Monday, May 16, 2011

True Life!

This sermon is partially based on the PBS show Frontline about the nature of advertising.

It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then we will get a call in our house asking if Mr. or Mrs. Hoopkins is there.
You probably get phone calls like this from telemarketers wanting to pitch you something.
What makes me laugh about these calls is that the company is trying to get me to think they are thinking about me personally by using my name, instead of saying something more generic, but really they are totally turning me off because they don’t know my name.
This morning’s Gospel from John is about this very thing.
It is about who we belong to, who gives life, and how we know when they call us.
Jesus uses the image of a shepherd calling his sheep and a open gate.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…They will not follow a stranger.”
It is not a command but an invitation into the pasture, into a life full of abundance.

We are sold almost daily a lie.
It is a lie that something we buy or own will be the thing that gives our lives meaning or value.
I am not saying that buying things is evil.
We need to buy things in this world to live.
We need to buy cars, food, clothing, and foot wear.
I am also not saying this morning that we should be on guard against over consumption. (Although we should that is another sermon for another day.)
I am saying that psychologically, spiritually we are told by companies that happiness and life come from buying their products.
Ad companies no longer want you to believe that their products are the best; they want you to believe that what you are buying will give your life meaning and purpose.
You can find identity and transcendence in the things that you buy as a consumer.

In fact, the ad companies did research into why people joined cults or participated in cult like behavior.
They discovered that people who joined these things were looking for identity, purpose, community, and transcendence.
So they set out to market products based on these ideas.
No longer do we buy a shoe, we buy a lifestyle that comes with that shoe.
In one of my favorite examples there was a commercial some years ago about Chinet paper plates.
The tag line was, “What are you saying with your Chinet plates?”
I am saying it is time for a hamburger!
Nothing more nothing less.

Today we are told by Jesus that what gives us life, true life, is knowing the shepherd.
What gives true life is going into the pasture with the other sheep.
Being in the pasture is about blessing and not being in want.
It is about knowing that God is with us and having true life.
True life is being able in all circumstances to be able to thank God.
It is not about the car we drive, the clothes we wear, or what kind of paper plate we use at our cookout.

Because Jesus always knows our name never would Jesus call me up and ask for Mr. Hoopkins.
Jesus would know my name and use it to call me blessed, loved, and holy.
Today Jesus knows your name and calls you by it and invites you to have true life.

What does it look like this life in the pasture?
What does it mean to live in the pasture with other sheep?
It looks like the picture in Acts, “They broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
It is not about following rules or doing the right thing.
It is about having glad and generous hearts because of what God has done for us.
It is about knowing that there is the shepherd who leads us beside the still water, and revives our souls.
It is found in those little moments of grace that we sometimes get to experience.
It is found in those noisy times when the whole family gathers for a meal.
It is found in those quiet moments of prayer.
Jesus invites us into a relationship that is real and living.
It changes and moves us and we move with it.

When I was a child I didn’t understand it this way.
I thought of God as some far off distant figure who would show up in the stories I heard in the Bible.
But the older I get the more I need God in my life I have discovered that God is not far off at all he is right here with me.
I find that I enjoy the times in the pasture knowing Jesus is near and I am with the other sheep praising God.

The problem with the things we buy is that they will never really satisfy what we truly want.
They will never be able to give us true identity.
They will ultimately fail to transcend this life because they are of this life.
They will not be able to give our life true meaning, because at the end of the day a sneaker is just a sneaker, paper plates are just paper plates nothing more nothing less.

Jesus on the other hand is so much more.
Jesus is everything we will ever need to satisfy our true longing for community, identity, meaning, and transcendence.
No matter what you need in your life you can turn to Jesus and receive it today.
If you need forgiveness it is offered.
If you need someone to talk to Jesus is there for you.
If you need meaning Jesus gives it to you.
If you need community the Church of Jesus Christ (hopefully) is there for you.

The life that Jesus offers comes from knowing that we need a shepherd.
It comes from knowing that we don’t have all the answers and don’t have our act together.
The times when we admit that we need help, that we are lost, and need to be lead, comforted, and lifted up these are the times when we come to see Jesus in our lives.
The whole thing about having a car that defines us means we are trying to hide something missing in ourselves.
We are trying to identify ourselves by what we own rather than who we are.
Because we are often afraid of whom we are or what we might be.
We might not measure up to others.

Today Jesus is inviting us not to jump the fence, but rather doing the hard work of recognizing our need.
There have been many times in my life when I have needed Jesus.
There was this one time in college when I was having a particularly bad semester.
I had a whole bunch of thing go wrong in my life, and I was doing a whole bunch of bad things.
I wasn’t really sure who I was or what I was doing.
One night I took a walk to the chapel on campus.
It was a huge chapel with big gothic ceilings.
I prayed that night for God to help me because I was lost.
I prayed that I might have the strength to admit that I couldn’t do it.
I asked God to forgive me for being selfish and prideful.
When I left it started to rain.
I took that as a sign from God that it was time for a new start, that my sin was being washed away.
No sneaker or paper plate can do that!
Things got better for me after that.
I felt a strength that was not there before that night.
I wish I could tell you that was it.
But there have been other times since when I have been in need and fell to my knees and prayer.
Each time I have heard Jesus call my name and bring me back to the pasture.
Each time Jesus has opened the gate for me and led me to still waters.
Jesus brings me to the waters that calm my restless soul.

Can you hear Jesus this morning call you by name?
Can you hear Jesus invite you into the pasture?
Today Jesus offers you abundant life filled with meaning, community, transcendence.
What the psalmist sings is true; “with God surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


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