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Third Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020 Rev. Nancy Talbot
John 10: 1-11 Mount Seymour United Church
Of all the images of God and Jesus that could have stuck in the memories Christians over the centuries none has had more staying power than the image of the shepherd. I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at the bedside of someone during the last days and sometimes the last moments of their lives reading to them the words of the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. John’s Gospel, has a total of 7 “I am” statements placed on the lips of Jesus: I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the way, the truth and the life among them and yet only I am the Good Shepherd has made its way into the hearts of young and old alike as a reminder of the holy presence that brings comfort and strength.
But our reading today about Jesus, the good shepherd, isn’t just meant to bring us comfort, it’s also meant to bring us aspiration towards life lived to the fullest, abundant life. Jesus says that the thief enters the sheep pen only to steal, kill and destroy, but the good shepherd, comes to give life, life lived to the fullest.
Over the last few weeks, when it seems like the corona virus has robbed us of so much, I’ve been curious about what this time is giving to us. I often listen for what that might be during our virtual coffee hour on Sundays. As I do that, I hear people talking about connecting with family, friends and neighbours in ways they haven’t in years if ever before. I hear appreciation expressed for people we rarely take time to truly notice, garbage collectors, grocery store clerks, cleaners and of course our front line workers in this crisis. I’ve noticed an increased awareness of the natural world around us and of very simple gestures of kindness and generosity: the sharing of seeds, a note of encouragement in the mailbox, a smile on the face of a stranger. Some people talk about time they have gained to take better care of their bodies. Some speak about getting the rest they actually need because they are no longer commuting into work. What is it that is making your life fuller, more abundant in these days? What is the more you are receiving in this time?
The abundant life that is spoken of in this passage from John’s gospel isn’t just any old life. It is a promise of a new life as compared to an old or former standard of being. In other words, the life that the good shepherd brings is not just more of the same. What’s true for many of us is that we don’t actually need a corona virus to rob us of the life we were intended for, we’ve been pretty good at cheating ourselves out it already. We often settle for a less than abundant life, the same old life.
A couple weeks ago Carla read for us a quote by Sonya Renee Taylor that’s been making its way around the internet. I want to share it with you again: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Much of our pre-corona existence was not abundant. A good question for us to begin to ask ourselves in these days (and I say “begin” because we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic) is what is it that you don’t want to go back to from your pre-corona existence? On a personal level it might be the disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate or lack that Sonja Renee Taylor speaks of.
Collectively it might be or perhaps it certainly is the greed, inequity, depletion, extraction, disconnection, hoarding, hate and lack.
All these things can be considered our own way of robbing ourselves of the life that is intended for us. In so many ways, we are the bandits and the thieves that steal into our own sheep pens.
What is it that you want to leave behind as we stitch together a new garment, as we reach out to embrace and be embraced by the fullness of life? What is it that is robbing you of the life you desire?
At the very end of this morning’s reading about the shepherd and the sheep, the writer of John’s Gospel suddenly ties his comforting scene with its promise of abundant life and a shepherd who will guide and protect us on the way to that life, to the cross. In an instant the idyllic picture of greener pastures and a safer sheep pen is replaced with a more costly image. The Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Suddenly, a deeper meaning of this passage is revealed and we see that our most basic spiritual need, the path that leads to abundant life, comes in giving our lives for the sake of something bigger than our individual lives. It comes in laying down our lives for the sake of one another. My abundance is inextricably connected to your abundance.
Earlier this week I was sent an article by theologian and activist Karen Leslie Hernandez.* In it she speaks about the word sacrifice (laying down one’s life) both from the perspective of the beautiful way in this time that so many are sacrificing their usual freedoms for the sake of others, including of course folks on the front lines who are literally putting their lives at risk to save others. But she speaks also about sacrifice from the perspective of those who have little compassion for sacrifice, those who have a selfish attitude about it, namely those who are willing to put other lives at risk, especially the weak and the vulnerable, so they can return to their jobs, or to the economic status they previously enjoyed.
And then she puts all of us on edge, or at least those of us who enjoy a certain level of privilege in society. She speaks of the way the corona virus is exposing how we as a society have been unwilling over centuries, to make sacrifices for one another. She points out the way that we have made the vulnerable and the weak sacrifice themselves in lieu of making sacrifices ourselves in the way we let those who are unhoused, remain unhoused; the way we let the hungry remain hungry; the way we have sacrificed the care of our elders and the resources of our planet. We humans sacrifice the weak and our planet every single day and now we are seeing that before us.
So as we continue to ponder the life that we desire in a post-pandemic world, the deepest question we need to be asking ourselves is what are we really willing to lay down, to sacrifice for the sake of one another? What beyond the inconveniences of sheltering in place are we willing to give up for the sake of a more abundant life for all? What is the life we desire and what are we willing to give up to have it?
I offer these questions, not to diminish the real sacrifices that many are making in these days, but to call forth from us the vision and the hope of greener pastures, a new garment stiched together with self-giving love, for the sake of our world.
Much has been and will be demanded of us in these days and much is being given.
* The Antagonism of a Pandemic – The Sacrifice of our Lives, Karen Leslie Hernandez, April 25, 2020.