Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Gentle…yet powerful. Lowly…yet almighty. Shepherd…yet King.

In Your gentleness, guide us. In Your power, strengthen us. In Your lowliness, strip from us our selfish pride which only destroys us. In Your greatness, lift us up that we might aspire to greater things. As a shepherd, call us to be Your servants. As a King, call us to be Your royal priesthood.

O God, who is our shepherd and our King; O Christ, who was crucified and is now risen from the dead; O Spirit, who comforts and empowers; O great One in Three, Holy Trinity, this hour, set us free to worship. Amen.

Almighty God,
through your only Son you overcame death
and opened to us the light of eternity.
Enlighten our minds and kindle our hearts
with the presence of your Spirit,
that we may hear your words of comfort and challenge
in the reading of the scriptures,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

SCRIPTURE​​ John 10:1-10
10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

So, what is your guilty pleasure during this season of quarantine? Chili Cheese Fritos? Baking fudgy desserts? Online shopping for blue suede shoes? Cooking with lots of butter? Walks with family to escape the house? Binging watching TV shows? I am guilty of all of these pleasures, but the binge watching has landed me on “Mad Men,” a show about a 1960’s advertising firm on Madison Avenue. The show revolves around creative director Don Draper: A stereotypical heavy drinking, womanizing executive that is looking for the next big company to sell ads to. The theme of selling and how to advertise plays a prominent theme throughout all seven seasons. Don Draper again and again reflects on the purpose of advertising and the message that the product portrays for the customer.

“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the sign of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is ok. You are ok.”

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

“We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had.”

Don Draper and the crew at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price know how to sell. They now how to get people to purchase Lucky Strikes, Jaguars, Playtex bras, Baked Beans and Heinz catchup, and the reality is that things haven’t really changed, people today are still looking for that happiness, people are still seeking that reassurance that they are ok, people still want more. And this is what Jesus offers that is waaaaay better than any product from the 1960s or 2020.

In this passage from John, Jesus says that he has come so that his sheep — his followers, all of us — may have life and have it abundantly. Life, obviously, is good, desirable, important. How much more so, then, abundant life. The chance to not simply persist, but thrive, to not simply exist, but flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted. I believe that if there is one thing that pretty much everyone in our congregations (and outside of them!) desires — even if they can’t name that desire — it’s this. More than that, I believe we regularly make all kinds of sacrifices in the hope to earn or achieve or purchase this life, and each time we fail it kills us just a little. We are seeking happiness through retail therapy or other means and it continues to fall short.

The world of advertising continues to push products, but there has been a shift from promises of brand quality to promises about quality of life; indeed, a certain kind of life – fill the empty places in your life with stuff – emotional branding is the technical term. Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, observes that while the things themselves may be perfectly useful — a great laptop or pair of running shoes — they can’t provide the abundant life of meaning and purpose that we seek.

So, there we are, seeking meaning and fulfillment — that is, abundant life — from things in part because we no longer find it at church. What can we do to change that?

First, I think we need to take responsibility to name how often we have been cheated — or, as knowing participants in the charade, perhaps we should say, cheated ourselves — by settling for something less than abundant life. This shouldn’t take the form of accusing, or even scolding. Rather, it’s simply inviting us to take an honest look at the choices we have made, the strategies we have employed, the things we have relied upon, to bring us authentic, abundant life and ask whether or not we are satisfied. Because the fact of the matter is that after all of our seeking and searching and shopping, we still end up far short of experiencing the abundant life Jesus promises. Perhaps we don’t know how to achieve such life (and of course naming it an “achievement” is part of the problem!). Or perhaps we’re afraid of what it takes to receive it. Why, we might well ask?

David Lose states that authentic abundant life — which Jesus here describes as flowing from relationship with Jesus and through him with God — demands that we be more vulnerable than we’re most often prepared to be. So much of our life is about protecting ourselves: giving the impression that we really do have it all together and, in this way, guarding ourselves against vulnerability. The difficulty, though, is that we cannot experience abundant life without exposing, even lifting up, those very vulnerabilities we want to hide. For the truth of the matter is, as Brene Brown has said in her book The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden, 2010), we cannot go selectively numb. And in trying to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment, we have so numbed ourselves that we have cut ourselves off from the opportunity to really feel alive.

Think about it: so much of our life is caught in this double-bind of wanting intimacy and honesty in our relationships — with each other as much as with God — and yet simultaneously holding back, not risking exposing ourselves fully to others for fear that they may reject us. It’s a legitimate fear, of course; people have rejected us in the past. And so, we concealed ourselves in emotional armor, living half-truths and sometimes outright lies about who we are, hoping to protect ourselves from hurt, perhaps all the while knowing that as long as we are not honest about who we are we cannot trust the love and acceptance others would offer us. After all, would they accept us, we silently ask ourselves, if they really knew us?

It is this very real human condition and dilemma that God embraces in the incarnation, taking on our lot and our life in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The man born of woman, born under the law; the one who experienced love and laughter, sorrow and disappointment; the teacher of love and peace who was executed on the cross — this one knows the deepest recesses of our fears and insecurities and has embraced them all. And when he is resurrected, he comes bearing the peace he has offered all along accompanied with the promise that his love is greater than fear and that his new life is greater than death.
Which means that the second thing we need to do is declare this promise. And it is a promise!

Abundant life is not something to earn or achieve, buy or barter for. Rather, it is a gift, the sheer gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us. There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance. And so, Jesus comes as the gatekeeper and good shepherd, the one who knows his sheep — intimately and truly — and who calls us by name so that we, hearing the difficult truth about ourselves, may believe and receive the second and wonderful truth about God’s great and victorious love for us.

The advertising world of Don Draper proclaims: “When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel or dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn’t perfect. We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had.” That is not very good news!

​On the other hand, The kingdom of God proclaims: the truth that God in Christ understands, embraces, and redeems us in love! Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. THAT IS THE GOOD NEWS!!

Commentary provided by Brene Brown, Naomi Kline, Karoline Lewis, David Lose, Sarah Henrich, Jaime Clark-Soles, Adam Thomas, Dana Ferguson and Kevin Grogg.

Loving Shepherd,
You lead and guide,
You walk alongside,
You prepare, you feed, you call,
all of your sheep,
even those of us who are lost,
those of us who stray constantly,
those of us who stay close to your comforting staff.

We are grateful for the lush green pastures of our lives,
and we pause now to offer our thanksgivings
for the goodnesses in our lives…

There are so many who walk in the shadows
of fear and suffering and despair,
and we pause now, to offer our prayers
for the broken and bleeding places in this world…

We also offer our prayers for the sheep of our own flocks,
in our families and friends,
in this our church and our community…(pause)

O Loving Shepherd,
We have all we need,
as we live in You.

As we offer these prayers, we do so in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying…

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

Day by day, God will lead us:
to those pools of peace where we can
gather with our friends and strangers.
Day by day, Jesus will call us:
to give ourselves in service,
to anoint others with hope.
Day by day, the Spirit shows us:
the people we might be,
the community we might become.