A close up of a flower

Life Abundant

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Easter 4A2023
John 10:1-10

Jesus said: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. All I’ve got this morning is testimony.

I know what it’s like to not have abundant life, and I bet you do too. The mountain of perfection that gets taller every time you reach the peak. Constant stress and worry, thoughts that run through your mind without end. Feeling alone, not able to say what you really think or feel to anyone.

The years of my life when I felt caught in these cycles, not everything was bad. There was plenty of good. During every single one of those years, I had a bed to sleep in and three meals a day. I had health care and educational opportunities. I had meaningful work and was ever part of a family. But I didn’t know life, life abundant.

In those years when I sought abundant life that never came, I also sought:
being right, meaning always having the last word and critically arguing with people, not out of curiosity but in strident pursuit of converting them to my way of thinking

I also sought succeeding, being better than everyone else

I sought looking good for everybody who was watching

I sought being mad, as in “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”

Perhaps for you, it was prestige you sought or still seek or maybe the accumulation of material possessions or numbing pain or avoiding conflict.

Of course, I and probably you have always sought to love and to have integrity and to serve others. And by the grace of God, we have experienced moments of joy. But happiness? I was far shy of happiness due to getting in my own way.

The year after I started serving as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix, I received a card and a stuffed animal from an anonymous member of the community. I could tell from the gift that it came from someone experiencing homelessness so probably cost the person a good portion of their resources. The card said something like: “When you see someone struggling, you don’t ask them what they need. You try to tell them they’re not alone.” And I wondered: Am I struggling? Do I feel alone? Does it show?

Another time, I recall a member of the congregation commenting to me before worship one day about my perfectionism. “You gotta give that up,” she said. I mean, I knew I was a perfectionist. I knew I cared deeply how people perceived me, but what I didn’t know at the time was how my preoccupation with looking perfect stopped me from being truly effective in ministry and truly happy in life. This member of the congregation wasn’t telling me to slack off in my job; she wasn’t telling me to not seek excellence. She was telling me that caring about what people think made me less effective as a pastor because I directed my energy to how everything looked instead of directing my energy towards how everything was.

Looking perfect, succeeding in outward, visible ways, even experiencing great ease is not the life, life abundant of which Jesus speaks today. Life includes struggle and hard times. It just does, AND we can experience abundant life still. Abundant life is not the absence of difficulty or conflict.

Instead, Jesus speaks of a life of connection and belonging—connection and belonging to God and community. In today’s passage from the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the disciples, and thus of us, as sheep who are part of a flock who come in and out by Jesus, the gate. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow. “They will not follow a stranger,” Jesus says, and “all who came before me were thieves and bandits.” But Jesus is the gate that allows only that which is life-giving to enter, and when we freely go through the gate, it is in relationship with Jesus and Jesus’ community that we experience life, life abundant.

It seems too simple, but it is what I hear in the gospel of John: that life, life abundant is tied not to perfection, success, avoiding conflict, ease, or really anything else. Life, life abundant is found in connection with God and God’s people and thus in belonging to God and a community of God’s people. Not as our picture-perfect selves, not as our social media profiles project, but as our real selves, our authentic selves. The ones who make mistakes and are vulnerable and don’t make sense sometimes. The ones with whom others are going to have conflict from time to time, just because conflict is part of life.

All I’ve got this morning is testimony. Jesus said: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. In letting go of perfection and success and being right, I discovered people, friends, colleagues, neighbors who all just wanted to be connected. I discovered that most of us just don’t want to be alone. And that being connected and belonging to others and having others belong to us, that is where life, life abundant emerges.

Little Luke Christopher Davis, you are already one of us, but this morning, you will be claimed by God as a child of God, and you will forever be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ. As each of us here are. We already belong to God. We are those sheep. Let’s enter by the gate into relationship with God and God’s people that we may have life and have it abundantly. Thanks be to God! Amen.