[Jesus said:] “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!
As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally know as Good Shepherd Sunday, many congregations that enjoy a talented musician or choir, will most likely feature them by playing or singing a piece titled, “Sheep May Safely Graze.”
Though it is a secular work, it has found its way into church repertoires because it was written by Johann Sebastian Bach, and its lyrics depict the image of a shepherd guarding the sheep so they may graze in safety.
Sheep may safely graze and pasture
Where a shepherd guards them well.
So the nation ruled in wisdom
Knows and shares the many blessings
Which both peace and plenty bring.
The piece is part of a larger work, Cantata No. 208, which was written by Bach in 1713, for the 31st birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels (Germany). It is also known by another name, The Hunting Cantata, because it was performed after the Duke and his friends returned from a hunting party, a popular activity among the privileged of society.
I haven’t read enough to know Bach’s intentions when he wrote these words; but in a curious way, at least for me, the words of this musical piece connect with the Gospel reading from John, assigned for this Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday.
In the final line, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
What does it mean to have an abundant life?
Let me first tell you what it doesn’t mean.
When Jesus promises life in abundance, He doesn’t mean an abundance of stuff.
My mind often drifts back to that song made popular by Janis Joplin. “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.”
God will not buy you a brand-new Mercedes. God is NOT going to give you whatever you want. God is not going to give you your best life now, to quote a popular prosperity preacher. This is not a prosperity message.
Despite what the prosperity preachers on television will tell you, an abundance of material goods can actually get in the way of life in abundance.
That’s because a life of abundance, in this case, refers to an abundance of a life lived in relationship with God.
So much of our life is about protecting ourselves, our families and our possessions. The more we have, the less we are willing to risk. But in trying to protect ourselves, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to really feel alive, to reach out to others, to show love and provide assistance to someone you don’t know.
Living life in abundance means being like Christ to the people around you – taking a risk and speaking and doing as Jesus would have – showing the love of Christ even though you don’t know how it will be received.
Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd, who came down from Heaven, became human, and faced rejection, betrayal, suffering, and death. He laid down his life for his sheep. And in so doing and so dying, he gave us a gift more valuable than any material possession we could ever hope for, the gift of eternal life.
To live an abundant life is to trust implicitly in our relationship with God because then, like Christ, we are set free, transformed by grace, spirit and truth, to be the person God made us to be.
Thursday through Saturday of this week I will be with several of my regional bishop colleagues in Port Huron, Michigan, where Bishop Donald Kreiss and the people of God in the Southeast Michigan Synod will hold their synod assembly. Chief among their items of business will be the election (or re-election) of a bishop. Please hold them in prayer as they discern who will lead their synod for the next six years.
Sunday morning, May 7, I will be in North Lima to worship with the people of God at Good Hope Lutheran Church.
Later that same afternoon, I will celebrate with the people of God at Bethesda-on-the-Bay, in Bay Village, as they install their new pastor, the Rev. Angela Freeman-Riley. That service will begin at 4:30 p.m.
May you safely graze in the goodness of God’s abundant grace, mercy, and love, this week and always!
+Bishop Abraham Allende