Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A father was at work when he got a call from his son’s teacher. “Hello Mr. Johnson, I was in the middle of a lecture today when your son got up and left the room without a word. I’m very worried about him. Is he alright?” The father just laughed and said, “Oh, you have nothing to worry about, Billy has been sleepwalking since he was 5 years old!”
I must confess that there isn’t a preacher I know who hasn’t encountered the slumbering and sleepwalking saints in their congregation. I’ve seen them bump their heads on the back of the pew in front of them . . . snore out loud . . . stay seated when everyone else stands up, and even drop their hymnal, and then jump up wide awake when it hits the floor. As a pastor, I recognize that my melodic, mesmerizing voice can have a hypnotic effect on people. Ultimately, it is not the content of the sermon that’s the problem. It’s the tone.
It is said of sleeping and sleepwalking that “most people either sleepwalk through their waking life or wake walk through their sleeping life. Either way they’re not getting much out of it.” Yes, there are those who sleepwalk through marriage. They are husbands and wives who no longer speak about their days. There are those who sleepwalk through family life. Men are prone to this. While mothers take care of their children’s needs, fathers are only occasionally aware of peculiar little people running in their way. There are those who sleepwalk through friendships. They’re forever saying, “Let’s do lunch,” but they never set the date. There are even those who sleepwalk through their relationship with God. They go through the religious motions, but they never experience the abundant life that God offers them.
I imagine we all try to avoid these patterns of sleeping and sleep walking and try instead to live life wide awake to its fullest and to experience that abundant life that God has promised. And yet, for many, it is a relentless challenge. Today’s gospel reading from St. John’s gospel reminds us how personal and life changing this challenge can be.
The reading is actually the continuation of the story we read several weeks ago of the man born blind who now can see. After being healed from his blindness, the young man was cast out of the Temple in Jerusalem by the religious authorities, and he had no natural place to turn. The familiar community he once knew, including his own family, was no longer a place offering direction, comfort or solace. So, like all who have faced the challenges inherent in life’s new beginnings in new places, the young man was searching and struggling with the timeless question: Where do you find your strength and hope and a sense of direction?
There are, of course, those in every age who have offered their constructive counsel for living. Consider Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking,” or even Abe Burrows, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Certainly, there is wisdom that we can draw from them. Still others prefer to offer easy answers. They provide tricks for empty success- often at the cost of others. They are still around today. Regretfully, there are religious voices among them who speak of God’s paths to an abundance of wealth and prosperity that would make you comfortable in your prejudice and biases. There are other spiritual voices who simply pick and choose what is most convenient. Jesus warned his listeners against these religious false prophets and teachers who would try to lead them astray portraying them as thieves and bandits.
My friends, let me say this clearly. To live abundantly is not about resting in the Lord’s shadow and waiting for life’s green pastures and still waters to appear before you. No., the abundant life is a choice you make, to wander with the Lord out of the sheepfold and to discover the possibilities he has for your life. God has not intended for us to live our lives in an empty, secure place with a community of only like-minded believers. No, you and I were created as a part of a great enterprise of ministry to others. The abundant life Jesus offers is not about easy methods or tricks, but it is about how we live and work during our waking hours. So how do you choose to seek that abundant life? That is what the young man born blind was wondering as well.
Simply said, it begins by acknowledging that Jesus is the shepherd that you follow and that he has a purpose for you.. God knows your name and he will lead you. He alone knows your talents and your gifts. He knows the possibilities and opportunities. And more importantly, he knows the needs of his world needs. He will give you a sense of purpose- if you will listen to his voice.
I will warn you, though, that God’s abundant life is not without its inherent dangers. Many people today, including faithful Christians, live in the bondage of fear. In a recent study a psychiatrist said that the greatest problem facing his patients was fear. It is the fear of Alzheimer’s, the fear of being alone, the fear of catastrophic illness, and the fear of death. But the Good Shepherd offers his assurance of protection. He is always near. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Two little girls who were running toward a cemetery as the darkness of evening was falling. The one girl stopped at the gate, but the other kept on going. The one who stopped asked the other if she wasn’t afraid to go through the graveyard at night. “Oh, no,” she said, “I’m not afraid. My home is just on the other side!” With the assurance of the shepherd’s protective care wherever he leads you, you do not need to be afraid; your protecting savior is “just on the other side.”
I can also promise you, that this abundant life will challenge your perspective on the world. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was once invited to speak to hundreds of important politicians and international business leaders at a banquet. Shortly before the time of her speech the Master of Ceremonies noticed that she was no longer seated at the head table. They went looking for her throughout the hotel. When they finally found her in the basement talking with the housekeeping staff, the irritated M.C. said to her, “There are important people waiting for you!” And Mother Theresa responded, “I know. I just found them.”
The Good Shepherd, you see, has a way of turning our world upside down and offering us a new perspective on ourselves and on our neighbors. And what a difference it makes. The abundant life he offers may not be the abundance that the world prizes and seeks. Career promotion and advancement, a significant financial raise, a new and larger home, may not be on your horizon, and perhaps it shouldn’t be. Indeed, the shepherd’s new perspective may instead challenge you to consider your own values and desires, and the practices you have accepted all your life. And in so doing, you may discover that you have been sleepwalking through your most important relationships. You may be taking for granted those who need you most- your children, your parents and your spouse. At work, at school, or at home, you may be sleepwalking past those who need and crave and long for your simple acknowledgement, your gentle touch, your word of encouragement. Yes, the abundant life the shepherd is offering you may be a badly needed, new perspective.
And finally, with this new perspective comes the Good Shepherd’s abiding peace. It is a peace that is found in life’s hustle and bustle, even in the midst of transition and change. Our Lord, you see, doesn’t promise a life without pain or sorrow. He doesn’t promise a world without tears or weeping. So beware of any false teachers and godly prophets who teach you otherwise. Jesus doesn’t promise a fellowship without hatred or enemies. This is not the abundant life that the Shepherd offers. But for those who listen to his voice and follow him, he offers a sense of purpose, of protection, of perspective and of peace.
My friends, at times your life may need some readjusting. It is true for me. When I suddenly awaken and discover that I have been sleepwalking through my most important relationships, I know that I must redirect my energy and thoughts to the authentic voice of the Good Shepherd. And when I do, day by day, I rediscover that all my worries and anxieties and concerns do pass, and all that remains is the Shepherd’s perfect peace. That truly is an abundant life. But be prepared.
From my own personal experience, I have discovered three things about this abundant life that I should share with you. One, do not expect that you will be led to the places you want to go. I have walked down many gray gateways to planes travelling to destinations I had never known, and there I was richly blessed by people I had never met. So do not expect that you will be led to the places you want to go. The Good Shepherd will bring you to the places where you need to be. Second, do not expect that he will give you everything you want. God has a wonderful sense of humor. Why else would he bring two energetic, Russian boys to live with two stayed Norwegian speaking Americans approaching middle age. So do not expect that he will give you everything you want. The Good Shepherd will provide you with everything you need. Finally, do not expect that you will be checking off dreams on the buckets list of life. At nearly 65 year-old, I anticipated that I would be counting down the days to my retirement. Nothing could now be further from my mind. God still has other plans. So, do not expect that you will be checking off dreams on the buckets list of life. The Good Shepherd will offer challenges and experiences that you could have never imagined. And that will be your abundant life. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.