Corey, was too young to know what he was looking at when he saw his first cruise ship pull into the busy Boston harbor, but he knew that the ship was calling him. Through the years passing ships would prove to be his livelihood; as a child working along side of his father selling small souvenirs to travelers and shining shoes of the wealthy, then into early adulthood carrying traveler’s luggage from the ship-side to the waiting limo’s and taxi cabs that lined the streets. Some days were slow and his family ate accordingly; some days were good, and those days he would sock away the extra dollars in an old tin can that he kept inside his beaten and weathered mattress, but every day was long. Despite the hours of tedious work, Corey was always happy. Poor, yes; Exhausted, always; Overworked, to say the least; but he smiled because in the back of his mind he knew he would soon be on one of those ships. Throughout the passing years all those extra nickels, dimes, and dollars that he had been saving up would soon enough buy his ticket to adventure. He put his family first, made sure there was always food on the table, clothes to wear, and shelter to sleep, but eventually, he did buy himself a ticket- a ticket that got him a windowless room on a ship bound for Bermuda and then south along the coast of the America’s on a 3-week adventure at sea. Having spent all of his money on a small interior cabin and carrying only two outfits of which to swap between, Corey was somewhat uneasy living amongst these prosperous people of whom he was so used to serving.
As well, he had no extra money to spend on the exquisite food and wine that others partook of, so when the other travelers went to dine under chandeliers, serenaded by men in tuxedos playing jazz music; Corey would sneak off to his windowless room and eat a meals of crackers and peanut butter that he had brought along for the trip and scraps the others guests had wastefully thrown away. 2 of the 3 weeks had passed and Corey had seen many beautiful places, things of which he could never have imagined living in the Boston harbor. One night,he was seen by the ships captain, who had been watching him sneak off into his room every evening for days. The captain, sleek in his black suit and freshly shined shoes caught him and asked, “Boy, why do you never join us for dinner; you always disappear at night when we all join together to laugh and eat.”
Corey, ashamed, replied, “to tell you the truth I spent all the money that I had on my ticket…I cannot afford the fancy food and drinks onboard. I brought my own food though, and, thank you for such a beautiful trip!”
Confused, the captain responded, “Don’t you realize that your on an all inclusive cruise. All the meals are free; you paid for them already when you bought your ticket!
Needless to say the young man gained some weight over the next week. He tried foods with names he couldn’t pronounce, danced until he couldn’t feel his feet, and laughed until he couldn’t breathe, and then he awoke the next day to do it all again.
Can you picture for a moment, God, looking down from the heavens in confusion…and saying, “I gave them my son, an all inclusive ticket to this world, why are they not living their lives in abundance?”
The Gospel of John is not known for its parables, in actuality, our metaphorical connection to the sheep of this world is as close as John gets to imploring Jesus’ favorite teaching tactic. Sometimes I wonder if we need to even count this as a metaphor at all? Sheep are known for blindly following their leader, living routinely day to day, week to week, year in an year out… For accepting unquestionably and complacently their manger and duty. There is a danger in complacency… Corey was lucky enough to wake up to his mistake with time to spare, but not everyone can say the same? Don’t wait to long to find happiness… as you might risk repeating the famous words of Gabrial Colette, “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
“Well my life isn’t always happy” you may be saying… I second that, life can really suck on occasion… sorry.
Over the years I have found that our society loves to finish the sentence, “life is…” Think about the many metaphors youve heard… “Life is like a beautiful Melody” (Hans Christian Anderson), “like an ocean, calm one day, rough the next,” declares rumi; Forest Gump even plays on the metaphor! “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get!”
My favorite is the bouncing stick figure, Jake, whose likeness is on t-shirts all over the country with his motto- “Life is Good.” Ever heard that story?? Two guys living in a van down by the river (for real, this is not just a Chris Farley SNL skit.) On their last dime, after failing at every attempt at being entrepreneurs, one takes out a napkin, draws on it a stick man and a little speech bubble, and writes, “Life is Good,” in a last ditch sarcastic middle finger to society. Less than a year later the pair were millionaires with that sacred napkin framed on the wall; thinking to themselves… Yep, “Life is good!”
