Monday, June 19, 2017

#$!)

There are days, and then there are days.

This is one of those days.

That it may please thee to support, help, and comfort all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sermon; Trinity Sunday A; 2017

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day set aside to specifically honor the doctrine and worship the mystery that is the Holy Trinity – three in one, one in three, separate but not divisible, unified but individual. And because of the difficulty in trying to explain this concept without falling into some kind of heresy, it's also the day most likely given over to guest preachers.

Unfortunately, everyone I asked to preach was mysteriously unavailable today.

All kidding aside, it can be tough to preach on the Trinity. Mainly because when we look into the Trinity, we are looking into the deep mystery of the eternal Godhead. And when we start talking about and exploring those deep mysteries, we need to be prepared to face our own inadequacies, insufficiencies, and desires for control and certainty.

There are two basic ways to talk about God – in the negative and in the positive, otherwise known as what God isn't and what God is (officially known as apophatic and cataphatic theology). Negative theology states that we can't know what God is because God is just too immense to know. For instance: God is not a creature, because God is not any thing since God transcends all things; God is not ignorant (not that God is wise because that assumes we know what all wisdom is); God is not evil (not that God is good because that assumes we know what all goodness is); and God is not confined to our concepts of space and time.

Positive theology attempts to know God through God's defining nature. For instance: God is loving; God is creator; God is omnipotent; God is a seeker; God is forgiving; God is one.

It's that last one, God is one, that sort of set us on the path to Trinitarianism.

In the beginning, a wind from God (or, “the Spirit of God”) swept over the face of the earth. And God said, “Let there be light.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

The Spirit of truth will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.

In these and other places in Scripture, Christian scholars have found what they believe to be the doctrine of the Trinity – that deep mystery stating One in Three and Three in One, undivided yet individual. That doctrine was fought over for many years, in particular by the Arian heresy that stated there was a time when Jesus was not, thereby denying the Trinity. In response to this controversy, the Council of Nicaea was called in 325 and Trinitarian orthodoxy sort of won the day, giving us the Nicene Creed. The controversy continued up until 381 when the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the Nicene Creed and, for all practical purposes, eliminated Arianism.

However, there are religious groups, the Jehovah's Witnesses being one, who deny the Trinity because that image, and that word, doesn't specifically appear in Scripture. But if we were to rely solely on scripture quotations alone, we would eliminate the third leg of our Anglican stool – Reason (the other two being Scripture and Tradition), thereby surrendering our God-given ability to think. But Scripture must be interpreted through our reason, and we must be willing to accept the mystery of God. Consequently the doctrine of the Trinity was formed over time, through reading, study, prayer, and interpretation, as well as being willing to say that God is more mysterious than we can imagine. Eventually, thanks to people like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil of Cappadocia, the Church settled on the orthodoxy of the Trinity.

But because the Trinity is a mystery, the more we talk about it, the more we try to pin it down, the more likely we are to wander off into one heresy or another. And that's what was going on in the early days of the Church.

On the one hand we need to give thanks to God for the rise of the heretics because they got the rest of Christianity to actually think critically about this whole God-Jesus-Spirit thing which helped to define orthodoxy. On the other hand though, in attempting to totally define God in their terms, they did some really strange things. So I want to take a few minutes and have us look at some common Trinitarian heresies. As you have already noticed, these can be found in your bulletins.

Modalism: The three persons of the Trinity are different “modes” or aspects of the Godhead, acting in those different modes at different times in history, but never unified as one. A common modalist example is that of a woman acting as wife, mother, daughter.

Tritheism: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three independent and separate Gods.

Arianism: Often called the greatest heresy. Developed by a priest named Arius, it essentially states that there was a time when the Son was not. This meant that the Son was a created being, and not divine.

Docetism: Taught that Jesus was a purely divine being who only appeared to be human. Some versions claimed that Jesus' divinity departed from him on the cross, others claimed he only appeared to suffer and die.

Ebionitism: Basically the opposite of Docetism – Jesus was sent by God, but was only and always a man.

