In a Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown is seated at Lucy’s psychiatric stand where she offers her advice for a nickel. Charlie Brown says, “I need help – tell me a great truth. Tell me something about living that will help me.” Lucy askes, “Do you ever wake up at night and want a drink of water?” Charlie Brown responds, “Sure, quite often.” Lucy then says, “When you are getting a drink of water in the dark, always rinse out the glass because there might be a bug in it. Five cents please.” Charlie Brown walks away saying, “Great truths are even more simple than I thought they were.”
Great truths really are quite simple as they teach us about the meaning of life and quench our thirst for the essence of life. In today’s scripture reading, Jesus is sharing a great truth about the essence of life with the Pharisees, a powerful group of Jewish religious leaders, who were adherents of 613 religious laws known as the mitzvot. These 613 laws were the combination of the 611 commandments that Moses taught and the first two of the 10 Commandments which were the only commandments that were directly heard from God in the Old Testament.
The setting for our scripture reading from the 10th chapter of John is found in the 9th chapter of John where Jesus, on the Sabbath, a day designated in the mitzvot for rest, heals a man who has been blind from birth. Jesus does this by spitting on the ground and making mud by kneading the dirt and saliva. The act of kneading was considered by the Pharisees to be work on the sabbath and thus a violation of the mitzvot for the healing of a non-life-threatening illness.
Encountering the man whose sight Jesus healed, the Pharisees face an existential moment as they proclaim they are disciples of Moses and drive him out of their sight. When Jesus hears what has happened, he finds the man the Pharisees have driven away, and the healed man becomes a disciple of Jesus as Jesus proclaims the great truths found in John 10:10:
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
To help his followers understand the great truth of abundant life, Jesus invited his followers to have their vision healed by seeing life in a new way as he identified himself as the good shepherd. To appreciate the great truth of abundant life that Jesus offers as the good shepherd, it is important to understand the relationship between sheep and shepherd in the Bible. The basic nature of sheep is affection, vulnerability, and reliance upon the shepherd for care and supervision. Understanding the basic nature of sheep, Jesus identified the basic nature of a good shepherd as a willingness to lay down the shepherd’s life for the sheep.
Sheepfolds assisted shepherds in their care of their sheep. An enclosure for sheep, sheepfolds provided protection against the night hazards of weather, beasts, and robbers. Sometimes used by several shepherds and supervised by a single attendant during the night, sheepfolds had a gate through which sheep could enter and exit. When morning would come, the shepherds would call out for the sheep in his flock and the sheep would follow the sound of the shepherd’s voice to presence of the shepherd.
Arthur John Gossip wrote about a time when he saw sheep responding to the sound of the shepherd’s voice. He had been fighting in a battle that claimed the lives of many combatants. His division had been sent behind the lines for 5 days rest and, as he said, they “had gotten back to human and lovely things again, houses and tree and flowers and kindly people.” Shortly after their arrival, word came that the enemy had broken the line and they were needed. Watching the troops arrive, Gossip reported that his heart grew resentful as he knew the reality that was awaiting. Waiting for the time when they would hear their names called, Gossip reported that he walked down an enticing lane that wound between fields ablaze with golden and blue flowers. As he walked, he came upon a shepherd boy who was leading his flock of sheep by walking ahead of them and calling out to them. Every now and then, the boy would all out to a sheep that may have wandered away from the other sheep. When the sheep would hear the shepherd’s voice, the sheep would come running and affectionately rub against the shepherd’s leg. Gossip reported that this occurred numerous times as this good shepherd guided his sheep over a little ridge and out of sight. He summed up what he had observed with these words, “And standing there, as plain and clear as if they been spoken first to very me, I heard, when he had brought out all his own, he goes before them and I turned and went into the valley of the shadow, with a heart quieted and still.”
The great truth of abundant life is that we can have life abundantly if we are willing to listen to the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd. The great truth of abundant life is that Jesus never stops calling our name as he gives sight to our lives and hope to our living.
Rev. Jim Somerville writes about a person whose vision for life Jesus healed.
“We knew him as a mean old man. Resentful. Bitter. Someone said that his bitterness was justified. His beloved wife died giving birth to their one child. The child died shortly thereafter from complications. “He has reason to be bitter,” they said in town. Never went to church. Never had anything to do with anyone. When, in his late sixties, they carried him out of his apartment and over to the hospital to die, no one visited, no flowers were sent. He went there to die alone. There was this nurse. Well, she wasn’t actually a nurse yet, just a student nurse. She was in training and because she was in training she didn’t know everything that they teach you in school about the necessity for detachment, the need for distance with your patients, boundaries. She befriended the old man. It had been so long since he had friends, he didn’t know how to act with one. He told her, “Go away! Leave me alone!” She would smile. Try to coax him to eat his Jell-O. At night, she would tuck him in. “Don’t need nobody to help me,” he would growl. Soon, he grew so weak he had not the strength to resist her kindness. Late at night, after her duties were done, she would pull up a chair and sit by his bed and sing to him as she held his old, gnarled hand. And he looked up at her in the dim lamp light and wondered if he saw the face of a little one whom he never got to see as an adult. And a tear formed in his eye when she kissed him goodnight. And for the first time in forty, maybe fifty years, he said, “God bless you.”
The great truth of seeing life in the name of Jesus, the good shepherd. May God bless you with the great truth of abundant life.
The Great Truth of Abundant Life
by Pastor Marc Brown
April 30, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: John 10:1-15
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for April 30, 2023
Scripture Lesson John 10:1-15
The Good News “The Great Truth of Abundant Life”
Music “Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us” Hymn #381
Closing Music “All Creatures of our God and King” arr. Jan Sanborn