John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Let’s break this verse down. First question, where are the “thieves” in your life? What worldly things are stealing your life away? The stresses of work? Maybe financial strain, addiction, poor health, fatigue, fear? Christ warns us about worldly thieves who steal our focus and herd our flock away from our true passions, are bliss, away from abundant life, and life is much more than breath. Christ didn’t come that we may breath, God granted us breath in creation, Christ came that we may use that breath to live life to the fullest. I love the quote, “Life is not about the breathes you take but the ones that take your breath away. Yes, there is breathing apart from Christ, but not living. The dead are all around us, the living ones are easily spotted though, they are the ones smiling.
Well my life isn’t always happy or “smiley,”- I have bills to pay, responsibilities to fulfill, work to get done. Well guess what, Christ didn’t come so that we may drink margaritas in hammocks all day (though on occasion it is a great bonus…) Earlier I left out one of the most famous and true “Life is” statements. Have any of you ever read the book, the road less traveled? The opening sentence simply reads, “Life is difficult.” Christ came that we may live. See, the term Abundant cannot be reduced to “Happy” as we commonly understand it… abundance has a lot of synonyms, but “easy” is not one of them. Abundance is defined as surplus, but when applied to life, the term “happy” often a sneaks in. Biblically, happiness is more than an emotion, it means blessed; to be happy means to be blessed. When you are blessed (as we all are) we have the ability to be Happy, but that requires our recognizing our blessings (and that is easier said than done.)
This is the difference between true happiness and worldly happiness. True happiness comes in our recognition of the gifts God has supplied; whereas worldly happiness is a fleeting and often superficial emotion that is easily, as Christ for warns” stolen away.
So- happiness in our context, is routed in our abundant blessings, but contingent upon our acceptance of these blessings. Are we soaking up every blessing of this cruise ship that is life, or letting our happiness get stolen away by the world around us? The Blessed aren’t always are poster children of worldly happiness either, we turn to the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Biblical Happiness, abundant life, is not a passive thing… not a static experience of which we sit around and one day instantly fulfilled. We must seek happiness and recognize opportunities for abundance. We will never be completely satisfied with our life, though we should be happy with our present state. Ive always lived by the rule that we need, as Christians, to be content but not ever complacent.To be one of the flock of Christ, a sheep guided by our Messiah, means to be content in our gift of life and our leadership the leadership that faith calls for; but at the same time, always striving for more. Don’t be a “complacent” sheep, but a “sweaty” sheep, always knowing that this life has so much to offer, and is so abundant, that we can never experience all the joy that God wishes to give.Jumping out of the pew Bibles, I feel that the King James Version of the text does a better job portraying this message… Christ came so that they may live and live “more abundantly.” There is always “more” to strive for and we can never, in our time on earth, know all the abundance of God in the Heavens. Yesterday many folks ran the roads of Louisville and they serve as a great representation of this constant “seeking” of fulfillment. If you ask these runners if they felt exceedingly comfortable or “happy” while they were running, they might very well laugh at you… but if you ask if they felt fulfilled that answer might change. At the end of the race, most of these runners held their medal’s high, smiled, and set the next goal on their athletic journey. I pray that we always take the chance to joyfully embrace our momentary victories, but also that we constantly strive to better ourselves on the next go around.
The lectionary this week put Psalm 23 as a supplementary reading to the Gospel of John and this provides an interesting, yet truly genius correlation. The most popular of the Psalms reads, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want.” These words, words that Christians and Jews have recited for over two thousand years, are… well… bologna. I know what your thinking, “Ryan, it is a little blasphemous to call the Bible Bologna,” and questioning scripture makes people a little uncomfortable! However, the text is not wrong, but is better translated, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not NEED.”