Macedonianism: A sect founded by Macedonius, an Arian priest, that followed the logic of the Son being created in that the Holy Spirit was also a created being, and therefore not part of the Godhead.

Adoptionism: Taught that Jesus was born a human and then adopted (usually at his baptism) by God and infused with divinity at that time.

Partialism: Similar to Modalism (three components of one God), but that each person of the Trinity is only one-third of God.

Orthodoxy: Check out the Athanasian Creed on page 864-5 of the BCP.

So there you have it. The Trinity is a core doctrine of our faith. For anyone to claim to be an orthodox Christian, they must hold to that doctrine, with the creeds being a good place to start. Anything more and we begin to limit God, forcing God into a box of our own making, losing the mystery, and actually turning God into an idol. Anything less and we begin to deny the holiness of God, the divinity of Christ, and the revealed glory of the Trinity, essentially rendering God impotent.

This is one reason why the Episcopal church is a creedal church and not a confessional church – because the creeds are a sufficient standard of orthodoxy, allowing for an unlimited and mysterious God, while avoiding a confessional statement that reduces God and faith to nothing more than a series of intellectual propositions.

Today is Trinity Sunday. May you see God in all things and know that all things are in God. More importantly, may you abide in the mystery that is the Trinity.


Amen.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Sermon; Pentecost A; Acts 2:1-21

“He's not like a tame lion.” So said Mr. Beaver when describing Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This quote has been used many, many times as a way to describe God – good, but certainly not tame. This is a perfect way to describe the Holy Spirit today – good, but not tame.

Whereas the gospels depicted the life of Christ, the Acts of the Apostles depict the life of the Church. The Book of Acts has sometimes been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the Church begins to grow and move out into the world.

This isn't a polite, genteel Spirit that discusses possible plans over tea and crumpets. No, this is the Spirit that calmed the waters of chaos at the beginning of creation. This is the Spirit that caused seventy elders, along with Eldad and Medad, to prophesy among the Israelites. This is the Spirit that drove Jesus out into the wilderness. This is the Spirit that arrives in a rushing, violent wind bringing tongues of fire and causing people to speak in other languages. This is the Spirit that causes sons and daughters to prophesy, young men to see visions, and old men to dream dreams. This is a Spirit that is good but certainly not tame.

This Spirit is disruptive. This Spirit will drive you to do things you wouldn't normally have considered doing. This Spirit may cause you to talk like you've never talked before. This Spirit doesn't necessarily care for decency and order.

The Holy Spirit certainly disrupted things for those twelve men gathered together on that day. Luke doesn't tell us where they were, but there is an implication that they were no longer hiding behind locked doors. I'm guessing they were strategizing on how to go about being Christ's witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They were beginning to find their voices and openly gather in public. And as they were beginning to sort things out, the Holy Spirit disrupted their plans.

The noise of a violent wind filled the house. Tongues of fire alighted on their heads. They began speaking in different languages such that Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappodocians, Pamphylians, and the rest, heard them speaking in their native tongues. Drunk? No, it was only nine o'clock in the morning.

If you read last week's Wednesday Word you'll remember that I discussed the subject of how we in the church could talk to those outside the church in a way they would hear us. The Spirit alighted on those twelve apostles and allowed them to speak in tongues. That same Spirit also allowed that mix of nationalities and languages to hear what was being said. The Spirit not only disrupted how the apostles went about their business, but how all those others were moved to hear them.

I want to push against this particular image of a disruptive Spirit. It's true the Spirit brought order out of chaos. It's true the Spirit descended upon the seventy, along with Eldad and Medad, and led them into ecstatic prophesying. It's true the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. It's true the Spirit came in a violent rushing wind with tongues of fire. And there are certain Christian groups for whom ecstatic utterances, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and being “slain in the Spirit” are required to prove you are a Christian. But I don't believe all that is necessary.

