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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 15, 2011 Aimee Bruno Gospel: John 10:1-10 1st Reading: Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23 2nd Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

We learned this week that a close elderly relative of Nick’s was the victim of a scam. She thought it was her grandson calling her, saying he had been arrested in the Dominican Republic and needed bail, and by the way, don’t tell dad. So she sent the money. Then he called again the next week—the money never arrived. So she sent it again. Then he called again the week after, needing $40,000. She became very upset at that point—she didn’t have that kind of money! That’s when it all came to light. In the meantime she lost thousands of dollars. She’s embarrassed. She’s sad. Her kids told her she just has a big heart, but be sure to consult them next time.

Jesus said, “The one who does not enter by the gate is a thief and a bandit.” And, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” And, “The sheep will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

People fall for scams every day. These thieves count on the fact that grandparents may not recognize the voice of their own grandchild or know what’s going on with their grandkids, or even what country they are in. The person calls and simply says, “Hi grandma, it’s me.” They count on the elderly to guess which grandchild it is. They don’t even need to know the name of the person—just call them grandma and it will melt their heart. This poor boy was crying and carrying on on the phone with her. How could she not reach out to him? And these scammers use a tactic to keep people from asking relatives their advice, “Don’t tell dad or mom.” I’m sure you’re all too smart to fall for anything like this, but anytime someone asks you to keep a secret like that, red flags should go up all over the place!

Sometimes religion has been used to scam people. People have been duped out of possessions and money in similar communities to the one mentioned in the book of Acts this morning. The crying televangelists have begged for money to help the poor or keep the station alive. All too often these televangelists are living in luxury and the money isn’t going where they say it will.

I noticed last week my godson put on his Facebook page his answer to a quiz, “What is the most told lie?” He chose an answer among 5 other answers, “Religions.” Ouch. I felt dissed as a pastor, and like a failed godmother. I hope he didn’t mean everything about religion, but I may never know, because I only see him once or twice a year. How can I pass on the faith to a kid who never goes to church and who I see so infrequently? Am I to blame? What could I have done differently? He’s 15—am I already too late? From his answer to this quiz can I assume that he sees Christians, or even me, as a liar, a thief, and a bandit? Is it appropriate to ask him about this—to take time out of the few hours a year we have together to debate him, get defensive, get him to clarify his questions and try to answer them as best I can? Or is it better to let him wrestle with it and find his own way and just continue to show interest and concern in his life, living and sharing my faith in a quieter, less pushy way? Can I just quietly respect his opinion without it reflecting on me and let his life unfold how it will? If I judge him won’t I make religion more of a lie? That’s not what we’re about!

And maybe it isn’t religion I need to pass on to him, but abundant life. That’s what Jesus stood for and came to bring, not religion. That’s what God wants for us. That’s what I want for my godson, even more than sitting in church or beating himself up about his sins.

It isn’t wealth that I want for him, even though that sometimes gets confused with abundant life in our culture. His family has that, at least way more than mine did at that time. Last year he went with his class on a trip to the East Coast. They went to Ground Zero, the Liberty Bell, and countless other historical sites, along with an amusement park. I was a bit appalled at the expense of the trip, but pleased that he could have that experience when he’s at such an impressionable age. That kind of experiential learning will be with him his whole life. It could shape what he chooses to do with his life, how he sees people who are different from him, how he sees his place in history. I hope that it was more than an expensive diversion, but that he grew in abundant life and that he will want to share abundant life with others because of that experience.

I have been privileged to accompany some of you on your journey in abundant life. For some of you it has been the transition to retirement. Some of you have reflected on your working life in anticipation of retirement. Some of you have jumped in with both feet. Others have dawdled on the shore, sticking your toe in to test the waters. But you all found abundant life your own way—volunteering, caring for grandchildren, traveling. It has all led to abundant life. For some of you, it has required a move, or several moves. When you didn’t expect to find abundant life in a retirement home, it found you!

And I feel that even the journey toward death can be a journey of abundant life. It was with Judith and it was with Darleen. Even those who resist and struggle come to the point where abundant life is handed to them and they go peacefully into the arms of God.

It is a difficult image of Jesus as the gatekeeper, keeping some out and letting some in. It sounds like he picks and chooses, loves and hates. Shepherds used to lay across the opening of the fence to protect the sheep at night. They were the actual gate. If we think of Jesus laying across the threshold, putting himself in harm’s way to protect the sheep, the people—that might be a more helpful image. And during the day he gets up and lets the sheep out and accompanies them on the hillsides all day long as they eat grass and shrubs, checking them for injury with his staff, going out in search of them when they get lost, leading them to water and greener pastures. And if you remember some of the other sheepy texts in the Bible—“’none shall be missing,’ says the LORD. It isn’t a matter of the gate letting in some sheep and not others, protecting some sheep and not others. All the sheep are there, under God’s loving care. And he calls them all by name—did you know that sheep can learn their names and come when specifically called, like cats or dogs? At least like dogs. My cats all think their names are kitty, kitty and go where they please and come when they feel like it! But they know my voice. They aren’t going to come when the neighbor calls kitty, kitty. We found that out the hard way when we asked our neighbor to feed our cats when we were gone one time. Our little Bitey disappeared for the week, rather than come when the neighbor man called!

So what does that mean for us? We are a community, a flock. Our neighbors, too, are in our flock. We try to make sure our neighbors are fed. We work together with other flocks, other congregations, to share the pasture and the abundant life at the pantry. We are working on strengthening our flock and community as we work on redevelopment in the areas of evangelism and serving, visitation, and worship. We are moving forward with plans for our church to have more focus and relevance for today. The flock has to always be moving forward. If they stay too long in one place, they eat every green thing there and then all of a sudden look up and wonder where all the green grass went. The shepherd keeps them on the move, rotating fields where they can eat and fertilize, providing for abundant life.

Sometimes abundant life means suffering—that’s part of life. Change is difficult—it may mean suffering. Giving to others may mean doing without something we might like to have—it might mean a little tweak of pain here or there as we give something up. I know Bible School is a time of abundant life, and boy do I ache at the end of the day, at the end of the week! It takes a lot of work and time and encouraging. And it is all worth it in the end. We don’t suffer in vain. It is all for the cause of abundant life. So please don’t think the second lesson is telling you take abuse of a spouse or child or bully or scammer, or to abuse yourself and torment yourself with shame or self-hatred. Yes, Jesus suffered, but he also stood up for the truth and what was right. Yes, they abused and tortured him and hung him on a cross, but not before he stood up to them and made them see the wrong they had been doing. Yes, he gave up his life, but it was for the purpose of sharing abundant life with those who didn’t have it. We will suffer and go through growing pains. We will die to our old ideas of who we are and we’ll have to let go of some things we thought were central in order to make room for Jesus to transform us and grow us. But it is always in order to bring us to abundant life and for us to share that abundant life as widely as possible with all God’s beloved children.

"Blessing of the Gate" by Jan Richardson
Press your hand to this blessing, here along the side where you can feel its seam.
Follow the seam and you will find the hinges on which this blessing turns.
Feel how your fingers catch on them—top, bottom,the slightest pressure sending the gate gliding open in a glad welcome.
Wait, did I say press your hand to this blessing?
What I meant was press your hand to your heart.
Rest it over that place in your chestthat has grown closed and tight,where the rust, with its talent for making decay look artful,has bitten into what you once held dear.
Breathe deep. Press on the knot and feel how it begins to give way,turning upon the hinge of your heart.
Notice how it opens wide and wider still as you exhale,
spilling you out into a realm where you never dreamed to gobut cannot now imagine living this life without.

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