I had heard that the last couple of weeks have been prop-based sermons. So in order to keep up with the times, and maybe to compete just a little, I brought my own props this morning.
My Bach Stradivarius Bb trumpet. My gold-plated, extra heavy trumpet mouthpiece. My piccolo trumpet. My curved-toe, extra small, extra durable rock climbing shoes. My iPad 2. My 25-pound dumbbell. My skinny, striped, knitted tie.
Anyone want to take a guess as to what all of these items have in common?
All of them, at one point or another, were supposed to change my life. But none of them did. These top of the line trumpets were supposed to immediately make me a better trumpet player so that I could make the St. Olaf band. These rock-climbing shoes were supposed to instantly make me a better rock climber and by extension a little more popular at the rock climbing gym. My iPad 2 –well, not only would it make my life easier and more efficient, but I would also be the cool person at seminary with the new cool gadget. And who doesn’t want to hang out with that guy, right? The 25-pound dumbbell was supposed to make me stronger and have a better body. The skinny tie – instantly cooler and hipper.
At some point, all of these things were supposed to make everything better. My life would finally be complete. I wouldn’t ever want or need anything else. My life would some how be shinier, brighter, happier…something was supposed to change, but nothing did. This tiny hole in my heart was supposed to fill in, but it never did.
Now, I hesitate to ask because I am terrified of the answer, but am I alone in this? Or do you find this to be true about your life too? That you’ll set your heart on something, thinking that it will some how complete your life. That you’ll never want anything else ever again, only to be let down over and over and over again? Perhaps it is not this kind of stuff but something else…like a bigger paycheck. Just $100 more a month – then you’ll feel financially secure. Maybe those new bright colored soccer shoes from Puma that will certainly make you kick farther and score more goals. Or maybe it is the new GPS-Satellite Imaging monitor for your combine that promises lower stress and a better harvest?
All of these things, all of this stuff, they have a voice…and they whisper to us. Just loud enough for the hole in our heart to hear. They say, “You are not enough. Your life isn’t complete until you have me. Come, let me give you life.”
This is what every advertisement on TV is trying to do, right? Sell us something that will make your life better if not complete. If you are a 15 year old boy who looks and smells a little funny, just buy some Axe deodorant and you’ll instantly attract all the beautiful women in school. If your body doesn’t work like it used to, just pop in this little purple pill and not only will it fix your love life, but your marriage too. Whether it is losing those last 10 pounds, the new summer outfit that will make you look great, or whatever…so often we invest our hopes and dreams into things that we think will complete our life, but that so rarely ever do.
In our gospel for today, Jesus talks about life too. He says that he came not to destroy or kill, but to bring life…abundant life. Which is what all of us long for, right? Abundant life? I mean that is what this pile of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years is all about – the search for a fulfilled, meaningful, and abundant life.
So just like those TV ads, this stuff, Jesus is offering us something. Something that will bring us life. And, just like those TV ads and this pile of stuff, Jesus has a voice that whispers too.
Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. And his sheep – that’s you by the way – …they know his voice. They recognize his voice and they listen. Well, so what’s he saying? If we look again, we can see it in the text…he says it over and over again. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (verse 11)…I lay down my life for the sheep(verse 15) …I lay down my life(verse 17) …I lay it down…I have the power to lay it down.” (verse 18) The voice of the good shepherd says to his sheep, “I lay down my life, I lay down my life, I lay down my life for you….” Five times he says it.
When Jesus says, “I lay down my life for you,” there is something else that is being said within that. It is hidden within and so you have to really listen, because it is just a whisper. Buried with that phrase Jesus is saying, “You are enough. In fact, you’re worth dying for. I lay down my life for you.”
Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, listen to my voice and I’ll show you the way to abundant life. And the way is to hear the voice of the shepherd, “You are enough, you are enough, you are enough. You…are….enough.”
But then he says one more thing. And it can be disturbing to hear it because it will challenge us. That is what Jesus does. He affirms and then he challenges. But it can also be refreshing to hear. Jesus, the voice of the shepherd, then says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them too, because they hear my voice too.” Jesus is saying that it’s about you, but it is not just about you. Jesus has other sheep that do not belong to this group. So it is about you but it is also about your co-workers. And the woman you pass on the street going to work. And the guy in front of you in math class. A client or the new couple who just moved in down the street. They are Jesus’ sheep too. And they too are enough.
This pile of stuff, it all whispers, “You are not enough. But if you have me, I can fix that.” But it won’t. It will never change or save my life. And your pile won’t change yours either. They are false saviors. And truth be told, I am probably not going to get rid of any of it anytime soon. In fact, I’ll probably just accumulate more.
But maybe part of our ministry together and to this community can be that even though these things continue to lure us in whispering, “You are not enough,” we can remind one another that the Good Shepherd whispers back….”But you are.” AMEN