Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
This week we are beginning a new message series called A Fresh Start. When we look at the calendar for a year there a couple of points that indicate a fresh start: January 1st is the most obvious, and then the next is back to school season. In many ways this is a week of fresh starts. Our teachers have already started back to work, our students (ready or not) begin on Tuesday. It is a week of new beginnings. And my prayer is that message will bless us as we enter into this new season.
Since it is a new season, this is a good time to invite someone to come and worship with you. Many people are settling into a new schedule, and this message series about fresh starts might just be what they need to be encouraged.
This week our message is really an introduction to the series, but it is an introduction that gives us the ending. Maybe today is like one of those movies that opens with a scene then steps back in time chronologically to fill in the details about how they got there. Today we looking at the goal of fresh starts. What is the purpose of having a fresh start? I think that one of the main goals of having a fresh start is having a full and satisfied life. But I know, that we all struggle on how to get there.
One of the reasons we all struggle to have a full life or satisfied life or an abundant life, is that there are so many messages that compete and try to win over. Advertising does this so well. One of the best images of this, I think, comes from the TV series Mad Men. Now, I never watched this series while it was on the air, but Hope and I did go back and binge watch all the seasons. And basic premise of the show is that it follows an advertising firm on Madison Avenue during the 1960s. This is a Heyday for advertising and men and women live it up. There are big, artistic pitches to firms to convince them to advertise through the company.
One of the quotes that I think sums up the show best, and really advertising in general, is given by the main character, Don Draper in season four. And this idea that he presents gets to the heart of why we struggle so much to be content and to have a full life. Famously, Don Draper says, “People tell you who they are, but we ignore it – because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
Right? Isn’t that the goal of adverting? They want you to be who they want you to be.
Ten years ago no one could have ever dreamed of carrying around a computer, a phone, a post office, a calendar, board games, arcade games, weather reports, a television, and radio in their pocket. Firstly, no one would have said they needed all of this. But even still, Apple developed and released the first iPhone. And as of last summer, Apple had sold over a billion iPhones. They ignored who we said we were and they convinced us who they wanted us to be.
Beauty products do this. Buy this skin cream and you will look 20 years younger. Who ever said that it important to look younger? Important to look thinner? Well adverting effectively teaches us that younger and thinner is powerful and if you buy their product your life will be better— more full.
Or, you will be a real man if you drive big truck or a flashy sports car. You can be a real man if you drink the right beer and go zip lining. These messages teach us that we need something we don’t have to be full; we need something we don’t have to be complete.
And they teach our children that they can’t really be happy unless they are eating a “Happy Meal.” Parents feel that they might be depriving their child if they don’t buy the latest fad that will make her life full. Years ago is it was Teddy Ruxpin, then Tickle Me Elmo, then last year the Hatchimal craze. Perhaps you wonder, as a parent or grandparent, if you don’t participate in the latest fad will your children’s childhood memories be less joyous? Will they lack a full or abundant life?
These are the kind of messages about things that try to tell us who to be; tell us how to live; tell us how to live a full life. And even if we don’t buy the product, we may long for that body or we long for that car. Even if we don’t buy the product, the message may start to eat on us and seep into our souls. Maybe I’m not that great, maybe my life isn’t full.
Maybe I’m not that great of a pastor because I don’t have the new 12.9 inch iPad pro I’ve been dreaming about, and instead I work with a laptop that’s three years old and missing a key on the key board. If I can’t afford this thing or if I can’t do something, there’s no way my life can ever be full.
This type of messaging can be so destructive and so stressful. This type of messaging can keep us from having a fresh start or from really having an abundant life. Luckily, we are not the only ones to have struggled with this. People through the ages have struggled to figure out the proper role of possessions in life and really how to find meaning in life.
One of the messages that really speaks to this comes from Jesus. And I think that what Jesus has to say gives us some real insight into living a full life and into this goal for our current message series.
These words of Jesus come from John’s gospel. In Chapter 10:7 we read:
<<7 So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. (John 10:7-10).>>
In these words Jesus is using agricultural metaphors to help us understand what he is talking about. Jesus says, “I am the gate of the sheep.” Those that would consider themselves Christ followers or Christians are the so called sheep that Jesus is speaking about. He says, I am your gate. You see a gate in sheep pen has two main functions. It’s role is to protect the sheep from bad stuff, from predators, and it also opens to allow the sheep into green pasture. So that gate is there to protect the sheep and give them a green, an open, a full life.
That’s what Jesus is saying he is doing. Here Jesus links salvation with a full and abundant life. And communicates this message that life with Jesus is one where he protects you and one where you are given a full, satisfied, and abundant life.
Jesus doesn’t just tell us the good news here — that he offers a full life. He also makes us aware of the fact that he is not the only one out there. In addition of the message of Jesus that gives protection and abundant life, there are also these other messages. These other messages, they come as a thief to steal our joy, to make us want what we don’t have; to make us think we want to be who they want us to be.
You see the thief comes to give us the message we need that new ipad pro; we need to buy that skin cream because it will make us happy; we need to eat the extra cake because our life will be complete. Jesus promises to have us a full life, and comes with the exact same message. The thief comes daily with message that promises the full and satisfied life if we just do one thing, or buy one more thing.
But Jesus identifies the problem of the thief. He says that the message of the thief is empty. The thief opens the gate and floods us with things that can never fill us, that can never make us happy, that can never give us a full life. The thief comes and leaves us only wanting more.
But Jesus offers a way. Jesus offers a message of protection and abundant life. Jesus says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.”
Are you living life to the fullest? Do you think of your life as abundant? Are you caught in the treadmill of life always needing or wanting something else? The good news is that Jesus is not far away. The good news is that Jesus wants to be that gate for you.
Maybe you have wandered away. Tempted by the smooth talking of those that want us to be who they want us to be. Maybe the thief has talked you into the lie that you need more to be worth something. The good news is that Jesus is not far away. Though you may have wandered, Jesus has come to us and is inviting us back.
This is the whole reason that we are looking at fresh starts over the next few weeks. Because all of us come to a point where we need a chance to start again. All of us need an opportunity to reassess our goals and to pursue a better life, an abundant life, a life lived to the fullest. Over the next few weeks we will explore some ways in which God offers us some practical ways to start anew, to begin again. I hope that you will join us. And I hope that if you know someone that would be blessed with this idea of a fresh start that you will invite them to join us as well.
The goal of a fresh start is life lived to the fullest. And today, our fresh start will begin with communion. If you have been listening to these competing messages for too long, today is the time to go back to Jesus and allow him to minister to you. Today is the day to go back to Jesus and receive his protection and allow him to help you live life to the fullest. This can happen today.
To help us to return to Jesus, we are going to participate in Holy Communion. When we receive communion we are coming close and receiving Jesus. When we take communion we are entering his gate and given the keys to abundant life. If this sounds good to you, I invite you to patriciate with us and take communion.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.