This sermon was preached by the Rev. Nancy A. G. Vogele on Sunday, May 7, 2017, Fourth Sunday of Easter. The Gospel reading was John 10:1-10.
Today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” in our churches because the Gospel is always from the 10th chapter of John in which Jesus talks about himself as the Good Shepherd and what he does as the Good Shepherd. It’s a little confusing today because he also talks about being the “Gatekeeper.” I’m not going to focus on the gatekeeper image but his words, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” And I want to put it in the context of our blessing of the quilts and school kits and leprosy bandages.
What does it mean to have abundant life? What does that look like to you?
It’s something we seek from the depths of our being. And there are a lot of entities in this world who will exploit that longing by trying to sell us a counterfeit “life.”
Think of it. All week long we are bombarded with ads and messages of all kinds trying to get us to buy their version of abundant life. And their message or the product they are selling is always packaged in a very enticing way. That’s why they are so tempting. I can’t tell you how many infomercials I’ve listened to and felt compelled to call the 1-800 number at the end of their pitch. People are such good salesmen. Unfortunately, many of them are just like the thieves that try to enter the sheepfold by climbing over the wall. They are not out for our good but only out to take our money, or as Jesus put it, “to steal and kill and destroy.”
It’s hard to know what would actually give us abundant life.
As one Episcopal monk said to me years ago, “We live in a very noisy society. So much noise that you can’t hear some very important things. We, brothers, are silent so that we can begin to really hear these important things. And we feel that silence is necessary to begin to hear God.”
Silence, stillness, slowing down are all necessary to begin to be able to distinguish what would actually bring life – perhaps even abundant life.
Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you slowed down, stopped, and really listened? To a loved one…to nature…to the thoughts you are thinking or the feelings you are feeling – and just got comfortable listening – just settled in to it. No running to the next thing. No turning on the radio or TV or playlist on your phone.
I fundamentally believe that as we get comfortable with just hearing what we hear without needing to change it or run away from it, we will hear what we need to hear…
And we can trust that we will hear the Good Shepherd when he calls. We trust that we will recognize his voice among all the other voices vying for our attention and allegiance. We’re here, aren’t we? Why? Because we sense there is life here – perhaps even abundant life. We’re here because we know we need to slow down, that this might be the one time all week we can do that, just a little, in order to take in God’s goodness.
But we are not here just for ourselves. Jesus also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
So how are we being called offer life – dare I imagine abundant life – to others?
Look around you today. Take in the incredible quilts you are sitting on. Really, look at them. Think of all the work that went in to making these quilts. The quilters made 14 last Thursday alone!
In the Lutheran Church, you have this saying, “God’s Work. Our Hands.” And it is celebrated every year on the Sunday after Labor Day. It’s an opportunity to love and serve our neighbor through a day of service – which is great and I understand it’s important to get everyone around the whole church to do service on the same day, perhaps spearheading more daily acts. What the quilters do, however, is almost every week. And it’s amazing.
By the time I get to church on Disaster Relief Quilting Thursdays, many women are already here busy cutting, designing, and sewing quilts. There’s an energy, a hum, a joy. Periodically, you hear someone call out, “That’s number 4.” – meaning they just finished their 4th quilt of the day. Later in the morning, everyone pauses for a coffee and goodie break. That’s when Susan Ferraro and I get invited to join them. Announcements are made and folks just enjoy one another’s company for a time before getting back to “work.” Each time they meet, I stand there in awe of them and what they are accomplishing for someone whose life does not feel abundant – someone they don’t even know or ever will. And yet, they do it.
They, as well as those who made the leprosy bandages and those who will fill the backpacks with school supplies after church, are offering precious life – abundant life – to another human being.
Now they probably wouldn’t phrase it that way. They’d say, “I just love quilting and getting together with others to quilt and help those in need.” However you want to word it, that’s passing on “abundant life” to me.
Literally – God’s work, our hands. Hands cut the fabric and sewed the quilts. Hands crocheted or knit these bandages. And hands will fill the backpacks after church. A loving God asking us to offer love in very concrete ways.
And imagine if you can, when Lutheran World Relief gives the quilt you are sitting on to its recipient. What joy the person must feel. What love they must sense that someone they don’t know – someone they will never meet made it for them. Imagine the face of a child as she or he is given one of the school kits we will assemble. Imagine someone suffering from leprosy, someone perhaps ostracized from his or her community, and someone gives them these bandages for their wounds – bandages made by a total stranger who nonetheless cared enough to knit them. I think they will be feeling that someone just offered them life – abundant life. It might be hard to imagine that receiving a quilt or a bandage or a school kit could feel like abundant life, given their situations, but to them – I bet it does. I think they might beam or laugh or weep as they realize that someone cares about their plight and chose to help.
And I’ll tell you, those that made these quilts will be the first to say that they get abundant life out of doing it. They receive as much as they give.
In a world hustling counterfeit life by thieves and bandits, what can each of us do to offer real, abundant life? It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, the quilters are instructed to not make fancy quilts. It’s doesn’t have to be expensive – most of the materials in these quilts were donated. It doesn’t even have to be difficult – many of the quilters can probably do this in their sleep.
It just needs to be done. We just need to reach out our hands in love and offer what we can – to whomever we can, as often as we can – with open and generous hearts.
Thank you for being the kind of church that does does this in so many ways. May God bless you with abundant life as well.