Abundant Life – A Test
John 10: 1-10
October 2, 2022
In the process of living our lives we find ourselves faced with a variety of choices. Decisions must be made. Actions must be taken. As we seek to make those choices, whose voice do we listen to? Whose directions do we follow? Not just personally, but corporately – as a congregation, as a community, as a nation. And how do we know when we are on the right track? Put another way, what is the will of God for our lives? There are, of course, lots of answers to questions such as these. Both the questions and the answers are complex and not easily sorted out. In most cases what is required is a lifetime of striving to shape, refine, and then re-shape our responses. And in all of that, we will very seldom, if ever, find ourselves presented with clear-cut, black and white, 100% certainties. Life is ambiguous, and what we are called to do is show up and do the best we can in any given moment.
As we seek to discover how best to respond in a faithful manner, there are clues and guidelines which we can use along the way – tests which we can apply to our choices. Jesus offers one such guiding principle in the passage from John’s Gospel which was read this morning. In talking about the relationship between himself and humanity, he uses the metaphor of sheep and their shepherd. He contrasts this relationship with that of a thief whose only intention is to steal and kill and destroy. And to the unspoken question, “How can we tell the difference?” he lays out his own desire for humanity, and by extension, God’s desire as well. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) This statement is, in my opinion, one of the high water marks in all of scripture. It lays before us a standard by which to measure the ways in which we go about living our lives. In the video series, “Questions Of Faith,” Hyung Kyung Chung, a Presbyterian theologian from Korea, responds to the question “What’s the use of the Bible?” by stating that the norm for interpreting scripture is to ask the question, “Is this life-giving for us or is this death-giving for us?” And at a very basic level, that is also the question which we must ask of all the choices we face – will this choice enhance life or encourage death? If we are truly seeking to follow God’s desire for us, then the decisions we make, the actions we take, the paths we choose, must be life oriented and life enhancing, not just for us but for the whole world. If they are not, then, to the degree to which they are not, we have missed the mark of what it means to be the people God created us to be.
It is, of course, much easier to lay out this kind of broad, general principle than it is to actually apply such a principle to particular situations. As I said, life is ambiguous. Hard questions must be asked, both of ourselves and the society of which we are a part. It will always be an ongoing process of learning and growing and adapting. It is painfully obvious to anyone listening to the news that there is much about our world which is not life-enhancing. The number of mass shootings which continue to occur around the country, to lift up just one of countless examples, has left of many of us shaking our heads in confusion and frustration as we grasp for some sort of explanation. It all seems so senseless. But unless and until we begin to recognize that we live in an interconnected world, where our choices and our actions make a difference, the pattern will just continue. Whether it’s violence, or poverty, or human rights, or racial tension, or environmental degradation, or whatever else might show up on the list, nothing happens in isolation. We are all a part of a system which frequently offers us death-giving choices rather than life-giving ones. But the good news is that because we are all a part of the system, we can also begin making different choices which will change the system. The change likely won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen at all unless we take the first step. And we won’t get far on this journey unless we remember that we need not (indeed, we cannot) go it alone. It is absolutely vital that we remember we have each other and we have God. We are all in this together.
I know it is not simple. There are often complicated questions with no clear and simple solutions. I seldom feel like I have definitive answers for such difficult issues, but at the very least the questions must continue to be asked. Is there a more life-giving response which could be made than is presently being offered? Am I really seeking abundant life with this decision? Am I really contributing to abundant life with this decision? What are the implications of this choice, not only for my life, but for those around me and, indeed, for the rest of the world? Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” What are we doing to cooperate with that goal?