Friday, 17 July 2009

Is there more to life than this?


Last Saturday at our men's breakfast, one of the town pastors was telling us about an incident that happened a few weeks ago. A gorgeous girl, with minimal clothing, came out of one of the clubs surrounded by a retinue of male admirers. She lurched drunkenly across the street to where the two town pastors were standing in their bright yellow jackets. She came up to them, and she asked, 'Is this all it is. Is there more to life than this?'

She had the looks, she was clearly popular, she was supposedly out on the town 'for a good time', and she wanted to know if there was more to life than this.

It is not an original question

Song written by Freddie Mercury, with a version sung by Michael Jackson - both people who had so much and yet were desparately mixed up

There must be more to life than this
There must be more to life than this
How do we cope in a world without love
Mending all those broken hearts
And tending to those crying faces

There must be more to life than living
A better way for us to survive
Why should it be just a case of black or white
There must be more to life than this

Why is this world so full of hate
People dying everywhere
And we destroy what we create
People fighting for their human rights
But we just go on saying c'est la vie
So this is life

There must be more to life than killing
There must be more than meets the eye
What good is life, if in the end we all must die
There must be more to life than this

There must be more to life than killing
There must be more to life than this
I live in hope for a world filled with love
Then we can all just live in peace

There must be more to life, much more to life
There must be more to life, more to life than this

Both Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, in their different ways, hit the self-destruct button in big big ways.

How do we answer that question?

It would be fantastic if the world was filled with love, and we could just live in peace. But it isn't and we don't. And wishful thinking is never going to change that - because the problem is not other people, but ourselves.

The world will only be changed when I am full of love, and when I am at peace with myself, with others, with creation and with God.


I wonder what you think of Michael Jackson? Jesus in the story that we have just had read looked at the crowd and he had great compassion on them. It says that 'they were like sheep without a shepherd'.

They were looking for something: Many of them were looking for healing, for freedom from the oppression of Roman occupation, for something to eat. But love and peace would have helped! In fact, if the world had been full of love and peace then they would not have been in the dire powerless, helpless situation that they were in.

They were like sheep without a shepherd - in many ways no different from us: running off after the next big thing; following the latest life style guru, celebrity or fashion; seeking satisfaction in wealth, in mysticism, in a career (or maybe today simply a job), in achievement, in the satisfaction of our physical desires, in finding a partner, in children, in fitness, in plastic surgery, in holidays, in status and reputation: the list is endless

The thing is that none of those things in itself needs be wrong. It is just that because we have ripped God from the centre of our society, and from the centre of our lives, society is in a mess, and we are in a mess. We are lost.

We know, or we desparately hope, that there is more to life than this, but God knows - we don't know what.


These verses are a bit of a political swipe. When Jesus describes the crowd 'as sheep without a shepherd' he is remembering verses in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 34, where the prophet condemns the political and religious leaders of Israel of abusing their leadership. They were in it for themselves. They had their nose stuck in the trough. They were self-obsessed:

"The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them." (Ezekiel 34:1-6)


So when Jesus says that the people are like sheep without a shepherd, he is accusing the current leadership - religious and political - of abusing their leadership.

And we contrast Jesus with those leaders. He is the one who is the faithful shepherd. He is the one who does have compassion on the sheep. He is the one who can show us 'if there is more to life than this'

1. Jesus teaches (at great cost to himself): he points through himself, to the God he has always known as Father, and to the Kingdom of God. He calls people to repent, to repent of our self-centred way of living, to turn back to God, to put God back in the centre of our lives, and to live the values of the Kingdom of God, putting our trust in him. This is not just one option among many. This is the way to life.

2. Jesus feeds the flock. The false shepherds slaughter the sheep so that they can feed themselves. Jesus, in the next few verses, feeds the people who have gathered to him. And that points us forward to the cross and the death of Jesus. He talks about how his body is going to be real food - by real food, he means the food that we really need, that satisfies us in every way possible - not our stomach, but our whole being.

The false shepherds kill the flock to feed themselves. Jesus chooses to give his life in order to feed us. It is because he chooses to die that we can begin to share his life - real LIFE, life as it is meant to be lived.

3. Jesus cares for the flock. We read that in verses 53-56. The false shepherds are accused: 'The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up'. The false shepherds may speak good words, but they do not care about the sheep. The true shepherd cares for the sheep, he cares about their physical situation and he heals the sheep.

4. Jesus gathers the flock: The false shepherds are accused: 'The strayed you have not brought back; the lost you have not sought'.

Jesus told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep. He lost 1. So he left the 99 and he went off to seek that 1 lost sheep. That is why the Son of God was born on earth - he came to us in order to rescue us. That is why - however messy or mixed up your life has been in the past - Jesus has spoken to you, and is speaking to you - urging you to come to him, gathering you in

And wherever Jesus is, people gather round him. Notice, they run to him.


So is there more to life?

Yes, yes, yes! I'm not saying that I have got it. But I am saying that there is one person who did have it, and who showed it in his life, in his compassion for people, in his teaching, in his dying for them and in his healing.

And it is by coming to him that our young lady can begin to find out what it is all about; and it is by coming to him that we can begin to find out what it is all about.

Yes, it involves:
repentance: recognising our brokenness before God, and a choosing to submit to the will of God
receiving the forgiveness and love of God
receiving the Holy Spirit, the presence of God to come and to live in us and to change us - to fill us with the compassion of Jesus, with the life of Jesus, with the love of Jesus and with the peace of Jesus.

And like Jesus, it is in the giving of our lives in the service of God, and for others - that we begin to discover true joy, freedom, fruitfulness and glory. We discover LIFE.

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