Sermon Title: Living Abundantly
Sermon by the Reverend John Young-Jung Lee on April 13, Fourth Sunday of Easter
"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the
gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
10:3 The gatekeeper opens
the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name
and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep
follow him because they know his voice.
They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not
know the voice of strangers."
Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he
was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for
All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go
out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life,and have it abundantly.
Title: Living Abundantly
Let us go back to a place of 2000 years ago and
imagine a small town in ancient Palestine.
There is crowd of people and a man sitting among them. He takes some children
up into his arms. This man reaches out not only to children but also to the
sick and the dying, healing many and affirming that they are in the kingdom of
This man teaches about forgiveness, love, and new
life that never ends. This man teaches about community life and assures us,
"I have come that you may have life and have that life abundantly.”
This is what we’ve heard in today’s Gospel reading. When
Jesus taught the life of “living abundantly” people didn’t understand him
correctly. In this passage the ‘gate’ means an opening into a new way of
hearing the word of God and of how to follow the Word in our daily lives. This
calls us to be transformed. For the transformation, Jesus continues even today to assure us, “I came
that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” A crucial point in Jesus’
teaching is that he speaks of communal life, not individual.
In other words, Jesus teaches us that life is a
matter of relationships – life-giving relationships. What then does such a
life-giving relationship mean to us? The primary life-giving relationship is,
of course, our relationship with God. This means prayer, communication with
God. Jesus often spent the whole night in prayer. He intimately calls God as “Abba”,
which enables him to build a deep and abiding connection with God. In this deep
encountering, we come to know, "God is the God of life."
The other life-giving relationship is the
relationship with one's neighbour. “Love of God and love of our neighbor” gives
life abundantly. The relationship that gives life, we can find in the event of
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In the Garden of Gethsemane,
when Jesus prays in desperation to God , God does not answer. On the cross
Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Moltmann, a German
theologian, explains this seeming ‘abandonment’ that God the Father, the Son
Jesus and the Holy Spirit maintain not an inter-subjective relationship. Treating
others as subject or object makes a huge difference in our relationship.
Here is a story that will help us to understand this
relationship, a story of Sue and her mother. When Sue was growing from an
infant to a toddler, and entering her terrible two’s, Sue was so cute and gave
all the joys each and every day. Part of the reason is that she is totally
dependant on her mother. It is human nature that anticipates total dependency
and from it having satisfaction. The mother’s life of devotion and even the
sacrificial love continued. When Sue entered elementary school she began
questioning what the mother was saying. And from some time, Sue did not listen
to her mother any more. Sue became independent and developed her own way of
thinking and acting. The mother began to worry and said, “I always thought that
Sue is mine, but she is not mine any more. I feel that I am betrayed. Sue does
not know how much I love her.”
It is a crisis of a family. Many of us here experienced
similar incident like this. Do you know what is wrong with this story of Sue
and her mother? The mother did not recognize her daughter’s growth in becoming
an independent person as a subject. It was not a time to worry, but a time to
celebrate. God wants us to live as an independent subject. No one is possessed
by another and no one should control others. No one can be the object of my
control. My child, my spouse is not my possession. Each person has to live his/her
own life. No one can live ‘my life’ instead of me.
This is what the relationship of the Trinitarian God
shows us in the event of crucifixion. In the Garden of Gethsemane,
when Jesus prays in desperation to God, God is with Jesus who chooses the way
of life by confessing, “not my will, but thy will be done.” The Father’s
abandonment here is not indifference. This abandonment is the ultimate love of
God, who is with us so that we can experience the new life of genuine freedom. God’s
abandonment is the gift of freedom. This leads the people to build the
relationship of trust and mutual respect. This is what the life-giving
relationship means to us.
To build this life-giving relationship, we need to
learn the will of God’s creation. All people are created in God’s image, and at
the same time, they are imbued with different unique gifts from the same God. God
created us in God’s image and gave God’s gifts to each one of us. No matter
what our gender is, no matter what our capability is, no matter what our
physical/mental condition is no matter what our culture is, no matter what our
skin colour is, no matter what our sexual orientation is, God gave unique gifts
‘without any exception’. And God accepts us as we are and speaks to us, “You
are my precious child.”
Trusting God the Creator leads us to trust each
other and discover the differences and value them as God given gifts. This is
what mutual respect means. This is what inter-subjective relationship means. This
is concrete terms of justice, healing and reconciliation. To build mutual
respect, inter-subjective relationship, as Paul teaches us, we need to be
patient and kind. We are not to be jealous, or boastful, but rejoice with
justice, rejecting wrong doing. How then can we live life abundantly? How can
we be transformed to live abundantly? Discerning the truth and justice of God
enables us to be transformed to discover the precious, sparkling gift of God in
me and others.
