Sunday, May 3, 2020 – Together: Life Abundant
How many times in the last few weeks have you heard “together” on TV ads or in the news? We’re in this together, we’ll come through this together, #…together…, together we can, together we will, together at home, together apart, together we’ll beat it, stronger together…
We can do so many things if we stay together. But there’s one thing we aren’t able to do together right now and that is gather together in person! For so many of us, this is the hardest part of social or physical distancing and isolation. We miss being together – whether with family members who live apart from us, friends, co-workers, or with our congregations.
Why is it that during a time of crisis that we suddenly realize that we can get through something if we stay together. I’m not saying it is wrong, but the fact is that we are always in “this” together!
This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. A good shepherd keeps a flock safe by keeping it together and away from predators and danger, by providing food, pasture, and water (Psalm 23). It is to the flock’s advantage and well-being to stay together under the care of the shepherd. Bad things can happen when the sheep wander off on their own or go stray (1 Peter) or if they should listen to a stranger or thief (John 10). Sheep don’t do well if they are socially distant.
I’m not going to say that we need to be sheep – we aren’t sheep. We may act like sheep sometimes but we are much more complex. We don’t like being told what to do and prefer to do whatever we want whenever we want. We resist being herded, and good luck to anyone who tries to shepherd us. I can do just fine on my own, thank you very much.
That is, until something happens that confronts us with the reality that we are not in total control. Richard Rohr says that “if we understand suffering to be whenever we are not in control, then we see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God.”
Giving control back to God means yielding to the Good Shepherd. Why do we resist this so much?
In John 10:1-10, the Shepherd talks about gathering his sheep – they come and go through the gate and follow the one whose voice they recognize. In the 23rd Psalm, the psalm of a sheep, the Shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures and by still waters, gives comfort even in the darkest valleys, and prepares a table “before me in the presence of my enemies… My cup overflows.”
The Shepherd provides abundant life. The Shepherd came that we may have life abundantly. Life abundant, life to the full, so full, it overflows.
The story of the early Christians in Acts 2 is the story of a flock that once was lost. Then Peter told them about Jesus’ life and crucifixion and confronted them with their culpability in killing the Messiah. They were “cut to the heart” when they fully grasped what he told them, and their lives changed.
No longer were they people doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. They came together! The Message translates together as “they lived in wonderful harmony.” They gathered for prayer, shared all they had, broke bread together, and they did this in the midst of enemies (Roman and Jewish persecution).
This is life abundant. When we come together like this, we live life to its fullest through Jesus Christ. When we realize that it is God who is in control all the time, in good times and bad, and prepares a table, and shares a meal even in the face of adversity and the worst persecution imaginable. When we celebrate life abundant.
So what does life abundant look like?
Love. It looks like love when we pray together and our lives become living prayers. It looks like love when we break bread together and we are fed, and through our sharing, others are fed. It looks like love when we are led by Jesus together and we listen to his voice and follow through dark valleys and by still waters and into green pastures. It looks like love because abundant life, life to the full, is life lived in God’s love together.
We are in this together. All of us. Today in the midst of pandemic and tomorrow when this crisis is forgotten. Together forever sharing the life abundant.
Shepherd us, O God, lead us to your life abundant. Your pastures and your living water know no social distancing. We can never be alone because we are held together in your love. Help us to remember that we are together in you not just in the times of dark valleys but always, and that there is joy when we live together in wonderful harmony in your love. May the love you pour to overflowing on us become the life abundant for all. Through Jesus the Good Shepherd we pray. Amen.
~ Evie Doyon, May 2020