A man and woman were married for many years. It was a rocky marriage. He was grumpy and critical and she was feisty. Whenever they had a big argument their yelling could be heard deep into the night all over the neighborhood. But the neighbors all knew when the shouting would stop when they heard the old man yell, “When I die, I will dig my way up and out of the grave and come back and haunt you for the rest of your life!” because that is how all the arguments always ended.
Neighbors feared him. He was a big, cantankerous fellow and he liked the fact that he was feared. One day to everyone’s relief, he finally died. His wife had a closed casket at the funeral. After the burial, her neighbors, concerned for her safety, asked, “Aren’t you afraid that he may indeed be able to dig his way out of the grave and haunt you for the rest of your life?”
The wife said, “No, let him dig. I had him buried upside down. And I know he will never ask for directions.”
Do you find it difficult to ask for directions? According to one study over 85% of the men questioned admitted they hated to stop and ask for directions. In the same study it showed that women had little or no such aversion at all. In a study done by a company which makes GPS navigational aids, they found that men will clock up to an extra 900 miles during their lifetimes while being lost. Psychologists give several reasons for why men don’t like to ask for directions and they stem from men feeling like it’s not manly to ask for directions to men feeling like they have a great sense of directions and so they trust that sense. I don’t think this is quite the issue this used to be because now almost all of our cars have GPS and so we can always find our way. That is we can correctly find our way IF we turn it on which sometimes we don’t because we are trusting in our great sense of direction.
But even if we do have a great sense of direction we can make a wrong turn. Or sometimes where we want to go isn’t on a map. Sometimes in life it is more than simply finding the right turn-off or the right street. When we are talking about what our lives are about, when we are talking about what we are doing with our lives; when we are talking about whether or not our lives have meaning; we need more than a road map; we need more than a GPS; we need more than a good sense of direction.
In our gospel reading today Jesus says that he is the gate for the sheep, he is the shepherd for the sheep, and the reason he is here is so that his sheep, his followers, you and I, would have life and have it abundantly.
Well that sounds great! But what does abundant life consist of? What does abundant life even mean? To have life more abundantly sounds really good. How does one live with more life? Does abundant life mean to be happier? And then if that is the case, what exactly is happiness? Humorist Don Marquis once said, “Happiness is the interval between periods of unhappiness.” Albert Schweitzer said, “Happiness? That is nothing more than health and a poor memory.” Abundant life has to be more than fleeting happiness. Others tend to think of an abundant life as a life consisting in lots of things, as in an abundance of things as if many things will bring satisfaction. But simply having more stuff does not bring completion or satisfaction in life. Jesus said, “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where rust can destroy and thieves break in and steal.” So if we aren’t talking about happiness and we are not talking about having lots of stuff, what exactly is abundant life?
Abundant life has several components to it. The first component is purpose. Each of us needs a reason, a purpose for our lives. Did you know that according the International Journal of Epidemiology bored people die sooner than people who had a purpose for their life? Britton and Shipley of the University of London did a study of more than 7,500 people. Those who reported that they were bored were 2.5 times more likely to die of a heart problem than those who were not bored. The abundant life our Lord is talking about is a life that has meaning; it has a purpose. It is not simply about trying to be happy for short periods of time or to spend our lives trying to accumulate a lot of things.
God made us each of us with specific gifts and graces. He intended us to use those gifts in our lives. He intends us to have a reason for living; there is a reason to be here. In fact in our post communion prayer B we ask God to ‘to send us out to do the works you have given us to do.’ God has a purpose and plan for us. It is interesting to note that Jesus never promises his followers a quiet, relaxing life. Neither is there any mention of retirement in the Scriptures. No, Jesus doesn’t talk about a quiet and relaxing life, in fact he promises the opposite. He tells his followers to pick up their cross and follow him. He tells them to give up everything in order to follow him. He tells them to lose their lives, and in the losing of their lives, they will find life!
Lives lived for a cause that is more than who we are, that is bigger than you and me, brings us and our lives meaning and purpose. But the abundant life is not only finding meaningful activity or service. Jesus calls us also to love each other. An abundant life is relational; it is not only one where we do good things or deeds. Jesus the Good Shepherd loved us so much that he was willing to lay down his life for us. God loves us and we love him in return and this is the beginning of God’s love in our lives. And because we are loved so much, we are to reach out and love others. Relationships of love and care bring us joy and satisfaction.
I knew a man named Paul when I worked in Sarasota. Paul had been a principal of a high school in New Jersey and he and his wife retired and moved to Florida back in the late 80’s early 90’s. They had only been here a couple of years and he contracted Multiple sclerosis. I met him in 2010 and by the time I left in 2013 he was entirely bed-ridden and totally dependent upon others. He had one hand that would respond correctly and he was frequently in a lot of discomfort and pain. Paul had all kinds of reasons to be unhappy, depressed, and frustrated. Yet, yet he wasn’t. When I went to bring him Holy Communion we would visit first and I would always ask how he was doing. And he would always respond with “Well, you will never believe it,” but and then he would go on to tell of something good that had happened to him. It might be that he had received a card or letter or gift from a friend or family member that week and he would want me to see it. It might be that he had gotten some relief when the nurse had been there earlier. There was always something he was thankful for and he wanted me to be thankful with him. He couldn’t do anything else so he prayed for people. He had a list of people he knew and cared about prayed for every day. And he kept track of how his prayers were being answered. Did he have this abundant life that Jesus talked about? Yes he did. But it certainly wasn’t because of his outward circumstances. It certainly wasn’t because of his possessions. Paul is an extreme example. But you see this abundant life isn’t based on what is happening to us; it is based on something inside of us.
So how do we get this abundant life? Where do we look for it? It is not on a map. It doesn’t help to have a great sense of direction. We need a guide. We need someone to lead us to a door; we need to be led into a way of life. Jesus tells us that he is the guide, he is the shepherd and he is the door, the gate through whom we will find abundant life. Let us truly follow him and experience abundant life in all of our circumstances.