Toward the end of Leonard Bernstein's musical work
entitled Mass, there is a scene in which the priest is richly dressed in
magnificent vestments. He is lifted up by the crowd carrying a splendid glass
chalice in his hands. Suddenly the human pyramid collapses and the priest comes
tumbling down. His vestments are ripped off and the glass chalice falls to the
ground, shattering into tiny pieces. As he walks slowly through the debris of
his former glory, barefoot and wearing only a T-shirt and jeans, he hears
children's voices singing off stage, Laude. Laude. Laude. Praise! Praise!
Praise! His eyes, transformed by God’s grace, suddenly notice the broken chalice.
He looks at it for a long, long time. And then, haltingly, he says, "I
never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly.”
Our transformed eyes can see the bright shining
light even in the broken pieces of the glass. I remember one of my friend’s
critical comment in our sharing after serving the dinner for the street people.
Her name is Linda Katsuno who is now studying her doctorate in the school of
theology. When I said, “We have to bring ourselves down and under-stand these
people who are mentally or physically challenged.” Linda asked me a question, “John,
do you think you are any better then these people because you are mentally and
physically healthier then them?” I was surprised by my close friends
challenging question against my humble comment.
I was in a silence for a moment, and I realized that
I was wrong. I ignored the truth that God created all humankinds with all different
gifts “without exception.” The crucial factor to have peace with harmony is to
value the different gifts which is in all people “without exception.” This is
the reason that we respect each other and
discover the unique gifts and celebrate them by valuing as God-given
gifts. But in the world people do not find the gifts in others and claim that
“mine is better than you and, in fact, mine is the best.”
Yesterday, I was at the WHORM which was organized by Christian Peacemaker Teams on the theme of World
History of Racism. There can be many reasons for the racism. What I learned
from the event is the boastfulness comes from producing better and more than
others. Based on this capability of production, people began to think “I am
better then others. My race is superior than other race.” This mentality came through
ignoring God’s creation with all unique gifts for all different people and
peoples. I do not want to name the examples. It is the home work for all of us
for the coming days. It is worth pondering during the next few years or next
few decades. As we ponder, our eyes will be opened and we will understand
Jesus’ love and passion for all people.
When we have a new vision, we can make the
brokenness of our lives shine brightly. Even the broken pieces of glass, we
will see the light that shines brightly. In this light we can build trusting
relationships with each other and unclog what separates us. As we see others
with the love and compassion of Jesus, we can see the hidden beauty in others
and in ourselves, and we will say “You are beautiful. And so am I.”
Here is another truth we find from the story of the
broken glass. We feel many times like broken glass: when we have failed to do
something we wanted to do, when we see the world separated by their own selfish
desires, when we see physically and mentally disabled persons excluded from the
community they belonged to. That’s not all. As we grow old, we sometimes feel
that we are like broken glass. However, in God’s sight we have light that
shines brightly. In the sight of someone who have the love and compassion of
Jesus Christ, we have this light that shines even though we become like broken
pieces. God is the God of grace who takes care of the birds of the air, who
also counts the hairs of your head. Trust that even in the midst of hurt and
brokenness, we are beautiful.
Mattie Stepanek was battling an incurable genetic
disease muscular dystrophy. He was only able to live using a life-support breathing
apparatus. His mother has the same disease. And he lost his two brothers and a
sister with the same disease. He believed that there must something that God
wants to do through his unusual life. This belief enabled him to write many
poems of hope in God. He has kept his message of hope and peace alive through
his books and website. Mattie died on June 22, 2004, just three weeks before
his fourteenth birthday. But he left us the gift of his Heartsongs, which are
his legacy, and our comfort and inspiration. Mattie's message resonates in the
hearts of all ages, races, nationalities, faiths, abilities, and aspirations. In
memory of Mattie, his mom is updating his website every month or so, and his
mission for hope continues. Here is one of his poems.
FOR OUR WORLD
We need to stop.
Stop for a moment.
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.
What beauty! Can we see the light of Christ that
shines in his brokenness? No matter what situation we are in, we have the
beauty of the Creator. Whatever situation, condition we are in, we have God’s
beauty in us. There is no exception. Life is a gift. When we find God’s beauty
in us, life becomes a gift. Jesus invites all of us and says, “I came that you,
all of you, may have life, and have it abundantly.” This is God’s blessing for
all of us. Thanks be to God.