Sermons

Acts 2:42-47Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Jesus says, in the tenth Chapter of the Gospel of John that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.[i]  After a long and complicated image of a shepherd, sheep and sheepgate, Jesus apparently loses his audience and summarizes his point in this rather simple and direct message:  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

If you’ve ever wondered what it is God wants for you, this is it, in a nutshell—God wants you to have life, and have it abundantly at that.

If you’ve ever wondered how it is we are meant to follow Christ, imitate Jesus or be God’s hands in the world, this is it—we are to work so that others might have life, and have it abundantly.

You’ve heard me say that every preacher, no matter how often they preach or for how many years, really only has one sermon.  I would argue this is Jesus’ one sermon.  His whole point for being, the whole thrust of his life, ministry, death and resurrection was to bring us abundant life.

Why is it, then, that the church so often busies itself with sucking the life out of people, leaving them deflated, defeated, ashamed, exhausted, betrayed or even abused?

The easy answer to that is the church does that because people do that, and the church is a human institution, rife with all the flaws of humanity.

Of course, it is much more complicated than that and requires a detailed deconstruction of the intersectionalities that have placed the Christian Church in the same bed as nations, political parties and systems of oppression.

At the same time, this simple message that God came and lived among us that we might experience abundant life has also led the church to be vocal in the fight against oppression and on behalf of those on the margin.

How can that be true?  How can there be such different understandings of how we are meant to life out our lives of faith?  These two ways bear out their existence on the extremes.  On the one hand, we are worthless sinners meant only to suffer, as described in this morning’s letter from Peter.  On the other end of the spectrum is the theology that God’s desire for us to have abundant life means we are meant to get whatever we want, if we just believe enough.

So what are we to understand God intends for us on this continuum from suffering to blessing?

It seems to me that, too often, we work to bring about a life for others we think they ought to live, rather than helping them live the life God might be asking them to live.  Too often the church has said, God wants you to have an abundant life that looks just like this, rather than asking what an abundant life lived in relationship with God might look like for them, and then doing everything possible to help them live it.

Too often, the church has been focused solely on being teacher, and has lost its long history as student of the very people who make it up.  This is not cultural relativism, this is ongoing revelation.

Sadly, too often the Christian church has joined forces with secular culture in prescribing a narrow vision of what “abundant life” looks like, and it is a vision that excludes most of us who long desperately for it.

And people suffer as a result.  And, when they are suffering, someone brings out the reading from 1 Peter, or another like it, and tells them that their suffering is from God, and therefore it is to be endured with patience and even joy, for if we are suffering, it brings us closer to the God we followed who also suffered.

This passage from 1st Peter is addressed to the household slaves of the early church.  This passage was later addressed to the slaves here in this country. This passage is addressed to partners who stay with abusive spouses, and children who suffer under the cruelty of a parent.  This is a dangerous piece of scripture and, in the wrong hands, can be an instrument of suffering, and even death, and has been.  And continues to be.

It’s enough to make someone question their faith, or abandon it all together.

I’d like to use the occasion this morning where these two passages of scripture, 1st Peter and John 10, are offered together to tell you that, when two pieces of scripture seem to contradict each other, as these two do, ask yourself, “What does God want for me?  What does God want from me?”  And if you are not sure what the answer to that question is, open up your bible, or go online, and read this summary of Jesus’ whole message and ministry: Jesus came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.

Now, let me be clear, following Jesus does not mean we will never suffer.  Living in relationship with God does not mean our lives will be without pain.

It does mean, however, that we will never be alone in that suffering. 

Sometimes, following God, living our true abundant lives in God makes those around us uncomfortable.

Sometimes, doing God’s work brings the world’s wrath.

But even then, I do not believe God wants us to suffer.  I do believe God joins us in our suffering. I do believe that living the abundant life God is calling me into can sometimes involve pain, and loss, and it has.

When Jesus offers us abundant life, he isn’t offering us a lifetime of happiness.  He is offering us a lifetime of wholeness.

I wonder how much less suffering there would be in the world if we all committed to helping others become fully who it is God made them to be, rather than who we’d like them to be, or think we need them to be.

I wonder how much less suffering there would be in our hearts if we worked toward living the abundant life God gives us rather than struggling to live the life we think we ought to be living.

I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly, Jesus said.

That is the gift we are offered at this table.  Abundant life served to us in bread and wine.  Let us keep the feast.

AMEN

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[ii]



[i] JN 10:10 NRSV

[ii] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing.  Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .

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