J ESUS USED A FIGURE OF SPEECH to describe his role in relation to the people. He is the shepherd. The sheep — that’s his followers — listen to him. The sheep follow him. The sheep will not follow anyone else.
I decided instead to focus on the verse that reads:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Jesus came that we may have abundant life. A full life.
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THE SHEPHERD, JESUS, has the well-being of the sheep (us) at heart, rather than his own well-being.
I like Sylvia’s use of a dog image in our “time with the children,” which you can see in the video of today’s worship service. It’s more understandable to us. If someone wants to harm your dog, steal your pet, they go about that in an underhanded way, like a thief. Maybe jump the fence and grab it out of the back yard. Whereas, the pet’s caretaker calls pets by name. There is trust. The pets feel safe. They hear, they respond.
Jesus says that he has come so that his sheep — his followers, all of us — may have life and have it abundantly. Life, obviously, is good and desirable. Abundant life is more good, more desirable. Jesus offers the chance to thrive, to flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted.
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WE MAKE ALL KINDS of sacrifices in the hope to earn, achieve, or purchase abundant life.
In 2004 the PBS documentary series Frontline featured an episode titled “The Persuaders.” (It’s well worth watching in its entirety when you have time. Here is the link.) That hour-long documentary is about the changing nature of advertising in our culture. Advertisers moved from telling us their products would get our clothes cleaner, our drinks colder, our work easier to how their product will make our lives better.
Look at the language of Starbucks. Their purpose statement begins: “We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging.” Their policy statement reads: “We want our stores to be the third place, a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect.”
A “third place.” Not home. Not work. A different place. A welcoming place. You notice they say nothing about coffee. They say nothing about wanting to sell the best “cuppa joe” on the planet or how delicious their fru-fru drinks are. Their purpose statement is about emotions, about feelings.
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THAT’S JUST ONE EXAMPLE. There are endless numbers of advertisements that speak to seeking a sense of fulfillment and purpose — that is, abundant life. Advertising shifted from making promises about brand quality to promises about life quality. They talk about “emotional branding” that seeks to fill the empty places that civic institutions like schools and churches used to fill. (Why don’t churches fill that space now?)
In that episode, author Naomi Klein observes that while the things themselves may be perfectly useful — a computer or pair of running shoes — they can’t provide the life of meaning and purpose that we seek.
So here we are, seeking meaning and fulfillment — that is, abundant life — from things that will not satisfy instead of through Christ.
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MAYBE DURING THESE PAST SIX WEEKS you’ve thought about what you value most. The “things” that bring you meaning and fulfillment — abundant life.
Unfortunately, some of us are finding our lives empty because of the things we can no longer do, things we can no longer buy. This presents a spiritual challenge for us. How do we use this time to deeply think about what brings or gives us life in its fullness?
In the midst of a global slowdown, we may finally be able to hear Jesus’ words to Martha — Martha busy in the kitchen while sister Mary is sitting and chatting with Jesus — as something intended for us:
“You are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing.”
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WHAT IS THE ONE THING we need?
Jesus makes clear what is that “one necessary thing,” but we must decide what is most important in life and whether our daily living actually reflects that priority. And on giving that an honest look, ask yourself this question:
“Are you satisfied?”
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WHEN WE MOVE out of isolation, we will move forward in abundant life through Christ or move back to “normal.” During this time, there will be thieves who will try to steal you from the sheepfold. Advertisers, politicians, maybe even family members, will want to help you feel normal again.
If you just get a new iPhone, if you rest your feet on a pillow of new Nikes, if you can once again go to Starbucks and drink a venti blonde vanilla latte, if you vote for the right candidate, then things will be back to normal.
But know this: After all of our seeking and searching and shopping, we still end up far short of experiencing the abundant life Jesus promises. Abundant life is not something we earn or achieve. It’s not something we buy or barter.
Abundant life is a gift, the gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us.
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DECLARE THIS PROMISE. And it is a promise! As we affirmed last week, Jesus keeps his promises.
Jesus came the we might have life and have it abundantly.