January 22, 2017
“Abundant Life in Christ”
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
For some time, many of our churches have observed an annual “Life Sunday”. We do this in January, with no small thought given to an infamous anniversary – that of January 22, 1973 – exactly 44 years ago today – when the Supreme Court of our land ruled on the landmark “Roe vs. Wade” abortion case. Since then, we estimate somewhere around 58 million unborn children have been murdered with the blessing of our civil authorities.
To say this is tragic strains the word. Even a term like holocaust seems insufficient. Hitler and the Nazis killed some 6 million Jews, which is of course horrible. But it pales in comparison to 58 million lives lost. A number which eclipses the casualty count of even the bloodiest wars of history. And the fact that the unborn are the “least of these”, helpless, unable to speak or defend themselves, it makes the slaughter all the more deplorable. To the extent that minimize it, fail to work against it, and perhaps even do things to encourage it – we bear guilt as well. To the extent that we contribute to a culture of death, each of us must repent!
Let the word from this pulpit and this congregation be crystal clear: abortion is the evil of our day, and an unmistakable sign of a culture that has lost its way and turned in no small degree to selfish evil. It is sin.
But we are also people of the Gospel. And so that word must be as loud and clear. We are followers of Jesus Christ, and Jesus forgives sin. If you happen to be one of those with this particular skeleton in your closet, then know this: Jesus Christ forgives you. There is no sin, not even the sin of abortion, for which he did not die and pay the price. You stand just as forgiven and clean before God as the rest of the sinners who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Let this good news chase away grief and shame and guilt. When Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them”, he means, you too. And when Jesus says, “It is finished”, he means it. Leave the heavy baggage of your guilt at the foot of his cross. Be at peace.
And so it is “Life Sunday”. But it is not only about abortion. Let us take this day to ponder the words of the Lord of Life who lays down his life for us all. Let us consider the gifts of life he has entrusted to us – in so many facets. And Let us treasure and give thanks for this mystery, also caring for the lives of our neighbors.
In John 10, our text for Life Sunday, Jesus is in the midst of his remarks about himself as the door for the sheep and the good shepherd of the sheep. He spins this metaphor marvelously, weaving in a number of important points about his person and work for us. One key idea is that as the Good Shepherd, he lays down his life for the sheep. He refers, of course, to the cross. But the purpose and benefit of that cross is for us: “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
This Christian faith of ours, you see, really is a matter of life and death. Death, which is the wages of our sin. It first reared its head when Adam and Eve ate of the tree, but it's been rearing its head in ever sinner ever since. Sin leads to death. Sin deserves death. And death is not just the ending of a heartbeat and brainwaves – it is the ultimate separation. It separates body from soul, but more importantly sin and death separate us from God, the source of all life. It's not that you cease to be, it's that you cease to be with him, and that's a frightful thought.
But it is not God's will and never has been his will that the sinner would perish. And so he sends Jesus, that light of the world in whom is the life of all. The one by whom everything, including all life, was made. Jesus, who by his death on the cross destroyed death and brought life and immortality to life. He who died but will never die again, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
To be sure, the thief is still out there – the devil himself, bent on stealing, destroying and killing. And evil men follow suit with the prince of this world, stealing, destroying and killing. Christians are persecuted more now, in the world, than ever before. The ranks of the martyrs swell. But for those who die in Christ, there remains life – eternal life – nonetheless.
Though is sure doesn't always seem that way. How can the pastor stand over the very grave and dead body of your loved one and read the words, “Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?” How can we be so sure that our loved ones who die in the faith are alive in Christ? How can we even know that we, who so often trudge through what amounts to a living death, how can we say that we too are alive, or have life as God means it to be?
Paul helps to clarify (in Colossians 3): For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
The life that we have in Christ is hidden. We can see it only with the eyes of faith. When it seems to all outward appearances that God is angry, that we're being punished, that there is no hope but only suffering... faith sees the promise. Faith trusts the word. And we have life. You have already died – in baptism, buried with Christ. Now also raised with him, but in a way that is hidden behind the crosses of this fallen world.
But one day it will be crystal clear. One day we will see it with our eyes – when he appears. Then, we also will appear with him in glory. Then the tension of the “now” and the “not yet” will be finally broken, as eternity comes, a blissful forever of life with him.
But let's circle back to the words of Jesus we started with. “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. We've said how Christ brings life by his death and resurrection. We've shown that this life, for now, remains hidden to all but the eyes of faith. But what about the abundance? What does he mean by that? “that they may have life, and have it abundantly?”
And abundance is more than you even need. It's so much, such an overwhelming amount of life, that you'll never have to worry about having enough of it. That's how God's grace is. That's how his gifts are. Always more than enough, more than sufficient to the need. He is not a God to do just the minimum, but like the psalmist writes, “you prepare a table before me; my cup overflows”.
And that abundance of life flows over into our lives. That love, that mercy, that grace we have received must be reflected. The life we draw from the true vine, Jesus Christ, bears fruit in our lives of service to our neighbor.
Life Sunday shouldn't only be about denouncing abortion, but also about acknowledging the life that we have in Christ, a precious gift. But the abundance of that life also means that we care for and support the lives of others, and treat the life given to them as the precious gift it is.
Christians, therefore, respect life when it comes to thorny modern ethical questions of bioethics. We may use certain technologies, but refuse others. We respect our God as the Lord and giver of life.
Christians uphold and support life in the mundane work of caring for widows and orphans, the poor and needy. It's not always glamorous, but this kind of service is commended by God.
Christians pray for, encourage, and lend a hand to young troubled mothers, swaddling them not just with clothes and diapers but with love and support.
Christians care for the aged, beginning with our own parents and grandparents, until God sees fit to bring their life to its conclusion.
Christians adopt and support the adoption of children, providing children with a loving home and a life of warmth and blessing.
We don't all do all these things all the time, of course, but as we are able, as we have opportunities, and out of love as the Spirit moves us. But we Christians do these things, and so many more, in support of God's gift of life, because we have abundant life in Christ.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep” “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Thanks be to God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.