories serve as bookends for the chapter about Jesus the Good Shepherd who brings abundant life. They serve to renew our appreciation for the goodness of the life that is ours in Christ. John’s gospel invites us to ponder what it actually means to be saved by Christ. When it comes to the idea of salvation, we are inclined to think in terms of forgiveness and the promise of heaven. Because of Jesus, our burden of guilt is lifted and our fear of death is eased. Salvation has been presented as our rescue from the eternal torments of hell. Of course it is a great and lasting blessing to be saved from guilt and fear. We should never underestimate the goodness of being saved from sin and death. What John’s gospel reveals, however, is the good news that salvation includes even more! At the end of his gospel, John describes his purpose in writing it: “. . . so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.”
Do you hear the echo of what Jesus says in Chapter 10: “that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Yes, your sins are forgiven. Yes, you will triumph over death. And as a TV infomercial might then continue: “But wait, there’s more!” Not only are you saved FROM the powers of sin and death, you are saved FOR something quite wonderful – saved for abundant life: life in all its fullness, life lived freely and joyfully, life in and with Christ. I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the last verse in today’s gospel: “I came so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” This is the promise that Paul lifts up in his letter to Timothy, where he speaks of “taking hold of the life that really is life.”
The salvation Jesus brings is more than adding to the quantity of life. Even more Jesus brings a new and gracious quality of life. The early church father Iranaeus, pointed to this reality when he wrote: “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.” God wants all of us to live abundantly. And when we do, we glorify God. It’s the most complete kind of praise. The word “abundant” derives from the word “abound”. Many times in the bible, God is described as “abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). Our God who abounds in love and grace and mercy and wisdom wants us to abound as well.
This theme runs throughout the New Testament. Paul writes in Romans: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may ABOUND in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) And in Philippians: “It is my prayer that your love may ABOUND more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” (Philippians 1:9) And in 2nd Thessalonians: “We must always give thanks to God for you . . . because your faith is growing ABUNDANTLY. . .”
The picture of abundant life is a life that is rich in faith and hope and love. Where there is faith, hope and love there can be joy – even in hard times. St. Paul speaks of the joy of the Christians at Philippi, despite the ordeal they were enduring: “. . . during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part . . .” (2 Corinthians 8:2) Poverty could not subdue the abundance of their joy in Christ! And they gladly shared what they could to help their fellow Christians in Jerusalem. Paul explains how this is possible: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in ABUNDANCE, so that by always having enough of everything you may share ABUNDANTLY in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Especially in these days, brothers and sisters, we need to embrace the abundant life that is ours in Christ. We find true abundance in the great gifts of faith, hope and love. We experience abundance, like the blind man healed by Jesus, in seeing the goodness all around us, experiencing the blessing of being fully alive on this good earth, living with God’s people. We know abundance in having what we need – and enough to share with others.
Abundant life is not about having more of everything (more money, bigger house) – it’s not having a case of toilet paper and a freezer full of meat. Abundant life is having enough – and having Christ in our hearts. Jesus was quite clear about this: he said “one’s life does not consist in the ABUNDANCE of possessions.”
Abundance isn’t about how much stuff we have. Abundant life consists in the quality of our relationships with God and with one another. Life is abundant when it is shared with those we love. Our First Reading describes the life of the first Christians in Jerusalem. They didn’t have a lot of stuff. Times were tough. Yet they experienced abundant life! “They spent much time together, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God, and having the good will of the people.”
Many times in the New Testament we see that joy is not about having many things, joy is not the absence of suffering – joy is the presence of Christ in your life. Salvation isn’t only about going to heaven when we die. Salvation is living abundantly here and now, embracing the fullness of life in Christ. Theologian Sam Wells describes how Christ’s promise of abundant life is also our call to mission: “Jesus is our model of abundant life; his life, death and resurrection chart the transformation from the scarcity of sin and death to the abundance of healing and resurrection; he longs to bring all humankind into reconciled and flourishing relationship with God, one another, themselves, and all creation. Discipleship describes inhabiting that abundant life.”
Friends, you and I have been saved for a purpose: to live the gospel.
Let’s live it abundantly!