What do you wish you had a lot of? Can you close your eyes and imagine an abundance- a big basket full of… what would it be full of? Is anyone out there imagining cabbages? Maybe it wouldn’t be your first choice… but a few weeks ago I got a text from a new member of our church who works in farming research and she had a whole bunch of cabbages that she wanted to donate to our food pantry. So I went out along with another volunteer Max, to a farm and we picked 300 lbs of cabbages! You might be thinking- that is too many cabbages! Yeah, it was a lot.
BUT because we had so many cabbages, Max and I took them to the food pantry and filled up the fridge so they could give away fresh food to their clients. And we had some left over so we brought it to our Verona campus and offered cabbages to anyone who wanted to take one- and people from our church and people who were visiting our church got to take a cabbage. And then, Rick Thomas, a staff member here took some cabbages and made coleslaw for a meal that he served with some other volunteers out of our food truck. AND then, we also served some coleslaw made from those same cabbages at our harvest dinner a couple weeks ago. It is amazing what you can do with an abundance of cabbage and how many people you can feed!
Today our Bible reading (John 10:7-11) and our theme is about abundance- I know Jesus wasn’t talking about an abundance of cabbages – but abundant life. If you close your eyes and try- it might be hard to imagine what abundant life would look like. But Jesus helps us understand, because he tells us that abundant life is living life without being afraid, being exactly who God made us to be, and (as Pr. Sheryl preached about last week) living without worrying about anything. We get to be excited about life, we get to be adventurous, we get to be generous. As people of faith, Jesus promises that no matter what we will have enough of what we need because he is with us and he loves us.
Jesus says, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus wants us to share in abundant life. A life overflowing with the good things of God. Not in a naïve way, but in a faithful life-giving way. When we live as people who have hope because of our faith- we are free to live abundantly. So kind of like those cabbages, we get to share all that love that is in our hearts with the people around us— because there is more than enough love— it is overflowing out of us. And who knows how many people might be blessed when we share God’s love? (Even more people than got to eat those cabbages?)
This abundant life message is right in the middle of the Good Shepherd gospel today- we reminded that we are sheep in God’s flock. Following Jesus, our Good Shepherd into the wilderness. Being sheep we sometimes wander off and make our way back home again. And we know that our shepherd won’t give up on us searching for us, finding us. He loves us and knows us and we know him. This sheep imagery continues as we consider what it means when Jesus calls himself not only a shepherd, but also a gate. He calls himself “the gate/door” for the sheep pen. And the gate is set against the thieves who steal and kill and destroy. The gate does the opposite of those thieves- it gives freely, creates life and rebuilds and reconciles- it creates abundance right where we fear scarcity.
Gates & Doors
A deeper reading of this gate/door section, invites us to see what people knew about gates/doors for sheep pens. Shepherds would actually lie in the entryway of the pen at night and their bodies would act as the door- keeping animals and thieves out, keeping the sheep safe inside- all their needs taken care of. Jesus’ explanation of this gate includes a reference to a change in leadership though. A change in shepherds. We don’t always pay attention to this part of the Good Shepherd story. Jesus is telling his disciples, warning them once again that he isn’t going to be around forever and so, they have to be ready to become the shepherds too. There is a reference here to the Old Testament and what leadership transition looked like back then. My Bible commentary directed me to the book of Numbers and the story of Moses at the end of his leadership days.
Moses was directed by God to help Joshua become the new leader of the Israelites. As a reminder, this is the point in the story of Moses where the Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and God tells Moses the people are about to make it to the promised land, but he isn’t going with them. Moses doesn’t get to see the land that they have been hoping for and dreaming about for the past 40 years. In true servant leadership style though, Moses is willing to do what is best for the people he has been shepherding. And he helps Joshua in his new role and graciously leaves the beloved people of God in good hands. There is no storming out, there is no bad blood between the two leaders. It is a smooth transition and the faith of Moses in God’s will being greater than his own- is pretty amazing. Most leaders want to see through to the end of what they started, they want to see their success and celebrate it- maybe even worrying about where the credit will go. But Moses, puts his ego aside and obeys God.
The reference here to Moses helps us understand what Jesus is talking about when he calls himself the gate and encourages us to become like the good shepherd. Jesus, the ultimate servant leader, who lays down his life for us, invites us to take on new roles as faithful members of the flock- living with the shepherd’s love in our hearts and in our actions. God envisions this being a smooth transition, even though Jesus’ life ends on the cross, his spirit lives on in us. The Holy Spirit is sent to us to keep inspiring us- we aren’t left alone, like the Israelites weren’t alone. But it was a big change for them. It is a big change for us.
Out of Scarcity and into Abundance
Being a gate like Jesus, requires us to think about other people instead of ourselves. Being a gate like Jesus, invites us to get out of our sheep-like ways and live for other people. Not in a naïve way, where we won’t experience struggles or heartache, but in a real faithful way, where we find our strength, our hope and our generosity through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the abundant life Jesus is calling us to live. That is why he came into the world to live and to die for us on the cross and to rise again so we can share in the promises of God. Abundant life is gate-like. It is living with courage, helping to provide for the needs of those around us, unselfishly, and trusting that there is enough, more than enough for all, enough to share. Abundant living takes us out of our scarcity mindset and into the joyful, adventurous, bold way of living like Jesus Christ.
With humility like Moses, we can keep following God’s will instead of our own. And we notice the cabbages or whatever else we have that is so abundant we have to share them. One of my favorite things about this beyond campaign is the variety of stories about generosity. Our experiences and what we have an abundance of – these things within our church are varied and rich and remind us of all that God does for us. But we have to notice them. God brings good into the world through this community of believers. We aren’t talking about perfection here- but goodness. Now we are being invited to dream about where God is calling this community next… where can we go beyond where we have been before? How can we get free from the thing that is still holding us back from truly feeling the abundance of God?
If with our debt, we have been able to do this much good, how much more could we do if we were free from it? God is so good. Our shepherd/gate is so good. And we are called to live in the goodness and the abundant life of faith and share it with the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.