Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday
May 11, 2014
Oh bullhorn guy! Bullhorn guy is that dude who stands on the street yelling into a bullhorn about Jesus. Do you know bullhorn guy? I got to know bullhorn guy well at UT. The West Mall of the UT tower is a designated zone for whoever or whatever to voice their opinions. On any given day you could walk by and be recruited for the sailing team, the Dungeons & Dragons club, or, more often than not you could hear from bullhorn guy. What really impressed me about bullhorn guy was the way he was able to keep yelling for hours. Geez, wouldn’t you get bored?
I’ve seen bullhorn men across the country. On the boardwalk at Virginia Beach. On Sixth Street in Austin. And even though he’s not really bullhorn guy, I’ve seen a man hold a giant sign about Jesus at the corner of Kuykendahl and 2920. Maybe you’ve seen him too. But wherever I see bullhorn guy, he’s asking the same question: “have you been saved?”
I know what bullhorn guy is getting at. Do you believe in Jesus enough that when you die, you won’t go to hell? And honestly, before this week, I usually just brushed by bullhorn guy and didn’t give him much thought. Until I read this passage from the Gospel of John for today, Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Whoever enters by me will be saved. Huh. Sounds like Jesus is bullhorn guy. We need to unpack this a little bit more.
I think that for most of us, when we think about “being saved,” it’s actually not too far off from what bullhorn guy is saying. Jesus saves us from the fires of hell. My worry, then, is that Christianity boils down to some sort of eternal fire insurance policy. But I don’t actually think Jesus is talking about hell in this particular passage.
First of all, Jesus never mentions the word hell in the entire Gospel of John. Seriously. Not once. Ever. It would be a disservice to the entire gospel if we slipped the notion of hell into this passage. Jesus talks all the time about abundant life, and grace, and joy, and truth. But not once does he bring out that old, tired notion of brimstone, flames, and pitchforks.
So what does Jesus mean? What does he mean that everyone who enters by him will be saved? We’ve got to remember that Jesus is saying this stuff right after he gave sight to the man born blind. Jesus is talking about salvation and abundant life not in the abstract sense, but in the very real, “I’ve just healed the blind man” sense.
The man born blind has been saved from the thieves and bandits that were robbing him of abundant life. Those thieves and bandits were isolation from community, the inability to work, the derision and scorn of his neighbors. The man born blind was not living an abundant life. He was being robbed of his life by his blindness. Jesus saves the man born blind from what was keeping him down. Jesus gives abundant life to the man born blind.
I wish that bullhorn guy would ask, “what does Jesus need to save you from?” Or, “what are the bandits and thieves that are you robbing you?” Or, “what would abundant life look like for you?” These are highly personal questions. These are not questions that bullhorn guy asks to a crowd, these are questions that Jesus asks us as individuals.
So, what has Jesus saved you from? What are the bandits and thieves that are you robbing you of abundant life? Living as we do in the suburbs, I think we are all too well acquainted with those bandits and thieves. Karate class, dance class, soccer practice, baseball practice, swimming practice, gymnastics. Commuting, high pressure jobs, constant working without a break. McDonald’s, Whataburger, fried foods, super sizes. Very truly I tell you, these are the thieves and the bandits of our day, robbing us of abundant life.
I’m not so much concerned about soccer practice on Sunday morning. I’m concerned about practice on Sunday morning, Monday evening, Tuesday evening, Wednesday evening, and so on. I’ve seen families running back and forth and back and forth without taking time to actually be with one another. In a sick and perverse way, Mothers’ Day is an indictment of our culture because we have to set aside a day to pay attention to our families. Shouldn’t that be everyday? Very truly I tell you, being stretched that thin by your kids and their busy schedules are thieves and bandits. They are robbing you of time with your family and with your God. Yes, youth sports are great, but if you give them too much room in your life, they will become your life.
The same with work. Yes, many of us have got to work. But is work robbing you of abundant life? Is work keeping you up at night? Are you getting home to spend quality time with your family, or are you still stuck in your car? Are you constantly checking your email at home, can you actually turn off your cell phone on vacation? Those are the thieves and bandits, and they are calling you by name. Are you listening to those voices, or are you listening to the voice of Jesus? Very truly I tell you, beware of the thieves and bandits of the modern working world. While you were working to pay for life, work became your life.
And food. Food is a friend until it quickly becomes a foe. The average size of the American dinner plate in the 1960s was nine inches in diameter. Now, it’s over twelve inches. I have friends that bought an old house in Houston, and their new dishware physically will not fit into their cabinets. We have a preponderance of fried foods, fast foods, and cheap processed “foods.” We are drowning in Super Duper Gulps of Dr. Pepper. And we wonder why Type II Diabetes and heart disease are on the rise? Very truly I tell you, unhealthy foods are thieves and bandits that rob of you abundant life. They rob of you health and vitality. Unhealthy foods and eating habits will rob you of your independence and put you into the hospital.
This is what Jesus comes to save us from. These are the thieves and bandits that destroy our lives. This is what Jesus wants to vanquish so that we can have abundant life. An abundant life is one in which we are connected to our God, to our families, to our labor, and to our bodies in healthy, wholesome ways. Bullhorn guy says that Jesus saves you from hell. I suppose that I agree with him. It’s just that we create our own hells here on earth, and Jesus saves us from ourselves.
So should you yank your kids out of after school sports? Should you quit your job? Should you go on a diet? Perhaps. If you are being robbed blind by thieves and bandits, then perhaps it’s time to follow the good shepherd, who has been calling you by name this whole time. Maybe it’s time to enter the gate, to be with Jesus. It’s not good enough just to live life, it’s time to receive an abundant life.