Who remembers writing their very first research paper in elementary school? We took our research notes on 3×5 notecards and drafted outlines…but what was the key to ceasing the endless revisions and earning your teacher’s admiration? A good thesis statement!
If John’s Gospel had a thesis statement, we’d find that statement here in the 10th chapter. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Sadly, this thesis statement would not have passed muster with Mrs. Gjerstad, my beloved 5th Grad Language Arts teacher. While this statement is concise, the statement is hardly clear. What does Jesus mean by abundant life?
Zoe is the Greek word translated into English as life in this parable. Jesus is talking about much more than our vital force…more than breathing and having a pulse. Zoe – life – is a word that not only indicates that something or someone is alive but the word also acknowledges the source of that life. Zoe is the very presence of God…the BE-ing of God. Jesus came that we might have God, and have God abundantly!
Having abundant life is not just concerned with what happens to us after we die. Abundant life is about knowing the love of God in this life and the next. Abundant life is a purposeful vocation that serves the common good, participation in a vibrant worshipping community, delight in sustaining relationships, and a sense of security in Christ no matter what happens to us.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes seven I am statements: I am the bread of life(6.35-48)…I am the light of the world(8.12, 9.5)…I am the gate(10.7)…I am the good shepherd(10.__)…I am the resurrection and the life(11.25)…I am the way, the truth, and the life(14.6)…and I am the true vine (15.1-5). If “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” is John’s thesis statement, then the “I AM” statements are the “roman numeral-ed” main points in the outline…the necessary components of abundant life that Jesus offers us!
In the parable we just heard read, Jesus says, “I am the gate.” For me, this is the most obtuse of Jesus’ “I am” statements. But our conversation in Bible Study on Wednesday shed some new light on this parable. Just a few verses on in this chapter, Jesus expands this parable and says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” From a sheep’s perspective, what do both the gate and the shepherd represent? They are safety and security. The gate keeps the gathered sheep in the sheepfold, safe from bandits and predators, and only permits the shepherd to enter. The shepherd keeps the sheep secure when they are not in the sheepfold – leading the sheep to green pastures and beside still water. With a gate and a good shepherd, sheep know the shelter of God’s goodness and mercy even in the midst of life’s storms…even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
All God’s creatures have an innate need to feel safe and secure in order to thrive. The feeling that the threat of the corona virus was robbing people of their sense of security inspired Fr. Michael Joncas to write the hymn “Shelter Me” that Libby will sing for us in a few minutes. Fr. Joncas has written more than 300 pieces of liturgical music – most famously “On Eagle’s Wings.” Based on the 23rd Psalm and images of God as our shepherd, the refrain of “Shelter Me” reads: O shelter me, O shelter me: The way ahead is dark and difficult to see. O shelter me, O shelter me: All will be well if only you will shelter me. Fr. Joncas said of the hymn, “People of faith may be struggling to articulate their belief in an all-good, all-powerful God in this new era. “Shelter Me” is my attempt as a church composer to find God’s presence in these fraught times.
As I considered Jesus’ “I am” statements as the main points on an outline, I became aware that I had seen a similar list of components necessary for abundant life. Abraham Maslow became famous for his theory of a hierarchy of needs. In order to reach the top of Maslow’s hierarchy – to become self-actualized – that place where we become the best self we can become – perhaps, what Jesus’ calls abundant life…we must first have food, water, shelter…safety, health, employment…love and belonging, freedom and respect.
Maslow wrote in Toward a Psychology of Being, “When people appear to be something other than good and decent it is only because they are reacting to stress, pain or to the deprivation of basic human needs such as security, love, and self-esteem.” And Jesus – the Good Shepherd – taught and preached and lived the message that the hungry should be fed, the homeless should be given shelter, prisoners and the sick should be cared for…” we all need a gate for abundant life.
Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly…that we would have God, and have God abundantly. Even when the “way ahead is dark and difficult to see”…our Good Shepherd leads us and the gate to our sheepfold is secure. God is with us.
4 Easter A – May 3, 2020 – Pastor Sarah D. Odderstol – St. John’s Broad Creek
Acts 2.42-47 – Psalm 23 – 1 Peter 2.19-25 – John 10.1-10