Sunday, May 3, 2020
We took our daughter Erin on her first big vacation when she was about nine months old, to visit family and friends on the West Coast in Seattle and Portland. I can’t say it was the most relaxing vacation, traveling with a nine-month old, but it was a good one. On the last day before we went back home, we were all exhausted and somewhat weary of sightseeing. We had one stop left on our list, the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland’s Chinatown. If you’ve ever been there, you park on the side of a street in a more rundown area of the city, and the outside really doesn’t look like much, but after paying admission, you enter a completely different world – an urban oasis. It was early July and everything was in bloom – not too cold, not too hot. We walked through this Moon Gate, and later bought this silk embroidery to remember this beautiful experience, this awesome day where we found some peace and relaxation, a true vacation, before we headed home. Erin especially had become more fussy and irritable as our vacation went on, but she immediately became quiet as we walked through that gate. She even took a nice long nap while we enjoyed a traditional Chinese tea ceremony in the garden’s teahouse.
Jesus tells us he is the gate this morning, and what might first come to mind would be a simple wooden gate to a fence or sheep pen. This week, I thought about that Moon Gate in the Lan Su Gardens, which transported us from the dingy hustle and bustle of the city to a peaceful and flourishing garden oasis. “Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture,” Jesus says. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” What an image for us to hold onto in these uncertain times.
It may be comforting for us to think about Jesus as a gate of protection, who keeps those thieves and bandits out – those who seek to steal and kill and destroy. Shepherds in some parts of the world still today lay down in front of the doorway to their sheep pens at night so that no wild animals can come in during the night to take and kill their sheep. We have this lovely image of Jesus who is willing to lay down his life for us, his sheep, to do anything to protect us from evil. With the image of the Moon Gate, I’d like us to also think about what Jesus is inviting us to enter into – into a life abundant, a life that looks different from the outside world, a life that is more satisfying, a life that is worth living, even in these difficult times.
In recent weeks I’ve talked about the difficulties we are facing as we enter the third month of stay at home orders. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that some of the routines or habits I have tried to put in place intentionally to take care of myself, so that I have a better quality of life, are not possible right now. Date lunches with my husband without the kids, heck, any meal without children! My weekly Spanish class to get out of the house to meet other people and do something fun for myself. A regular exercise routine. Trips to the city to see a show or try a new restaurant. When Jesus promises us life abundant today, we may easily think about those things that made our life better that are difficult, if not impossible to continue right now. We may wonder if our life is that great right now, and if it ever will be again. It’s important to remember that Jesus asked his disciples to carry nothing with them, to receive hospitality wherever they went, and he himself lived with very little of the comforts of home we take for granted. While I think it’s totally OK for us to lament a bit missing our “normal” lives as I shared last week, what Jesus the gate invites us into is a different kind of life abundant. Our lament at some point has to turn to living life at its fullest as it is now.
The abundance that Christ promises is not about accumulating a lot of stuff – it’s not about the kind or quantity of cars in our driveway, or the clothes we wear, or the kind of house we can afford to live in. It’s not about accumulating exciting experiences, traveling to as many states or countries as we can or even inviting us into a life of adventure. Another translation of this verse is “I came that they might have life to the fullest.” We can strive to live life to the fullest regardless of our circumstance. The kind of abundance Jesus is talking about is the quality of our life, in good and in bad times – that a life following Jesus our Good Shepherd, means that our life will be better, even in difficult times. We have a faith to sustain us, a God to walk with us, and a Christ who lays down his life so that we might enter through his gate to life abundant and life eternal.
While we wait in hope for our life to return to more of a normal rhythm, as Christians, we believe that we are STILL living an abundant Christ-filled life, right now. A simple way we can remember and treasure the life we have now is to move beyond our lament to thanking God for the things, the people, the experiences, and the opportunities we have right here and now, despite it all. Meals with our family. Long phone calls with friends or relatives we haven’t spoken to in forever. More time for prayer and Bible study. Playing board games. Walks outside and time in our gardens. Our physical health and the gift of life itself, while many are struggling to live in hospitals across the world from the coronavirus. Food on the table and a roof over our heads, when the tanking economy has threatened these basic needs for many. When we give thanks to God for what we have, we start to see that Christ has given us what he promised – a life abundant, both in quantity AND quality, and like the early church in our first reading from Acts, our Christian love inspires us to share what we have with those who are need. We can think about how our faith in Christ makes our life better, in spite of and because of these trying times we’re in right now, and we can share that faith that is within us with others, so that they might enter through the gate of abundant life with us.
Jesus the gate invites us still today, despite it all, to walk in his way and receive life abundant. Our cup is running over. Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life. Thanks be to God. Amen.