My first sermon in this Season of COVID-19 was on Psalm 23. That was six weeks ago. We began this season of life by reminding ourselves that the Lord is our shepherd and we shall not be in want. I’m sure you know how the rest of it goes – the still waters and green pastures, fearing no evil, the table in the wilderness, the overflowing cup, daily goodness and mercy.
I commented back then how fortunate we were that Psalm 23 was one of our assigned readings and that it was exactly what we needed to hear. And I say that again today.
Psalm 23 and today’s gospel (John 10:1-10), with it’s images of shepherd, gatekeeper, gate, sheep, thieves and bandits, are exactly what we need to hear today. These two readings are full of metaphors and each one has something to do with life, and life abundant. The metaphor of the gate, however, is what gets my attention today.
Jesus says that he is the gate. Gates open and close. Gates keep sheep in, and thieves and bandits out. Gates close to death and open to life. Jesus is the gate that encloses and protects what is of value. And he is the gate that opens to pastures of abundance, still waters of abundance, tables of abundance, cups of abundance. “I came,” he says, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
I’m attracted to the gate metaphor because it fits what is happening in our country, our state, our town, your life and my life. I’m talking about reopening.
When will we reopen? What will it take? How will we do it? What will happen when we do reopen?
Questions about reopening have been on everyone’s mind at some level but more so the last week or two. Reopening is in the news every day. Our president, governor, and mayor are talking about and planning for it. People are protesting in favor of and against reopening. Dr. Fauci and other medical experts are offering cautions and guidance about when and how reopening should happen. Business owners are deciding what to do. For some the answer is clear, for others it’s not. Taken together, they don’t tell us whether the gate should be opened or closed, they tell us that the gate swings both ways.
I suspect you’ve also asked the reopening questions. And you probably have some thoughts on what the answers are or should be. I do. We’re not lacking in opinions about if, when, and how we should reopen.
Whose voice do you listen to and trust about reopening? Political leaders? Medical experts? The press? Social media? Whose lead do you follow? And where and how does the Jesus Gate fit in all that for you?
A few days ago we moved from talk of reopening to doing it. While reopening is already happening, the question of reopening remains. It’s a question I’ve thought about a lot.
But I’m not talking about reopening the country, the economy, businesses, restaurants, or even St. Philip’s. I worry that if we reopen the world around us before we reopen the life within us we will find ourselves more closed tomorrow, next week, and next month than we have been the last several weeks. I worry we’ll choose an economic life over an abundant life. And “what will it profit [us] if we gain the whole world but forfeit [our] life?” (Matthew 16:26)
So, when I speak about reopening I’m talking about reopening as an Easter question. I’m talking about reopening our eyes, hearts, and lives. I’m talking about reopening ourselves to something new, something different, something unexpected. I’m talking about reopening to life, and life abundant, not just for ourselves but for everyone.
What does that mean for you today? Where is your life abundant? And in what ways is it less than abundant? Keep in mind, however, that abundance is not something we get or possess. It’s a way of living and being. It’s a way of relating to others and engaging the world.
The abundant life is not about quantity, wealth, success, approval, popularity, security, being number one, or any of the other things we often think it is. How many times have you gotten what you wanted, been what others said you should be, or done what was encouraged and rewarded by society only to discover your own emptiness and poverty? You may have had it all but you were not abundant.
The abundant life is a quality of life, not a quantity of stuff. It’s about faith, hope, and love. It’s about goodness and mercy. It’s more about compounding value than it is about compounding interest.
The abundant life adds to, compounds, and enhances our lives and the lives of others. It refuses to add to the pain of the world. It is life that leads to life, love that leads to love, joy that leads to joy, hope that leads to hope, courage that leads to courage, kindness that leads to kindness, generosity that leads to generosity, beauty that leads to beauty, forgiveness that leads to forgiveness, dignity that leads to dignity, gratitude that leads to gratitude. It is life and more life.
Abundance encompasses the deep qualities and values of your life, the things that matter most and give your life meaning, purpose, and value. It is what opens your heart to others.
Where and in what ways is the compounding of life happening for you and where is it absent? What gates do you need to reopen? And what would that take? What gates need to close or remain closed?
What if, as you and I face the question of reopening, we were to listen to and follow the shepherd within you? What would that look like and mean in your life today? What if each one of us decided to let the shepherd’s voice guide our reopening? I think it might change us, our relationships, our community and world.
That shepherd, that one, who leads, and guides, and calls us each by name; that shepherd who opens and closes gates – that shepherd will not abandon, betray, or mislead us.
The Lord is our shepherd and we shall not be in want.