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Gateway to Abundant Life

Updated: May 8


“GATEWAY TO ABUNDANT LIFE”

a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

May 7, 2023


John 10:1-10 NRSV


“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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 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. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.   10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.


The writer of John’s Gospel had a “leadership” problem. Those who were trying

to lead his flock, [ or congregations plural ], were not all what you would call, “good

shepherds.” John addresses this problem through the words of Jesus himself. Several

times Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, as the living bread, and such. Well

these were ways John was addressing his leadership problem.


The Christian movement had come out of the synagogues and become what we

call “church,” because their belief in a living Christ, in a Risen Lord, in a different sort

of Messiah, meant they weren’t fitting in with the standard theologies of the past.

They had left the synagogues. Some were saying they were thrown out, run out. Nay,

nay, says John, we left because we were following the good shepherd. We left because

the other would-be shepherds were thieves and bandits. The words, and directions of

these “other” shepherds were attempts to use power and control to kill and destroy

anyone who did not agree with them.


I said last week I felt compelled to declare that this would be an “Open and

Affirming Sunday.” The reality is every Sunday is Open and Affirming Sunday

because that is what we are. We have said, in writing, in our covenant that we would

welcome anyone regardless of things like age, ability, gender, mental health issues,

sexual orientation, or about ten other things. Now, every church says, “everyone is

welcome.” But they mean you are welcome to come and change to be what they think

you should be. We don’t do that. We invite you to share your diverse and unique

God-given gifts with us and the world. We say you are welcome to participate at every

level of our congregational life and we live it. We are revolutionaries in a world of

religious purveyors of the status quo: We believe Jesus Christ intentionally welcomed

the people that even today people are trying to take away their human value and rights.

Many of us feel the current day would-be shepherds of our state government

seem intent on passing laws claiming “freedom” while restricting the Constitutional

rights of others to free speech, to gather, to dissent from those in power. They have

outlawed Constitutional and God-given human rights. They ban books and they pass

laws to limit free speech. They dismiss, demonize and seek to destroy anyone who

tries to go against them. Their persecution continues to expand in horrifying ways

toward those particularly that we have fought so long and so hard for to have equal

rights, particularly in the LGBTQ community. I was particularly triggered by the

report that cities are cancelling Pride Parades because of the new laws that threaten

legal action against anyone who hosts an event at which a non-adult might see a gay

person.


These laws are so badly written that they would never survive a Supreme Court

challenge if the Supreme Court at the state and national level weren’t controlled by one

party’s extremists. Today, many school libraries sit empty throughout the state

because every book hasn’t been checked and approved as being “allowable.” They set

up laws for problems that don’t exist. There are no curriculums and no evidence of

teaching the things that they pass laws against. Then they continue to expand the

scope of the laws from just elementary children to all grades. They gerrymander

districts to control the government by a minority of their party, and they have worked

long and hard to line up their candidates to be sure they toe the extreme wing of the

party. And just another example, the state Surgeon General is reported to have

jimmied with the actual data on the COVID vaccine while these false shepherds did

everything they could to claim it wasn’t working.


I know everyone gets nervous when a preacher talks about government. But

when government steals human rights and undoes the moral imperative to treat others

justly, I am required by my ordination to speak out. I am going to speak from a faith

perspective. I am not speaking about partisan politics, I am speaking about the way the

Christian faith has been hijacked to justify these people’s beliefs.


In the face of this Jesus says to them and to us: “I am the gate… all who enter

by me will be saved and … have abundant life.” What does this mean in this context?

What is “saved,” and what is “abundant life?” Remember Jesus, wasn’t talking to

people with exactly the same issues we may have. They were the subsistence level

poor. Those who first responded to the Word were what we would call, “peasants.”

So when Jesus was talking about “abundant life” he wasn’t talking to people wanting

second Mercedes-Benzs or third vacation houses as abundant life. They were

envisioning living without the boot of Rome on their necks, or the condemnation of the

Temple on their souls. They were hoping to be able to live without government and

religion conspiring to strip them of their dignity and humanity.


Jesus’ promise to open the gate to abundant life goes back to the story of the

healing of the blind man. We read that a few weeks back. Remember the blowback

the man born blind gets for being healed? When Jesus talks about the way to be saved

and abundant life it is about a man who was suffering in darkness and shame for

something he wasn’t responsible for. And when the religious people, including Jesus’

own disciples, and the leaders of their faith, tried to blame his parents for making him

gay – er, I mean their sin was what made him blind, Jesus denies this too; and heals the

man, not because blindness is a sin or because the man shouldn’t be gay, I mean blind,

but because his gayness – darn it, I mean his blindness – was a social and physical

barrier to all the rights, and possibilities for community. Jesus opened the gate for him

to participate in the social world that every human being needs to participate in.

