Sermon based on John 10: 1-10. YOLO. Chances are good that if you know anyone under the age of 30 they know that acronym well. Or if you're a regular on Twitter, you have probably seen YOLO or perhaps seen it on Facebook or as a hashtag describing all kinds of craziness.
YOLO is an acronym for "You only live once." Think of it as "carpe diem" for the digital age, and, over the last ten years or so, it has had its proponents who cherish its vision as well as detractors who consider it the dumbest motto ever. Well whatever you may think, as many of you may know YOLO has become attached to all kinds of less-than-noble aims and activities. For many, the phrase "You only live once" is less of a motivation for meaningful living and more a convenient justification for reckless activity.
But before we judge too harshly --- as many of us who attend church are well known of doing --- we must first turn the mirror onto ourselves. If we think about it as Christians, we realize that all of us have creative ways of justifying our behavior at the same time that we search for deeper meaning. We may not be walking around trying to figure out how to bungee jump from Hemisphere tower, yet we use the gentler sounding "bucket list" --- a string of activities we would like to do before we die if we have the time, the money or the health to do. And if we are historians, and not just jumpy about calling anything that contradicts our point of view as fake, we would shortly realize that we and our ancestors throughout the centuries have justified our behavior with "we only live once" as a motto because that explains why we have "we only live once" around in the first place!
So think about, don't we try to add meaning to, and/or wring the most out of every day? The only difference is that when we are young it may be pub-crawls and taking selfies of our speedometer while driving down the highway at a 100. When we are older it may be skydiving at 90 as a former President is to have done, or write a book, or find a new ways to incorporate more fiber into our diet. "YOLO, baby!" "We only live once!"
Well thankfully into our world of annoying acronyms, self-absorption and indulgent lists and living through stupid choices comes Jesus who, in today's gospel, recognizes and takes on our search for significance. "The thief comes only to steal and destroy," Jesus says. "I have come so that [my people] may have life and have it abundantly."
With those words --- "may have life and have it abundantly" --- two profound things are made clear to us. First, Jesus affirms our desire for a well-lived and abundant life. One of the goals of Jesus' ministry is to reaffirm creation, a full life as God intended, for all of creation. Second, Jesus tells us that, in this particular lesson that although others, people or ideas will come making similar claims ---- only Jesus --- can truly deliver abundant life.
So, wherever we may find ourselves on the YOLO to Bucket List spectrum, we are reminded in today's gospel that God through Jesus Christ affirms abundant, full life. Which means, we can "YOLO!" while we bungee jump. We can "carpe diem" all day long and record as many episodes of Dr. Oz as our DVR can handle. We can try mightily to live the abundant American life as wealthy, pampered people at the expense of others and creation. But today's gospel affirms that only Jesus Christ gives full life --- at least that's what Jesus claims. Therefore, if we are serious about arriving at the end of our life spent, satisfied and fulfilled, then examining what Jesus brings to life, to make it abundant, is worth some serious effort.
Before we get more deeply into the gospel, let's take just three common concerns --- three driving values --- that often sit at the center of our obsessive drive to make the most out of our "one life." These are my opinion you may others: The first is a concern for significance. Many human beings, particularly in our nation, are inspired by the idea of giving our lives to a cause that's bigger and more noble than ourselves.
The second value, or concern, that drives many in life is excitement. Many of us are afraid that we will lay our head down to sleep at home on our final night of existence because that's how all of us want to die and realize we never took a risk. Instead, we want to live attempting/or accomplishing something. And so, as we age we plan, wish, dream, attempt or accomplish as much as we can.
A third value that drives many of us is a fear of being disappointed. We get freaky that, today, tomorrow or at in the end, we will or somehow thought we have missed the point. So, we try to cram or think about cramming as much living into life as possible, afraid on one hand not to miss out on too much but on the other hand fearful we have been running in circles. We dread lots of movement, but no momentum; lots of pursuit, but no purpose. In summary, these values highlight that we would all love not to say our deathbed, "You know I probably should have been more boring."
