• By:  
  • Date:  

FPC Sermon May 7, 2017                     John 10: 1-10, Acts 10:34-43

We read in the Gospel according to John that Jesus said he came to give us “life, and have it to the full.” Or as the Revised Standard Version says, “to have life and have it abundantly.”

In today’s world, it’s hard to say what makes for an abundant life. I spent two weeks in Peru and Ecuador right around the Equator.  When you live near the Equator, every season is about the same. And it’s not just the climate.  The cost of living is low, and the country uses the U.S. dollar.  Thousands of Americans have moved to Ecuador in the past few years.  In fact, you can attend a seminar there in June telling you how to do it.  A U.S. magazine called International Living is putting on the event.  For those American expatriates, they’ve found an abundant life in Ecuador.

I spent most of my time in Ecuador in its Galapagos Islands, the ones made famous by Charles Darwin. Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species after observing the adaptive differences made by similar birds living on different islands.  Abundant life in the Galapagos means being able to pick the fruit off the trees, to eat fresh vegetables and seafood, to have a job that enables you to enjoy the beauty of the islands.  But if you’re a tourist there, the abundant life you’re seeking consists of seeing the giant tortoises, the dragon-like land iguanas, the flightless cormorants, the blue-footed boobies, the flamingos, the dolphins, the tropical fish, the sharks, and the whales.

What do we Christians in East Jordan view as the ideal, abundant life?

At yesterday’s meeting of Presbyterian Women in Traverse City, we heard from the keynote speaker about her trip to San Francisco with PW last year as Representative from our Synod. The subjects the group studied, the places they visited, educated them about the perils of human trafficking, the struggles of seeking justice for immigrants, and the trials of domestic abuse victims.  Two workshops developed these themes further.

PW attendees were alerted to the facts of trafficking in plain view. It could be slave workers at Wendy’s or employees of Walmart.  It could be children kidnapped or sold into slavery by their families.  Those people you see panhandling in cities: it could be that they are trafficked individuals charged with collecting a certain amount of money for their handlers every day.

We also heard what is happening in Traverse City to assist victims of domestic violence. Those aiming to help have been making progress in this area, but the facts are, we were told, that the victims remain the disadvantaged parties. The projects of the Women’s Resource Center there include providing safe housing for victims and their families.  Sadly, the women often return home as many as seven times, only to be battered repeatedly, until they finally leave the dangerous situation and seek shelter.     In one case, the Center advised the victim not to return home when her husband said he wanted to see her one more time.  When she came, he killed her.

Friends, these are not examples of the abundant life Christ wants us to have. However, they show us that good-willed people working together can achieve changes that help the neediest among us.

In our last part of the meeting, I reviewed the upcoming PW Horizons Bible Study. It focuses on the various types of community, drawing on the book of Hebrews.  It suggested a number of practices that could be pursued during the study.

What then do we see as an abundant life? It could be that, for some of us here today, abundant life means sticking within our own community and doing what we can to help improve life for all its residents.  Maybe our attention is drawn to tutoring or mentoring students.  Perhaps we are donating food for those who need it.  Maybe we volunteer at Crossroads or elsewhere.  Maybe we’re investing in our community to improve its economy.

Last week, voters approved a millage intended to improve our schools. Certainly, we’d like abundant life to mean that our children can get a solid education that helps prepare them for the rest of their lives.

If you’re a teenager or younger, maybe your abundant life consists of finding the right career and advanced education to help you achieve your goals. Maybe it consists of just finding happiness and security in your life and relationships.

As we look around the world, we can see that, for many, abundant life sounds like a pipe dream.   For those folks, life is focused on getting through each day safely and with enough food to help them and their children reach the next day alive.  Abundance, material abundance, isn’t part of the equation.

For some of us, however, abundant life means that everyone in the U.S. and around the world has the opportunity to know and have life enriched by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus isn’t just for us. Jesus is for everyone.  This is the point made by Peter in his speech that we heard today: “I now realize,” he said, “that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

Sometimes, it’s hard for us to understand that God does not favor us but loves everyone else around the world equally. God forgives everyone who believes in him.

It’s that hope that can lift us all from despair, regardless of our issues or personal agendas. Yet, sometimes those personal agendas get in the way of following Jesus.  We claim to be interested in Jesus, but following him is another question.   We can’t invent the Jesus we want.  The only one is the man who lived among us and the risen Christ who turned Saul into the Apostle Paul without whom we might not be here worshiping today.

Jesus is our loving shepherd who calls us to follow him. He wants to be #1 in our lives, not some afterthought.  When we entrust our lives to Jesus, we suddenly find our lives overflowing with love.  Abundance is everywhere for us when Jesus is the focus.

We Presbyterians in particular place as our focus the Six Great Ends of the Church. You will find these in Part II of our Book of Order, F-1.0304.  The Six Great Ends of the Church are:

  • The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
  • The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
  • The maintenance of divine worship
  • The preservation of the truth
  • The promotion of social righteousness
  • The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world

These great ends guide us to engagement with God, each other, and the world. We worship together. We study the scriptures together. We live in community. We promote social righteousness in our community, our country, and the world.

As the prophet Amos said in 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” This means we don’t close our eyes to injustice. We don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.   Rather, we speak out for the oppressed and act on their behalf.

Yes, it may mean adhering to viewpoints or engaging in activities deemed to be controversial by some within our own community. But that’s the Jesus we follow, not some figment of our imagination.     Abundant life is meant for everyone.

As we approach the Lord’s table today, let’s remember that Jesus welcomes everyone, loves everyone, and upholds everyone. Jesus the Christ is the Lord of all. Amen.