Reading John 10: 1-10
Preacher Revd Alan Sykes
Earlier this week I was given a copy of a recent edition of the New Scientist – not a magazine I read that often. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much an in-house journal for atheism but it does undoubtedly have some interesting articles.
In this edition there’s an article about atheism and the decline of religious belief. It starts off by describing something called the Sunday Assembly, a sort of church for atheists. It meets at the Conway Hall in Holborn.
As it happens I used to help run a film society at the Conway Hall – and a more soul-less place you couldn’t hope to find. So maybe it’s appropriate that the Sunday Assembly meets there.
Now, in the light of today’s gospel reading, I was intrigued to read this quote from a leader of the Sunday Assembly: ‘Our mission (note the religious language), our mission is to help people live this one life as fully as possible’.
Well, in preparation for this sermon, I’d been looking at the Gospel reading and, when I read those words, it struck me that there was a remarkable similarity to what Jesus says in the reading: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’.
Another translation puts it like this: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’.
The mission of the Sunday Assembly and the mission of Jesus seem remarkably similar – certainly in terms of the words they use.
So what might it mean to live life abundantly, to the full?
Let me say first of all what it isn’t. After all it’s always easier to be negative rather than positive.
Living abundantly isn’t about health or our fitness levels.
It’s not about popularity or fame.
It’s not about supporting a successful football team.
It’s not about how many foreign holidays we can cram into a year.
It’s not about how many possessions we have or about how many gadgets we know how to operate.
It’s not about how much money we have in the bank.
It’s not about how much information and general knowledge we have in our heads.
It’s not about having a good career and clambering up, as the decades go by, some greasy pole.
It’s not about artistic creativity or artistic appreciation – and I speak as someone who has always loved the arts.
Let me pause there for a moment. I should stress that none of the things I’ve mentioned so far are bad in themselves. It’s when they take over our very being that the trouble starts. Having money isn’t bad in itself – but your attitude towards it and what you do with it, well, they can be less than helpful to your spiritual well-being.
Now, what I’ve said so far is, at least in my view, relatively uncontroversial. But I’m going to say a couple of things now that you might find a little more surprising. So here goes.
Living abundantly isn’t about happiness. You may think that’s an odd thing to say. It’s not that God wants us to be unhappy – that would be grotesque. But more than our happiness, God wants our holiness. And that’s a different ball game entirely.
And lastly, living abundantly isn’t about loving your family or being loved by your family. It’s getting close because it’s about love and community but it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Otherwise it would be impossible for people who have no family life to live abundantly and I believe that that’s simply not true. Living life abundantly is possible for everyone.
Again, happiness and family life aren’t bad things. They’re good things – it’s just that they’re not the whole story. They’re not the full abundance of life.
So what is this living life abundantly? It sounds good and Jesus seems to be saying that he can offer it to us and that, by implication, nobody else can.
Well, first and foremost, it’s about Jesus opening the floodgates of love within us, so that we don’t just love our families and friends but we love all people, all creation – and God too of course.
Now, don’t get too despondent if you feel you don’t love all people and all creation. Not many people do. God doesn’t effect complete an instantaneous transformation. We’re all works in progress.
Living abundantly is about forgiveness – for ourselves and by ourselves. It’s about freedom from guilt and freedom from bitterness towards others.
It’s about freedom from fear – the fear of death, the fear of what life is going to throw at us.
It’s about being content with what we have and who we are.
It’s about feeling at home in the universe.
Living abundantly is about us human beings being brought into union with God, the creator all things. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God and find a relationship with him.
Amazingly God offers us all those things – something that nobody else can – not even the Sunday Assembly at the Conway Hall.