Let's take a moment now and reflect on how today gospel may paint a different picture of these values and toward a path forward as disciples. First, a little background to Jesus' words for one crucial element we need to realize that in that time period young Hebrew boys of the first century would memorize the entire Torah. They would learn by heart the complete books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
All Hebrew males, then, would have been able to connect Jesus' words in chapter 10 of the fourth gospel with those of the Book of Numbers, that the Lord God would appoint someone "who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in."
Hebrew males who, after their initial instruction, went on to become rabbis would have been expected to memorize the entire Old Testament. Therefore, they would have known of the prophet Jeremiah who wrote about bad shepherds who "destroy and scatter the sheep." The prophets Ezekiel, Micah, and Zechariah as well talked of the various would-be shepherds who scattered the sheep and did not feed them.
It is into this context that Jesus begins by using strong but familiar words "thieves and robbers" --- right off the bat. Jesus has been a critic of the economic practices of Judean Temple officials throughout the fourth gospel. The use of the word "thieves" is consistent with this critique.
Then, after this abrupt beginning, Jesus shifts once again using strong but familiar word of the "shepherd of the sheep" who enters through the gate. The gatekeeper --- God --- opens the gate for this shepherd. The sheep will hear the true shepherd's voice --- he calls them by name, he leads them out, he goes before them, his sheep follow.
Notice right away the shift in direction. It begins with entering the sheepfold, but now the good shepherd is leading his sheep out. The sheepfold, supposedly a place of protection, is here equated with death. At the call of his voice, Jesus leads his sheep out from death and into abundant life.
Jesus says twice that he himself is the gate. That would make Jesus both the good shepherd and the gate itself and is one reason why we read this lesson during the Easter season, as this gate is seen as Jesus' death and resurrection. The good shepherd enters the sheepfold through the gate of death. Then, on the basis of his death and resurrection, he leads his sheep out of death. This is the way ---and un-like other parts of the Bible where there is variety of ways, here it is the only way --- that the gatekeeper, God, approves.
The second aspect of the lesson we need to understand is that Jesus appears to be speaking to male Pharisees. Naturally, the Pharisees don't understand any of this. The problem is that they continue to have an investment in the system itself. They are trying to reform a religious, economic, and political reality that, in the view of the fourth gospel, cannot be reformed. They are trying to come in "by another way" than through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
"I am the gate," Jesus says again. That gate, the crucified and risen body of Jesus, frees all his sheep from the power of death.
Well, we could go on, but you get the idea. In other words, the point and purpose of life is not found in any one task, value or accomplishment but in this portion of John abundant life is found in knowing a Person. The promise is this: Jesus Christ offers abundant life because of his death and resurrection we have been forgiven and reconciled to God, meaning that we have --- right now --- embraced the point of our personal existence and abundant life.
To put it another way, no matter what we do or don't do in the days to come, when we stand face-to-face with God, we will hear the words, "I love you, and well done." Regardless of what we have or have not done to this point in life. Regardless of how we try to build a resume of righteousness through Instagram pics or YouTube videos--- worthy adventures and personal awesomeness, but to be blessed in the righteousness of Christ.
But here's the thing: Knowing this, we now have the freedom to risk greatly, give deeply and to chase the things of God without fear of failure regardless of the measures of the world around us. Why? Because we've already flourished! Our lives are fulfilled and comes as a gift, by grace; we are all connected to Christ and thus to God! Created by God as we are, we can love deeply, we can give generously and we can live adventurously --- not in order to hit a mark, seek to be blessed, or fulfill a bucket list, rather we've already nailed it, or rather, Christ has.
It's true: we only live once. So let's wring the most out of this life because we have received a gift of abundant life. This doesn't mean necessarily that we'll be asked to risk everything for the cause of Christ or to do something earthshaking in our service to him. But it does mean that we live ready for sacrifice, inconvenience and commitment, not for guts, or glory or for our own personal lists. Rather, God can and does ask for our all, for 100 percent in response for what we have received. And when we give it to God, well, then things can get pretty interesting and exciting because as you all know as friends of this congregation being a committed disciple of Jesus Christ is not for the faint of heart.
So, what if every morning we woke up with an attitude that said, "Whatever God places before me today the answer is yes." Yes, we have one life to live. Yes, we have received all we need. Yes we have received abundantly through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, now let us live abundantly. Amen.