4th Sunday of Easter
1 John 3.16-24
Abundant life ©Lauren Martin
Today in our gospel reading we heard Jesus say that he ‘came so that they [we] may have life and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10) At the same time we hear Jesus saying two of his well known ‘I am’ statements. Jesus says that he is the ‘Good Shepherd’ and the ‘Gate’ who came to give life – an abundant life, but what is abundant life? It is a phrase that we may hear often enough in the church and in scripture, but do we stop and think about what that means for us as Christians today. What impact does it have on our lives?
Abundant life is made possible through Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd who is known intimately by his flock, and who in turn intimately knows them. The role of the shepherd is to look after the sheep and protect them. The long hours and trust needed for this relationship forms a bond between sheep and shepherd. This bond of caring trust means that the sheep, who know their shepherd, follow him. The Good Shepherd stands in front of the flock and they follow behind him. He leads the way to safety, to good pastures and still waters, as we heard in psalm 23.
It is worth noting that the sheep themselves are not a bunch of mindless animals – as is often portrayed – too stupid for their own good. In biblical times, sheep were viewed as very valuable animals, being the choice animal to offer as a sacrifice, as well as for food, wool and milk. Sheep were precious, they were of so much value that the shepherd is willing to lay down his life for even one of his sheep.
Jesus likens this deep and loving relationship between the Good Shepherd and the sheep, to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ, God’s Son. This relationship is not dependent on the actions of the other, but is an intimate act of unconditional love.
The love of God is not limited to the chosen few. As we heard in the gospel, there are other sheep around, but who are they?
The other sheep or flocks that Jesus speaks of could have many faces. They could be the gentiles of the time, the many different christian denominations, or the multiple groups of marginalised people in society present today. Those on the outskirts who can so easily be overlook, who we may fail to see altogether or unfortunately may be used as a scapegoat for societies problems.
One group of people we may not think about often or may overlook in the everyday moments of our lives are those of Defence personal and their families. We as part of the wider community, nationally and overseas, remember ANZAC day today and by extension of that all Defence personal and their families. We may hear stories of specific event and acts, we may hear familiar poems, we may even try to side-step ANZAC day all together or see it as a day of national pride.
Today I invite you to remember ANZAC day, not in fanfare and parades, not in smart uniforms and shiny medals, but in the overlooked faces of men, women and children, in their brokenness and in the lifelong damage left behind. It is these lost and broken sheep we remember, not the memory of wars and campaigns, but the people themselves who are in need.
We may see this need crying out in the lack of support and higher rate of suicide present amongst ex-serving men and women. We may see it in the damage done when women are harassed for wearing their medals on the wrong side – because they must be their husbands or fathers – dismissing their presence and contributions.
Other physical, mental and spiritual injuries may not be visible at all, but will be part of their everyday reality for the rest of their lives. These are not just older people we may see in parades on TV, but are the young people hidden in a sea of uniforms. Young people with their whole lives ahead of them.
Today we remember not only those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also the broken people left behind from past wars, conflicts and actions. We remember the people who are currently affected today – for who this is their reality, and with heavy hearts those that may still come.
Lost and broken sheep may be found in so many areas of the community around us, and may include ourselves. The lost and broken who are marginalised through physical isolation, poverty, homelessness, violence, oppression and trauma. So where is the Good Shepherd in this brokenness? Where is he in our brokenness?
Scripture tells us that the Good Shepherd brings in all the sheep to create one flock. The Good Shepherd gathers in the lost, the strayed, the broken.That is not to say that this gathering in is a one time event, after all the sheep may come and go from the flock, becoming distracted, lost or broken once more. The Good Shepherd is willing to continually seek us out, to lay down his life for us, to protect us and guide us. Bringing us back to the gift of an abundant eternal life in God.
In the life and ministry of Jesus Christ we see an example of this shepherding. Some of you may be familiar with the concept of ‘radical welcome’, a concept based on the ministry of Jesus. Where there is no shortage of resources, no limit to the ability to love one another, where the is no rivalry, mirroring the relationship of the triune God – a relationship of abundant love. It is God’s unconditional love that accepts us, in our brokenness, and opens up a future. A future made possible through Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, through whom we have salvation. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd that leads us on to an abundant and eternal life. Through Jesus Christ the walls between ‘them’ and ‘us’ are broken down. The very walls that create isolation, violence, rivalry and division. Instead, the Good Shepherd brings us into the oneness of an eternal abundant life.
That still doesn’t tell us what it means to have abundant life? What does it mean to participate in it? One image we may think of when we talk about abundant life is that of an overflowing cup. There is no shortage or scarcity, instead there is an abundance, an overflowing. This abundance is not one of material goods and resources, but something much more deeper and meaningful. Through participating in a relationship with God we are able to participate in God’s love, God’s joy and God’s peace. As these gifts from God are not finite, the cup overflows, we are able to share in and share God’s love, God’s abundance with one another. Practically this can look like helping those in need around us. Rather than saying ‘I understand’, saying that ‘you are not alone’. To provide a safe place, to check in with one another. To not just say ‘I love you’ but to show it. To show ‘I love you’, just as the Good Shepherd shows his love of us.
Today we, like those who have gone before us, are called to be like the Good Shepherd. We are called into that place of radical welcome, where we are called to abundant life, to abundant love. Today as we remember ANZAC day, we remember the fallen and those who have been broken by conflict, and their families. May we show that abundant love through holding space for these broken people. As we, who are broken people ourselves, are loved by God, so may we participate in God’s love through our love of one another – the broken, isolated, homeless, oppressed and traumatised around the world.