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John 10:22-30

Video Games have come a long way in my lifetime. I grew up playing Duckhunt and Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES); these 2 dimensional games that scrolled from left to right with prescripted events. Today our cell phones hold games with more diversity and graphic fidelity than anything comprehensible 25 years ago; nevermind the beauty and depth of gaming on a PC or Virtual Reality. As the technology and level of play has improved and increased so has the industry of Gaming. Today the video game industry generates more revenue than the NFL or all of Hollywood.

As the industry has developed, so have the cheats and exploits. Cheating is a major problem in gaming that has resulted in significant lawsuits. Various types of cheats are developed every year and become harder and harder to combat. Today players use “aimbots” which make it so they can’t miss their target or “wallhacks” which allow players to shoot around or through walls.

Cheating in gaming wasn’t such a big deal when we were playing on the Nintendo Entertainment System or the Super Nintendo (SNES) because the code was all embedded and inaccessible. As much as cheating is an aberration of gaming today, back in the Good Old Days, cheating was actually encouraged by the developers.

There used to be cheats built into the code of old cartridge games. I remember one of the first “cheats” I found out was in a game called “Adventure Island” on the NES. In “Adventure Island” there was a secret way to unlock a Bumble Bee which allowed you to save your progress in game. If you didn’t find this secret bee you would have to start the game over from the beginning after you lost all your lives.

The “cheats” progressed. In The Lion King (on the SNES) you could access a secret menu by hitting the buttons B-A-R-R-Y, in that order. This brought you to a menu that allowed you to choose any level in game and allowed you to decide if your character would be invulnerable. If you played with invulnerability on it meant that you wouldn’t be damaged by anything. If you’ve ever played a video game you know that everything is always a threat. To play invernably meant that all threats were neutralized.

Something interesting happens when you play video games with cheat codes on. Once hesitant and reserved players become courageous and adventurous. Players who would have avoided particularly challenging circumstances are emboldened to pursue an otherwise dangerous route. It may be a “cheat” but these players have a freedom they wouldn’t otherwise have. Interestingly, often players find that they don’t even need the cheat to accomplish the task; the cheat just permits them to drop their hesitancy. They find that simply playing without inhibition allows them to achieve the goal.

This Sunday the Gospel lection takes a potentially strange turn back to John 10. We’ve been living in the passages of the resurrection, but this week we jump back. It makes sense as there are only so many verses following the Resurrection, but this passage may initially feel out of place. First of all, it’s only half of a pericope! The story continues for another 12 verses. But even more than that, the connection with Resurrection isn’t immediately clear. In this passage we have folks from Judea demanding to know who this Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee really is. The identity of Jesus is in question.

This is the only time in John that Jesus is directly asked if he is the Messiah.

Maybe this is why the lectionary composers chose this passage for this day. This Jesus fellow who was Resurrected, who was he? Perhaps we read this passage after the Resurrection to get some perspective on the identity of the Messiah.

You see, Jesus was in Solomon’s Portico of the Temple during the festival of Dedication; or, as we call it today, Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a holiday commemorating revolution. The festival of Dedication is a prime holiday for a Messiah to be revealed! Hanukkah celebrates the revolt of Judas Maccabeus who, in expected Messianic fashion, violently overthrew the oppressive Hellenistic overlords. The temple was rededicated and Judah was no longer under the religious oppression of the Seleucid Empire.

So, Jesus, on this celebration of revolution, tell us plainly; are you Messiah?

Do you remember Judas Maccabeus and his gang? Are you and your gang like them?

Jesus’ response is both beautiful and challenging. He tells them that his life has already told them plainly; his works testify to his identity. He tells them that they don’t believe because they don’t belong. According to Jesus, belonging precedes belief.

Pastor, as a brief aside let me ask you; in this Easter season with all these visitors and unchurched folks, have you given your energy over to getting people to believe the right things, or have you given your energy over to creating space for people to belong?

It is Jesus’ next statement that desires quite a bit of reflection. In my opinion, verse 28 is where we need to dwell. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” Eternal life is a major theme for John. But what does this eternal life really mean? What is so eternal about it?

I’m not sure I like to translate the Greek word aionios as eternal. I am sure I prefer eternal to the King James’ everlasting. The problem with the word eternal is that we read it through Modern, Western, Enlightened, Rationalistic lenses. We hear eternal and think of something temporal; something long, but still bound by time. Even more so when we hear the word everlasting.

This is not what John had in mind when he wrote this or what Jesus had in mind when he said it! Eternality is not merely this life extended ad infinitum! Eternal life isn’t simply more of this life. The Greek word aionios (where we get our word “eon”) does not really have anything to do with time; or at least being bound by it. Aionios is better translated as age” or, in this context, a “new age.”

Jesus tells these Judeans that his sheep participate in the life of the New Age. Life in the New Age of the Kingdom isn’t merely this life extended for eternity; it is eternity entering this life! It is life bound not by time, which means it is life not bound by decay. One of the best definitions of aionios I could find (but can’t remember the source, I’ll try to edit this if I can find it) is “life not subjected to entropy.”

This is life not subjected to time. This is life not subjected to decay. This is life not subjected to chaos. This is not life without pain or suffering. This is not life without grief or depression. This is not life of comfort and convenience.

You see, the life of the Age to Come, not subject to the decay of time and entropy, is kind of like a cheat in a video game. I hesitate to make this comparison, but hear me out. The Life of the Age to Come doesn’t make us invulnerable or eliminate all challenges. Don’t hear me saying that.

But living according the Age to Come gives freedom! If we are defined by the Kingdom of God, not the empires of this age, how much more liberty do we have? If we are citizens of a Kingdom that transcends our reality, we have been given liberty to not be undone by these empires.

The perishable life John describes in verse 28 is the life of this age. It is a life lived in avoidance of death. In the life of the Age to Come, death can do it’s worst and we are not undone! Death doesn’t get the last word in the Age to Come!

In these video games, when you put in this cheat code you play the game in a manner not intended by the developers. The metaphor breaks down in that, when you live this life according to the Age to Come, you are playing the game as the Creator intended! It is not breaking the established framework, it is actually living according the intended framework!

And when we live according to this framework; we are given freedom and liberty. We are no longer bound by our experiences of decay, death, and disorder. We are no longer defined by the reality of this age. We may not be able to walk through walls (even if the Resurrected Christ can…), but we can have peace! Peace that we belong to the Age to Come, not this broken dark age.