What does it mean to be disrupted by the Spirit? Does it mean speaking in tongues? Does it mean being driven out into the wilderness? Does it mean prophesying and dreaming dreams? Does it mean being hit over the head with a Holy 2x4? Sometimes. But if that's all we expect, if that's all we look for, then we limit the Spirit and leave ourselves closed off to many more possibilities. Being disrupted means being forced to do things in a new way; whether it is a violent rushing wind or the sound of sheer silence.

Several “for instances” for you.

The 8 o'clock service is being disrupted from their traditional Rite 1 service to Rite 2, Eucharistic Prayer D, for the renewal of baptismal vows. Will this disruption get any of those people to consider a Rite 2 service at other times, or more frequently?

The 10:15 service is being held at Leitersburg Park. This is a disruption to their normal way of worshiping. Will that disruption get any of those people to think about other worship alternatives?

Judy has retired after many years of faithful service in our nursery. We are continuing to look for several more people to fill that slot so we can have a regular rota of attendants. Are any of you willing to be disrupted once a month so we can offer a safe and loving environment for our children?

This can be said about so much more at St. John's – vestry, commissions, Micah's Backpack, Community Cafe, dinner for eight, Sunday school, adult ed, even financial pledging. Are we doing what is comfortable, what we've always done, what is familiar, or are we willing to be disrupted by the Spirit?

Being disrupted by the Spirit doesn't necessarily mean speaking in tongues, ecstatic utterances, or some other equally dramatic experience. It can; but I think that is actually the exception to the rule. More often than not, I think spiritual disruptions are those rather mundane things (or things that others think are mundane) that get us to be stretched and challenged in new ways – things like volunteering for nursery duty, serving on the vestry, increasing our pledge, or any number of small, seemingly insignificant things. If you add up all those small disruptions, St. John's can become one, big, Spirit-led disruption.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. This is the day when we recognize the untamed Spirit has appeared among us. On this day, will we allow ourselves to be disrupted by the Holy Spirit, or are we looking for something more tame?


Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon; Easter 7A; Acts 1:6-14

Today is the 43rd day of Easter. This past Thursday, the 40th day of Easter, was the Feast of the Ascension. And while that feast is non-transferable, we still get readings and prayers referencing that event.

The apostles have been meeting together since the resurrection, originally trying to figure out what to do with themselves since Jesus died, but then reveling in his various appearances. For 40 days, according to Luke, the apostles spent time with Jesus putting the finishing touches on what they had learned over the past three years. But they still don't quite get it, asking, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

“Um . . .” Jesus responded, “let me think . . . No. It is not your job to worry about the restoration of kingdoms. But it IS your job to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These are the last earthly words, according to Luke, spoken by Jesus; after which he ascended into heaven.

So here we are – the disciples have just gotten used to Jesus once again being with them when he tells them that they are to be witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth; and then . . . poof . . . up he goes. The disciples can do nothing but gaze up to the sky watching him disappear.

I don't fault them for this. Which of us would do otherwise? But there they stood, heads back, gazing and gawking up toward heaven. I wonder how long they would have stayed there like that if the angels hadn't appeared.

Luke doesn't call them angels, but they are – two men, white robes, suddenly appearing. He used roughly this same description at the tomb of Jesus when two angels appeared to the women. Anyway, these two angels come upon the apostles staring up to heaven and say, “Dudes, how long are you going to stand here like this?” This spurs them back to Jerusalem where they, and some others, devote themselves to prayer.

But that's not where this ends. If it did, the Bible would be a whole lot shorter than it is. No, this isn't where it ends, this is where it begins.

“And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

There's that word again – witness. Jesus is telling the apostles that they will be the ones to tell the story. They will be the ones to live out kingdom goals. They will be the ones to help break down walls. They will be the ones to strive for peace. They will be the ones to proclaim what Paul would eventually write – that there is no more Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ. They will be the ones to help usher in the kingdom of God.

And now this task has fallen to us. We have received power by virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are the inheritors of this mission to be witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Are you ready?

