Most of us grew up steeped in the tenets of Western Christianity.
We were taught that we have fallen and need to be saved.
We were taught that Jesus is Savior; he died for our sins, he rescued us.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…
We were taught that Jesus is not like us but different from us. Therefore, he can be a mediator between us and God.
This is the Christianity that was institutionalized in the fourth century with the establishment of the canonical texts and writing of the creeds.
One of the things I noticed about HW when we first started attending nine years ago is that Sunday Assembly does not recite a creed.
Probably most of us can still recite them from memory…
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God…
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man….(Nicene Creed)
So, in the context of western Christianity, when we hear
“I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly”…we don’t quite know what to make of it!
Cynthia Bourgealt in The Wisdom Jesus points out that Christianity of the West is not all there is.
There is another way.
There is the Christianity of the East.
Christianity spread to China and India and Persia and took on a flavor very different from what has been handed down to us in the West.
Did you know that in some regions of India, the peacock as a symbol is everywhere. It is the Christian symbol of immortality.
There are the findings of the Nag Hammadi Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
There is Syriac Christianity.
Jesus is not Savior of the world but the Enlightened One, the Unified One. He is a wisdom teacher.
Jesus is the master of consciousness and teaches a path that we can follow, that we can live.
Jesus is not different from us but like us. We can walk his walk. On one level it is so simple but it is not easy. It is hard.
As the Gospel of Thomas, part of the Nag Hammadi codex, puts it:
“Congratulations to the person who has toiled and has found life.” (v.58)
“Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”(v.108)
Let’s look at today’s gospel text from this perspective, Jesus as a wisdom teacher whose path we follow:
The sheep know the shepherd’s voice…
The shepherd goes ahead of them…
I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.
I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.
What is the abundant life?
Abundance is defined as existing or available in large quantities; plentiful.
Synonyms: plentiful, copious, ample, profuse, rich, lavish, abounding, liberal, generous, bountiful, large, huge, great, overflowing, prolific, teeming….
Get the picture??
Like the colors of yesterday’s Farmer’s Market!
The gospel of John is overflowing with abundance, extravagant generosity. Here are few examples:
John 1 is about the abundance of incarnation, “the word became flesh and lived among us”
John 2 is the wedding of Cana, an abundance of the finest wine at the wedding feast. That abundance left everyone speechless.
John 3 is the abundance of God’s love, God so loved that the world that he gave his son…giving of oneself out of love. You can’t be more generous than that!
John 4 is Jesus reaching across so many divides—ethnic, religious, gender– and connecting with the Samaritan woman, telling her of springs of water gushing to eternal life. There is no stinginess or drought here!
John 6: feeding the 5000 with two loaves and five fish. How much more abundant can you get??
Abundance is everywhere!
Today’s gospel reading gives some clues on how this abundant life is experienced:
The sheep know my voice.
Today we are baptizing Lorelei Ann Bernstein. She is ten weeks old.
She is a wise infant, she knows her mother’s voice!
She has been listening to it during her gestation. So at birth, it is familiar, it is safe, it is worthy of trust. It is a life line. It is the same voice she heard and felt in utero.
And, today is Mother’s Day. We need this feminine image!
Doesn’t this image resonate more than the metaphor of sheep knowing their shepherd’s voice?
It is not intellectual knowing, it is heart knowing, it is the knowing of experience, it is spiritual.
This kind of knowing is everywhere in the gospel of John:
Nicodemus in his conversation with Jesus.
The woman at the well in her encounter with Jesus
The blind man on the side of the road
In his book Second Simplicity, Father Bruno Barnhart, a Benedictine monastic, calls it recognition energy. He writes:
As we accompany Jesus through the gospels we are present at one dramatic meeting after another. One person after another experiences a mysterious power in Jesus that from this moment changes the course of his or her life. If we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves experience the liberating power of this awaking.
I know this to be true because of my own experience.
My encounter with the gospel of John as a college freshman in a dorm bible study changed my life. Back then I called it a conversion experience, now I would call it recognition energy.
I recognized Jesus; he gave and continues to give me life.
The sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Lorelei knows the voice of her mother.
When we hear and recognize the voice of Jesus and follow him, going deeper and deeper, a transformation takes place.
We find ourselves living with fearlessness, generosity and abundance.
This leads us to Acts 2; all things were held in common, it is a radical and selfless sharing.
The disciples were living out the abundance they had experienced.
They had experienced oneness with God and oneness with one another. This oneness manifested itself in sharing:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
When we experience this unity with God and with others…our transformed awareness turns the world into a different place.
We share from the abundance of our heart…it spills over into even our possessions.
The model of Acts 2 cannot be legislated, only experienced.
I have seen Christian communities say they want to live this way. They want to share their possessions or have a common purse. But in their own egos, they can’t. They fail miserably and there are a lot of hurt people.
But when we have known the voice of the Shepherd and when it has touched us at the core, an on-going transformation is triggered. This transformation takes on concrete expression in our lives.
This is the abundant life that Jesus comes to give us.
Yesterday my daughter and I got to the Dane County Farmer’s Market at 8:00 am.
It was breathtaking:
Such an abundance of color and abundance of plants!
Such energy! Spring is finally here!
This is the abundance of the Creator.
It is a reminder of the abundance that awaits us to experience and to share.
Let us pray:
That we would have open and listening hearts to hear your voice, we pray:
Risen savior, hear our prayer.
We give you thanks for all the mothers of the world. Bless them, we pray:
Risen savior, hear our prayer.
For all who are living with scarcity, we pray:
Risen savior, hear our prayer.