Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Gift of Eternal Life” (John 10:28)
May 12, 2019
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Unless you have been living under a rock you have heard of the extremely popular movie Avengers: Endgame, the final film of the blockbuster Marvel Comic movie series, a film which is on track to become the highest financial grossing film in history, having already well surpassed the $2 billion mark.  The main villain in Avengers: Endgame is Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), who has attained the so-called six Infinity Stones—gems which contain respectively power over the universal aspects of Mind, Power, Reality, Soul, Space, and Time.  Philosophically Thanos is a nihilist who believes there is no intrinsic value or meaning or purpose in the universe, and yet he wants control over the universe.

At the end of the previous film, Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Thanos attained all six Infinity Stones and placed them in his Infinity Gauntlet, thus giving him universal power.  While wearing the Infinity Gauntlet complete with all six Infinity Stones in place, Thanos snapped his fingers and used his universal power to disintegrate half of the life in the universe, his rationale being that since the universe is overcrowded destroying half of all living things would ensure the remaining half would thrive.  It was about power and control.  It is a devastating scene as countless living beings suddenly dissolve into dust, dissolve into nothing.

Not only is the universe’s general population impacted but so are the Avengers themselves as several of them disintegrate and turn to dust, including Doctor Strange, the Black Panther, Vision, Falcon, Groot—and many others including my favorite one of all, Spiderman.  “I don’t feel so good”, Spiderman tells Ironman, and he stumbles into Ironman’s arms and continues, “I don’t know what’s happening.”  He clings to Ironman and desperately continues, “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, please, I don’t want to go.”  Ironman then helps him lie down on the ground, and Spiderman looks helplessly into his eyes, says, “I’m sorry” and then dissolves into dust in Ironman’s arms.  A moment later the credits roll—definitely the most depressing end of any comic book based movie ever.

In Avengers: Endgame the surviving Avengers work to somehow go back in time and undo Thanos’ vast destruction.  Over the course of the film Thanos repeats a discouraging refrain to these desperate Avengers, “I am inevitable…I am inevitable…I am inevitable.”  There are many people who just like Thanos are nihilists, who believe that indeed there is no intrinsic value or meaning or purpose in the universe, who believe that death is absolute, final…inevitable.

But there is something else that is inevitable…the gift of eternal life.

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday.  Every year on this Sunday we read Psalm 23, which reminds us that indeed the Lord is our shepherd, who provides for us when we cannot provide for ourselves, who revives our soul when we feel dead inside, who guides us along the right path even though we would rather go on the wrong path, who walks with us even through “the valley of the shadow of death”, who comforts us when we are troubled, whose cup of love and grace and mercy overflow for us all the time, no matter what.  And as if all that were not enough, Psalm 23 concludes with a reminder that the Lord our Shepherd gives us eternal life so that we “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

On Good Shepherd Sunday we also read a passage from the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to John in which Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd: “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14-15).  This morning I am preaching on what Jesus said in today’s passage about the gift of eternal life: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).  Jesus the Good Shepherd gives us eternal life.

Throughout the Gospel According to John, Jesus emphasizes over and over that he gives life: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life…the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life…I am the bread of life…I came that (you) may have life…I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…I am the way, the truth, and the life…No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 3:16; 4:14; 6:35; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6; and 15:13).

Likewise in the First Letter of John, written by the same John whose account of the gospel bears his name, there is also this same emphasis on the heart of Jesus’ ministry being to give us eternal life: “This is what (Jesus) has promised us, eternal life…We know love by this, that (Jesus) laid down his life for us…God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son…(Jesus) is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 2:25; 3:16; 5:11; and 5:20).

Yes, death is inevitable, but the unconditional love of God and the resulting gift of eternal life are also inevitable.  Scripture tells us, “Just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28).  On Good Friday Jesus dealt with sin once and for all and took the judgment of the world upon himself, which means again as Jesus said in today’s passage, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

On this Mother’s Day we give hearty kudos to all the mothers out there.  Being a mother is the hardest job on the planet.  There is no close second.  For nine months or so mothers carry their unborn children in their bodies twenty four hours a day, approximately 6,500 straight hours.  This is followed by giving birth, which puts to shame any so-called feats of strength performed by men.  And of course giving birth is then followed by endless twenty-four hour days after that, twenty-four days of constant cleaning, cooking, driving, fixing, consoling, providing, shopping, on and on it goes.  Mothers are simultaneously cooks, taxi drivers, nurses, chaperones, life coaches—always on the clock, always on call.  Mother’s literally give life to their children and give their life for their children.  And for much of their children’s early years, literally carry them as well—and when it comes to their little children, many mothers echo Jesus’ words from today’s gospel passage, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

In his 2006 book For One More Day Mitch Albom, who is most famous for his 1997 book Tuesdays with Morrie, the best-selling memoir of all time, describes how Charles Benetto wishes he could have one more day with his mother, who had died eight years previously, one more day to thank her for all she had done for him when he was unaware of just how much that was.  This book includes several short chapters entitled “Times My Mother Stood Up for Me,” including this one:

I am eight years old.  I have a homework assignment.  I must recite to the class: “What Causes an Echo?”  At the liquor store after school, I ask my father.  What causes an echo?  He is bent over in the aisle, checking inventory with a clipboard and a pencil.  “I don’t know, Chick.  It’s like a ricochet.”  “Doesn’t it happen in mountains?”  “Mmm?” he says, counting bottles.  “Weren’t you in mountains in the war?”  He shoots me a look, “What are you asking about that for?”  He returns to his clipboard.

That night, I ask my mother.  What causes an echo?  She gets the dictionary, and we sit in the den.  “Let him do it for himself,” my father snaps.  “Len,” she says, “I’m allowed to help him.”  For an hour, she works with me.  I memorize the lines.  I practice by standing in front of her.  “What causes an echo?” she begins.  “The persistence of sound after the source has stopped,” I say.  “What is one thing required for an echo?”  “The sound must bounce off something.”  “When can you hear an echo?”  “When it’s quiet and other sounds are absorbed.” 

She smiles, “Good.”  Then she says, “Echo,” and covers her mouth and mumbles, “Echo, echo, echo.”  My sister, who has been watching our performance, points and yells, “That’s Mommy talking!  I see her!”  My father turns on the TV set.  “What a colossal waste of time,” he says (43-44). 

There are some who dismiss the gospel as “a colossal waste of time.”  But that did not stop Jesus then and it does not stop Jesus now.  On Good Friday the Creator and Redeemer of the world—the One who indeed holds universal power over the Infinity Stones of Mind, Power, Reality, Soul, Space, and Time—did exactly what he had said he would do.  Jesus stood up for you.  Jesus gave his life not only to demonstrate once and for all that you are fully loved and fully forgiven, but also to give you eternal life.  The echo of this love of God continues to reverberate across the universe.

After your inevitable death, after you dissolve into dust—ashes to ashes, dust to dust—the One who actually has universal power will give you eternal life, and you will never perish, and no one will snatch you out of his hand…it’s inevitable.