ASome years ago there was a story carried in various newspapers about a woman from Missouri who was startled out of a dead sleep one night by some desperate cries of “Help! Help!” You know how it is when you awake to some sound: you are not at all certain whether you really heard something or if it was just a dream. At first she thought perhaps her husband had cried out, but he was sleeping soundly next to her. Then suddenly she heard the cries again: “Help! Help!” Finally she threw back the covers and headed downstairs toward their living room. “Help!” went the plaintive voice yet again. “Where are you?” the woman replied. “In the fireplace,” came the rather shocking answer.
And sure enough, dangling in the fireplace with his head sticking through the flue was a burglar, upside down and quite snugly stuck! The police and fire department got him out eventually, though not before having to disassemble the mantle and some of the masonry. Perhaps the best part of the story was what this woman did in the meantime. She flipped on all the lights and videotaped the whole thing. I don’t know what the two talked about while waiting for the police and company to arrive, but had I been she, I think I would have hauled out a Bible and given the crook a pointed reading of John 10: “Verily I tell you, anyone who does not enter by the door but climbs in another way is a thief and a robber!” (Center for Excellence in Preaching)
A little humour goes a long way these days when we are being asked to isolate and socially distance. We need something to break the routine that can pervade our lives as a result of being thrown off of our normal routines. My hope is that the rains from this week and the sun this weekend will see people out in gardens taking advantage of the time that has been afforded to us as it can be difficult to see our way towards the end of this time. And as we journey through this period of time we are all beginning to recognize that we may not return to how things once were. In some ways that is comforting, but in others it could be cause for concern.
It was with relief that I read our passage from John’s gospel on Monday as I began preparing this message. This passage was exactly what I needed. This year started like many others, with promise. New idea’s and goals. There were many things I had planned to do personally, almost all of which have now been cancelled: vacations, coaching, competitions. At the church we had planned to launch a planned giving campaign that would run for the next ten years. Bible study and new ways of outreach have evolved into new ideas.
During the first few weeks that we were asked to socially distance I enjoyed the time it provided. A busy schedule slowed down and it allowed for reflection. It provided space to reflect on things that are important and the attention or lack thereof that they suffered. As this time has moved on, we have acclimatized to the isolation and distancing. In some ways I have found that we have regressed into a mode of high productivity, of a need to be busy.
And so it was with relief that I read the closing lines from John’s gospel this morning, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
In that statement from Jesus I find rest, purpose and peace.
I also have questions. What does that closing statement by Jesus, I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly, mean to us normally? What does it mean to us during Covid-19?
In as much as I found relief and peace when I read this statement I wondered if I really understood it or if I merely understood it from my own perspective. Yes, I took comfort and solace from the knowledge that Jesus came to offer my life, and life abundant. And by abundance I don’t mean material goods, but rather the peace, joy and love that comes from living a full life in fellowship with God and with the people that I love.
But I wonder if we really appreciate this passage on a larger scale? Afterall, the disciples themselves seem to be having a great deal of difficulty with what Jesus has been trying to teach them. Scott Black Johnston points out in his article on John 10 in “The Lectionary Commentary,” there is some irony in John 10 considering that Jesus makes a big point to say that the sheep know and follow the recognized voice of the shepherd. They don’t listen to a stranger’s voice but they do so to the familiar voice of the shepherd. And yet given all that, how ironic to note that in John 10:6, right after Jesus says all this, we are told that the disciples and others listening to Jesus that day “did not understand what he was telling them.” Apparently even when we recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice, we don’t necessarily always understand what he is saying to us! (Reference)
How much are we like the disciples? Do we wrestle with what these words from Jesus are trying to teach us?
Where is life abundant for the homeless individual who is fined for living rough? Our friend Jordan Randall shared an article about this very issue as it connects directly with the cause she supports, providing socks for homeless individuals. (Global News Article)
Where is life abundant for the victim of abuse who is locked up with their abuser?
Where is life abundant for the parent working from home who is also trying to help their child with school work?
Where is life abundant for health care workers, essential workers and emergency services personnel as they try to keep us safe while putting themselves at risk?
I ask these questions, not because I don’t believe that life abundant exists for people in these situations. I believe that the promises of Jesus extend beyond this life. However, I also believe that the kingdom of God exists in the here and now and that we are responsible for stewarding its existence. These questions stem from a desire to ensure that the systems we all participate in are equitable and fair, that they take care of people emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.
In her commentary on this passage Lindsey Jodrey writes, “Let us be open to noticing new things about ourselves as we read this text:
- Where do we participate in systems that oppress others?
- Where do we grapple and grasp for power?
- Where are we challenging the systems even when it will cost us something?
- Are we following the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us to critique these systems and follow the path to abundant life?” (Lindsey Jodrey)
These are big questions and they don’t come with easy answers. However, each of us can search ourselves in light of Christ’s words and ask where and how we participate within these systems. We can ask how we may be blocking people from life abundant that Christ offers. We can ask how we may be getting in our own way of life abundant which Christ offers.
Retired physician Gabor Mate wrote an article The Toronto Star entitled The way to get through these terrible times is to let them make you sad (Article may be behind paywall). It may be that the one thing we have not allowed ourselves to do during the Covid-19 Pandemic and the other situations that have been highlighted during this time is because we haven’t allowed ourselves to grieve for the life that we knew only a few weeks ago and in doing so dream of the life that might be possible when we let go.
If we do that we may be better able to walk through the gate which Christ offers, to walk with the Good Shepherd, to know life and to know it abundantly. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.