We can never fully conceive nor appreciate all that is God’s majesty, thus we can and SHOULD always WANT more. Remember that every tomorrow can always be better than today (even when today is the best day of your life!) Any of you have those friends… the ones who, every 15 minutes or so, blurt out, this is the BEST DAY EVER! How awesome is that when you think about it. Ben Sweetland once stated that “The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a teaspoon instead of a tank car… They expect little and as a result they get little.” Going back to the Psalm, God will never leave us in NEED. The fountain of life is infinite when we trust in God’s ability to meet our shortcomings; however it is our call what we come to the fountain carrying, and thus how much abundance we can take with us. Christ came so that we can live and do so MORE abundantly… no matter how full you life is, Christ can and will add to it when you ask.
How is abundance represented in your life? What are you seeking from the fountain? Money? Ecclesiastes reads “He who loves money will never have enough.” Abundance and wealth are indeed dependent on one another, however, wealth and Money are most certainly not. Wealth takes many forms.
What about position? Is abundance represented in a promotion or the acquisition of a certain status? Is your blessing found in the letters in front of your name. NO.
Fittingly, given yesterday’s race, through much of my life as an athlete, abundance was rooted in my performance… I felt blessed only when the clock read the right finishing time and because of that I can say that though I crossed the line first on occasion, I never won a race!
One of our runners, Brian, volunteers alongside children with Down Syndrome and has found abundance in the way they smile back when eating a slice of pizza, enjoying his fellowship, or jogging the last leg of a race at his side. My friend Lacey, who is in her last year of med-school, finds it in a medical clinic, “working with God to heal sick children,” and Susan the teller at the bank I go to, says she is fulfilled through her work helping students become secure financially, it makes her feel good. I heard a retired pastor speak at a conference last summer. He said he found abundance when he quit formal ministry and began driving trucks cross country – ministering to a dozen folks a day who needed a ride, or a listening ear, or who just needed one of the thousands of chickens he carrying.“It was a funny thing” he said. He “grew up poor, and [his] family only had fried chicken once in a very great while. So it gave [him] incredible pleasure to imagine that because of his work thousands of folks would have fried chicken the next day for dinner. AWESOME
All of these people have found abundance in helping others in their own unique ways… God has given each of us talents and open hearts so that we may share the abundance of Christ in all that we do in this life. It happens in our work and our play… James Meichner writes (and if you have known me for a while you have probably heard me say quote this because its my favorite,) “The masters in the art of living make little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their minds and their bodies, their information, their recreation, their love and their religion. They hardly know which is which; they simply pursue their vision of excellence at whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing”
You see, The harvest is plentiful, so how can you add to it? I want to close today by offering up a challenge. In both John’s text and the 23rd Psalm, we are the sheep… but I want to challenge each and every one of you to as well be the blessing, the bearer of abundant life to another in the same selfless manner that Christ gives it to us. I want each of you to embrace your call to not only be the sheep, but to on occasion be the Shepard. How can you, in all that you do share the joys of this life? How can you make someone else’s day (because when we make another smile, human reflex is to do the same.) How can you make everyone that you meet realize that they are an absolute bundle of magnificence, wrapped in a layer of skin? God resides in each and every one of you, each and every one of us. That means that every one of us is a blessing and if living in abundance means to recognize all that God has blessed us with, wouldn’t it be great to start, recognizing and embracing the abundance in your neighbors. Ministry happens when you have fun and embrace and share the blessings of God in your life… and that can occur with a smile, a tear, or a hug. It happens when we lighten up, de-stress, and realize that this life is way to important to be taken seriously. It happens when we stop and smell the roses and tiptoe through the tulips.
“It is against reason to be burdensome to others,” States St. Thomas Aquinas, “showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude.”
Don’t be (as Aquinas states) a wet blanket, and take advantage of the all inclusive cruise ship that is life… live life and live it to the fullest… because as Jake will tell you. LIFE IS GOOD.