I hope so, because this is what the entire Easter season has been leading up to. Jesus wasn't resurrected from the dead just so he could perform a few extra miracles and throw some fish on the barbie. He was resurrected to give Mary the courage to be an apostle. He was resurrected to demonstrate to Thomas you don't need to touch his body to feel his presence. He was resurrected to move Peter from trinitarian denial to trinitarian love. He was resurrected to move us from passive witnesses of his life to being active witnesses of his life, death, and resurrection.

Today we are in the same place the apostles were on that Day of Ascension. It would be easy for us to simply stand around gazing in awe and wonder up to heaven. If you don't believe me, look at the high altar. I have been told by many people that they could just sit in a pew and gaze in awe and wonder at that piece of art – some to meditate and pray, some to soak in the details, some to admire its beauty. I've said the same thing myself. But, like the apostles before us, that is not what we are called to do. We are called to be witnesses for Christ.

That, you might protest, is a big job. It's so big that you may get overwhelmed by its bigness, paralyzed by the thought that there's no way we can reach to the ends of the earth. Luckily for us Jesus provides us with a blueprint for action.

The first thing we need to know is that we aren't being sent out without support. We will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. We received that power at our baptism. We will be reminded of that power next week on the Day of Pentecost.

From there we are to be witnesses for Christ, proclaiming the good news in Hagerstown, Maryland and the Tri-State region, and to the ends of the earth.

Notice the order. Witness here first. Stay local. Stay focused. When you have figured out how to be a witness within your own community, then you can branch out into a larger area. The witness you provide will be passed from one person to another, connecting and spreading in a multitude of ways. Things we do here as witnesses can have an impact there.

We have moved to a post-resurrection, post-ascension world. Jesus has left us in charge of his mission. We are the ones to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand. We are Christ's witnesses here, there, and everywhere. We are not called to stand in one place gazing into heaven; we are called to act.

As we move forward from here, how will you live out that commission?


Amen.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon; Easter 6A; John 14:15-21

On this Sixth Sunday of Easter our gospel lesson continues in John's Farewell Discourse. Why, we may ask, in this Easter season when we spend 40 days with the resurrected Christ, are we hearing pre-resurrection stories and not post-resurrection stories? I think the answer is that, like the disciples before us, we also need to be prepared to be on our own.

Last week Jesus told us that he was going to prepare a place for us in his Father's house. After that departure we are told that he and the Father will give us another Advocate. This is the Holy Spirit who, like Jesus before, is unable to be received by the world. This is the gift given to us by Jesus and the Father to ensure that we will not be abandoned and orphaned.

I want to focus on two things one of my commentaries brought up: the first is the focus of, “you,” and the second is the subject of, “witness.”

Throughout the Farewell Discourse Jesus uses the word, “you.” I go to prepare a place for you; you know the way; I will do whatever you ask in my name; if you love me, you will keep the commandments; because I live, you will live; and others.

The authors of this commentary point out that this is a plural, or corporate, you; not an individual you. Why is this important?

This is important because we are reminded that Jesus is talking to the body of believers and that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift for the body of believers. Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit are private possessions of any one individual. Yes, we may be called individually each by name to Christ. Yes, we may each receive a particular gift from the Holy Spirit. But those callings and those gifts are always made in the context of community.

When Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name,” we need to understand both that this is not an individual wish granting, and we need to ensure that what we ask for aligns with the will of God. This would explain why the prayer of Janis Joplin (O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz) isn't a valid prayer, as well as why we need to constantly measure our values and mission against God's will.

Two good examples are a person who says, “I believe God wants me to do X.” Done properly, this is checked out by the community to help discern God's call. Or our kitchen project. Are we doing it because we want something shiny to keep up with other churches? Or are we doing it as a measure of good stewardship and giving us the ability to more effectively feed people?

What we do will be supported by Christ if we do it corporately with kingdom values.

The second part of this is witness. I spoke about being a witness briefly to the kids last week, and I'll elaborate on that here. Going back to my commentary, it says that this Spirit is a gift to all disciples, witnessing to the life of Christ.

What does it mean to be a witness? One meaning is to have seen something. We witness a car accident. We witness a great performance. We witness the sacrament of baptism being administered. We witness how Christ is active and present in our midst.

