Ah, The Good Life!
A wealthy Silicon Valley executive decided to take a vacation to a remote island so he could "hit the reset button" and clear his head. One afternoon while strolling along the beach he was intrigued by the site of a fisherman, lying idly beside his boat. "Why aren't you out fishing?" he. "Because I have caught enough fish for the day," the man explained. "But why don't you go out to catch some more? It's still early in the day." "What would I do with more fish?" the fisherman wondered. "You could earn more money," the executive explained, "and then you could buy a bigger boat and you could go into deeper waters and catch more fish. This would provide you with enough money to buy nylon nets which would bring you even more fish, and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats ... maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a wealthy man, just like me." "What would I do then?" the fisherman asked. "Why then you could begin to experience the good life," the executive assured him. And so the fisherman brought the lecture to abrupt end by saying, "What do you think I'm doing right now?"
In very precise language, Christian author C.S. Lewis describes the "good life" as he felt it. He began, "We really do not have the slightest notion of the tremendous thing Jesus Christ means to make of us. Imagine yourself living as a house...
"God comes in to re-build that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he's doing. He's getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But soon he starts knocking down the house in a way that hurts seriously and which doesn't seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself. The command "Be perfect," is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He means to make us into creatures who can obey that command ... He is going to make good his words, if we let him -- for we can prevent him if we choose. He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine ... The process will be long, and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said!"
In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus invites us to continue our search for the good life by considering the life of a sheepfold. Although we may know little or nothing about raising sheep, nevertheless we can easily grasp the picture Jesus portrays in today's lesson. The sheepfold has only one gate to enter and leave by in order to find the food and protection needed to sustain life. Using this imagery, Jesus says, "I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: they will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture." Then he says, "I have come so that they (his sheepfold) may have life, and have it to the full."
No matter what the circumstance of our life may be, the desire for a more abundant life just won't go away.
The notion that a richer, fuller, truly good life is possible is part of what makes us human -- and the door is always open to us, Jesus says.
Deep within us lies the ever-present desire to make those changes that will lead us to something better -- and the door is always open to us, Jesus says.
We all want more than mere words about the true meaning and purpose of life, we want the actual experience of what life is all about -- and the door is always open to us, Jesus says.
What Jesus wants us to understand about all of this is that he is not merely showing us the way to the good life. He is the way. "I am the way, the truth and the life," he said to his disciples after the resurrection. Then he added, "I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself."
When we really believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life -- and when we really believe that the experience of Christ's loving presence is the open door to abundant life -- then his mission becomes our mission; his cause becomes our cause; his ministry of healing and loving service becomes our ministry of healing and loving service; his works become our works.
There is a wonderful parable in which a certain man dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates where he is met by Saint Peter. "As 'Keeper of the Gates,' it is my duty to inform you that you must score one thousand points before you can pass through these Gates of Paradise," Peter says to him. "Tell me something about yourself." To which the man replies, "Well, until I was twenty-one-years-old, I never missed Sunday School and I was always good to my parents." "Very good," says Saint Peter, "that's worth one point. Now tell me more about yourself"...
"As an adult, I never missed Church on Sunday, unless I was sick in bed."
"Very good! That's worth another point. Now you have two points."
"On the job I always did an honest day's work and I never told lies or cheated anyone."
"Very good! Now you have three points."
"I always tried to live according to the Golden Rule. And I gave ten percent of my earnings to the Church."
"Very good! Now you have four points. Now tell me more about yourself." The man is now becoming quite irritated. He says:
"Listen, Saint Peter, you're making this impossible for me. I'll never score enough points. The only way I'll get into Heaven is by the Grace of God."
"That's it! You've got it! Grace! That's one thousand points, giving you a grand total of one thousand four. Come on in!"
Did you ever stop to think that only by the Grace of God did you come into this world, and that only by the Grace of God can you enter into the good life for which you were created? That is the whole point of our New Testament gospel of salvation. When you open yourself up to God's intimate presence in your life -- in your very being -- the source of power and vitality to give life real meaning and purpose wells up inside you and moves you into a whole new style of life. You feel unburdened. You feel liberated from the things in your life that were pinning you down. You feel an overwhelming kind of joy that cannot be contained. And you have to let it spill over into the world and into the lives of others because it is the best thing that ever happened to you: amazing Grace!
We have been saved by Grace, the New Testament writers tell us. But there is a condition -- a "catch," if you will. The Grace of God means something like this:
Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. But the Grace of God means that God is saying, "Don't be afraid! Fear not! I am for you. I am with you. I will never abandon you. Nothing can separate us. I love you. But there is a condition. Like any other gift, my gift of love is yours only if you will reach out and accept it."
The Early Christians were known as those who turned the world upside down. "So they set off to preach repentance." In other words, they were saying, cast off all self-centeredness, pride, and spiritual laziness if you want the kind of good life God wants you to have.
By the Grace of God, you can do it. By the Grace of God, you can break out of your complacency, stand on your "spiritual head," so to speak, and enter into the truly good life of God's love -- a risky journey indeed, but there is none more rewarding!
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