Abundant life meant not being excluded, hated, blocked from the same rights and life

of the rest of his family and his neighbors. Salvation and the abundant life were

neither an afterlife reward or a present life blessing of a multi-billion drachma

executive bonus. As Karoline Lewis put it, [ Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.org, May 11,

2014 ], “The man blind from birth is saved from isolation and marginalization. His

healing saves him from everlasting darkness. Never again will he wonder where his

next meal will be or who will answer his pleas as he sits begging outside the city. He

will know the safety and security of community.”


“God so loved the world…” That is John’s radical claim on behalf of Jesus in

the 3 rd Chapter of his gospel. Everything else comes out of that first principle. The

gate that Jesus refers to in these verses is not a closed gate. It is an open gate. It is the

false shepherds, the thieves and bandits that close the gate and lock out sheep. The

leaders of our religion, many of whom are driving the government turning back human

rights to the ‘50’s [ as in the 1850’s when slavery was still legal ], have misled us about

the meaning of these words. They have misled us about the truth of the Gospel. They

have spiritualized it to the point of meaninglessness in everyday life.


Another writer, a theologian and pastor writes, [ David Lose, workingpreacher.org, May

5, 2014, ] “Jesus says, ‘All who enter by me will be saved.’ But have we, perhaps

influenced in small part by Paul and in greater part by medieval interpretations of Paul,

adopted a primarily negative view of salvation? Salvation is often understood as the

erasure of our sin and failure rather than the creation of new life and possibility.

Forgiveness of sin is wonderful, of course, but it occurs to me that if that’s all we

understand salvation to be we are, at best, only back to square one and miss that Jesus

offers not just life, but life in its abundance. … at the heart of the Gospel is the

resurrection promise of life and possibility and potential and power. We are not only

saved from something but also for something, for life in all its abundance here and

now.… saved from whatever seeks to rob the us, children of God, of our inheritance of

life, purpose, and joy.


Jesus promise of “abundant life,” and “salvation itself — is highly contextual.

For the blind man it is sight. For the single parent it might be companionship and help.

For the bullied teen it might be acceptance and an advocate. For the impoverished

neighborhood it might be dignity and the chance of self-determination. For the retiree,

it might be involvement in a worthwhile cause. For … Well, you get the picture.

Abundant life looks different in different places and to different people, but it always

manifests itself as a response to whatever seeks to rob the children of God of their

inheritance of life, purpose, and joy.


“Third, if these two things are true — 1) that salvation is more than forgiveness

but abundant life itself and 2) abundant life is contextual, defined by release from

whatever is robbing us of God’s intentions for us — then I think in this passage there is

a profound invitation for us not simply to listen to Jesus’ promise of salvation and

abundant life but actually to live into it. How? By joining ourselves to his mission to

bring abundant life to all of God’s children. That means, of course, that we must first

pay attention to what is robbing the children of God near us of life and then stand with

them against those forces so that they might have, not just life, but life in abundance.”


What John tells us is that as they focused on who Jesus was, what he did and

what he said they began to understand how to change the world. What they did is they

began to live out the commandment Jesus gave them: “love one another as I have loved

you.” They didn’t go and pass laws that made it illegal to be an unmarried woman

from Samaria, they welcomed her as a sister in Christ. They didn’t scorn the man born

blind, they welcomed him into their community as a brother. They didn’t stop lepers

from being part of their community out of fear they would “catch their disease.” They

welcomed them in and made them coworkers in the fight for what Jesus called the

“Kingdom of God,” what we might call “God’s reign of unconditional love on earth.”


See what drives those who make horrible laws to marginalize others and use

God as an excuse to commit sins against those they disagree with is fear and hatred.

Their ignorance has been fed by false shepherds who have taught falsehoods in God’s

name. Their fear has been fed by alarmists who use scapegoats like “trans people” the

same way other Christians have used “Jews” as scapegoats. Fear and hatred did not

change the world like the disciples who followed Jesus did. They let “God so loved he

world” drive their actions and their efforts.


So we must not give in to the fear and hatred that others use. Those tactics have

always failed and will always fail. We must use love and compassion for those who

suffer the most to drive us to stand against the hate and fear others live by. We must

trust that the gate Christ has opened for abundant life cannot be closed by false

shepherds and fearmongering politicians. Love wins. Compassion overcomes fear. It

was the way those first followers of the good shepherd worked at loving others, serving

others, bringing those in who being excluded by false shepherds and bandits. Let us

embody that love in the face of the fear and hatred of others. Let us not give in to the

way they use power to harm and hurt. Let us live by the power of the love shown us

by Jesus to overcome these times, these misguided leaders, and by our love they will

know we are speaking the truth, living the truth and the power of God’s love to

transform the world. AMEN.


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