Contact us LOGIN
Gathering service Banner
Worship and Sermons
May 3, 2020

“Abundant Life Amid the Sheep” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, May 3, 2020, Year A / Easter 4 – Acts 2:42-47  •  Psalm 23  •  1 Peter 2:19-25  •  John 10:1-10

THEME:  Take an example from sheep, and enjoy the abundant life that comes from forging deep relationships with others with whom we share Christ’s love.

A pop quiz:  what’s the dumbest animal on the farm?  Did you say sheep?  If so, you’re not alone.  Most of us think of sheep the way George Orwell described them in his novel, “1984”:  stupid and unthinking.

But contrary to what we’ve all heard, sheep are by no means dumb.  Among farm animals, their intelligence ranks just below that of pigs, who are surprisingly intelligent.

Research has shown that sheep can navigate complex mazes.  And they have exceptional memories.  When it comes to humans, they can remember up to 50 faces for as long as two years.  They can even differentiate a smile from a frown, and they show a definite preference for the smile. 

They enjoy the company of family members and friends.  They’re playful, joyous and loyal.  They form long-term friendships and stick up for one another when one of them is in need.

Sheep know how to stick together.  Even when they’re out grazing in the fields, they band together.  This is not just because they’re social animals (which they are), but they also know they’re safer when they’re with family and friends.

So, it turns out sheep are smart enough to know how to be safe and happy.  And they have something to teach us about the abundant life Jesus offers.

Jesus and his disciples have come across a blind man.  Everyone in town knows this man.  He’s the one they always see begging in the street.  That’s all he is to them:  a blind beggar, at best someone to be pitied, and, at worst, a nuisance. 

But this particular day, Jesus changes this man’s life forever by miraculously restoring his eyesight.  Amazing what a little spit and some dirt will do, right?  But don’t try that at home, folks.

The people are amazed at this transformation.  They bring him before the Pharisees to see what they make of this miracle.  But instead of rejoicing, the Pharisees are more interested in logistics:  How did this happen?  Who did this?  And when?

When they find out Jesus did it, they’re immediately divided.  They begin to argue.  Some are convinced it’s a genuine sign of Jesus’ faithfulness. 

Others are indignant.  How dare he perform this work of healing on the Sabbath?!  That’s a violation of the law.  Surely, that’s proof he’s a sinner.

They try to get the man himself to settle this for them.  Time after time, they press him to provide testimony that Jesus is a sinner.

Time and again, he refuses.  The only testimony he provides is what you and I know as the words to the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”:  I once was blind but now I see. 

And, for him, that’s enough to see Jesus for what he truly is:  God’s son and the people’s savior.  And for that, the Pharisees expel this poor man from the community.

That’s like getting kicked out of your neighborhood, your job, your credit union, your school, your church and all your social groups, all in one fell swoop.  It seems harsh, and it was.  It was downright traumatic. 

At the time John was writing several generations after Jesus, this was common practice.  Jews who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah were considered heretics.  Just like this blind man, they were thrown out of the synagogue and the community.

The question John is asking here is just who exactly are the blind ones?  And who is the true shepherd of the sheep:  the religious authorities or Jesus?

John’s answer is pretty darn clear:  Jesus is the true shepherd, and this blind man is one of his lost sheep.

Sheep learn to trust their shepherd because he leads them to pastureland where they can be nourished and revived.  That’s what Jesus did for this man:  he led him out of a life of darkness into a life of abundance.  That’s what a good shepherd does.

And Jesus is more than the Good Shepherd.  He’s also the gate.  He keeps the sheep together in the sheepfold at night, safe from predators.  He’s the source of their unity and protection, as well as their nourishment.

That’s what abundant life looks like to a sheep. The real question is, what does abundant life look like for you and me?

Well, let’s begin by admitting it’s not necessarily what we think it is.

All of us are tempted to measure abundant life by status, power and money.  But that is not what Jesus has in mind.

Now, it’s true that, beginning with Adam and Eve, God blesses people throughout scripture.  It’s there in the Old Testament: Joshua, Psalms and Proverbs all link prosperity with faithfulness.

God’s blessing is also promised in the New Testament:  in Matthew’s parable of the talents, in Philippians and, of course, the very verse we read this morning:  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

There are any number of preachers out there who are all too willing to twist the meaning of these verses in order to play on our desire for status and material prosperity.  As they say, faithfulness is the route to riches and the stairway to success.

Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen and a host of other charlatans have made personal fortunes by spouting this heresy that flies in the face of not only what Christ taught, but how he lived – and how he died.

In the words of the late great Jesuit priest, Dan Berrigan, “If you’re going to follow Jesus, you’d better look good on wood.”  That’s where Jesus ended up:  penniless, half-naked and nailed to a cross.

 And I’m pretty sure none of his followers made it big by selling their memoires and retiring to a little villa on the Mediterranean coast.  In point of fact, all Jesus’ disciples met the same kind of violent end he did. 

Throughout history, faithful Christians have endured struggle, suffering and pain as they walk the path Jesus did.  So then, where is this abundant life that Jesus promises?

Well, we can start by looking to the sheep.  Their happiness comes through relationships with their shepherd and the other sheep in their flock.  It turns out we human beings are very much the same.

Researchers at Harvard University have been conducting an extraordinary 75-year long study.  The goal is to determine what keeps human beings happy and healthy as we go through life.  A study this long is unprecedented.  And the findings are equally amazing.

The clearest message is this:  good relationships are the key to health and happiness.  More than money, status or fame, social connections are good for us.  Those who have a network of good relationships are happier, healthier and live longer than those who are more isolated.

It’s not the number of our relationships that matter.  It’s not about how many Facebook friends we have, or the number of email addresses in our Outlook contact list.  It’s the quality of our relationships that determine our well-being and longevity.

And the relationships don’t have to be perfect.  Whether it’s a spouse, a family member or a friend, as long as we feel we can count on the other person when the going gets tough, our lives will be dramatically improved. 

In fact, researchers witnessed firsthand that even couples who regularly bickered like cats and dogs could be healthy.  Deep down they knew they could count on the other person when the chips are down.  That confidence and reassurance is what made their lives longer and more satisfying.

The Director of the study summed up his findings nicely with a quote from Mark Twain.  As the great author approached the end of his life, he reflected back and observed, “There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heart-burnings, or callings to account.  There is only time for love.”

That is what Jesus means when he promises abundant life.  Like the sheep, you and I have a good shepherd who loves and protects us.  The abundance of our lives is determined by the way we experience that love and share it with the other sheep in our flock.

Friends, who are you close to?  Whose lives are you involved with, and who is involved in your life?  In the midst of a crisis, could you turn to them for help and reassurance?


Well, we’re certainly in a crisis now.  Over the last six weeks, I’ve noticed that, amid the stress and anxiety we all feel, there are some hidden blessings, too. 

Many of us have more time now.  Most of us are getting comfortable using internet communication tools to stay connected with one another, even with those who live far away.

So, for all of us, now is the time to reevaluate and strengthen our relationships.  Which friendships have we neglected because of our busy schedules? 

What about family members, especially those we don’t see as often as we’d like?  This is a great time to set-up regular video conference calls with them.

Are there new friendships we can forge, new groups we might join, to increase our connections with others?

Odds are all these folks have more time now, just like we do.  It’s the perfect time to reestablish the bonds of love and friendship that join us together, and to forge new ones.

And I can’t think of a better time to strengthen our bonds with Jesus, the Good Shepherd whose love and care never fail.

Friends, let’s be smart - like the sheep.  Let’s follow our shepherd.  Because where he wants to lead us to a life of true abundance.       May it be so.

Last Published: May 4, 2020 9:50 AM
Gathering service Banner