Another meaning is to be the person who testifies to what has been seen.

We are all witnesses in the first sense of the word. We have all seen the face of Christ in this place, as well as the workings of the Holy Spirit. We see the face of Christ in the people who are fed at the Community Cafe. We see the face of Christ in our visitors, showing hospitality and welcoming all. We are also the face of Christ to those people when we do those things.

The Holy Spirit is present here when we love each other and respect the dignity of every human being. The Holy Spirit is present here when we correctly balance our internal desires with external needs. And when we see these things we are witnesses to the presence of God.

But we could all probably do better at being that second type of witness – the witness that testifies to what you have seen. This isn't necessarily about going door-to-door with little episcopal tracts. It isn't about standing on the street corner with a big, floppy Book of Common Prayer . . . I mean, Bible. This is about looking for opportunities to testify to the faith.

Say grace at meals with company. Tell people about our involvement with Micah's Backpack, Bester School, Community Cafe, Mayfest, and others. Know why you are here and don't be ashamed to be that witness. As our Presiding Bishop reminded us, we pray for that opportunity every Sunday: “And now, Father, send us out . . . as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”

So here we are on this Sixth Sunday of Easter. The Feast of the Ascension and Jesus' departure is imminent. Shortly we will be on our own, trying to live the best we can into the words of Christ.

Let us remember that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to this community. Let us continually work to align our life together and the goals we set with the will of God. Let us always reflect kingdom values.

Let us remember that we witnesses the presence and workings of the Holy Spirit in this place. Let us be witnesses of Christ's presence to the world around us.

We are a community of Christ and we have much work to do.


Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon; Easter 5A; John 14:1-14

I have been focusing on faith this Easter season. The faith of the women at the tomb. The faith of Thomas. The faith of Cleopas and the other disciple at the breaking of the bread. The faith to accept whomever Jesus calls through the gate. And today we have both a continuation of last week's gate-keeping theme as well as a statement of a mature faith.

First, the continuation of last week. In summation I pointed out that Jesus was the gatekeeper, not us. It is not incumbent upon us, therefore, to protect our church or our turf by keeping the wrong people out. Instead, we need to recognize that this is Jesus' church and those gate-keeping duties belong to him. We need to have a faith that recognizes anyone who shows up at our doors has been called by Christ. If Christ calls them, then we accept them. Do we have the faith to relinquish control of gate-keeping duties to Christ?

This theme is picked up today when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This statement has been used over the centuries to present an exclusionary view of Christianity. People have pulled this out of context to say, “We're right, you're wrong.” Or, on a more crass and dangerous level, “Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you're going to hell because no one gets to heaven except through him.”

That, in my opinion, is a very insecure form of faith. It requires certainty. It squashes honest questioning. Unlike Thomas, it removes room for doubts. And most importantly, it usurps gate-keeping responsibilities from Jesus to ourselves.

What if, however, instead of viewing this statement as limiting and exclusionary, we viewed it as broad and expansive? What if we viewed this as a hotel?

The NRSV translates v. 2 as, “In my Father's house are many dwelling-places.” Other versions translate this as “mansions” or “rooms.” Regardless of what translation you use, the implication is that there is plenty of room with God.

When we are traveling and need a place to stay, we go to a hotel. Hotels have many rooms. Some have rooms that seem downright palatial. And we are almost never refused a room. Granted, there are situations involving conventions, illegal activities, or sudden snowstorms. But in general, to get a room two things need to happen: 1) we need to stop and ask for one; and 2) the desk clerk, the gatekeeper, needs to assign us one.

Is it possible that what Jesus is saying about no one coming to the Father except through him isn't necessarily exclusionary but is a recognition that he will assign a room to anyone who stops and asks? Instead of us putting restrictions on who's in and who's out, can we open up the hotel doors and let Jesus, desk clerk and gatekeeper extraordinaire, allow in whomever he chooses?

Is our faith secure enough to allow for that possibility?

Which brings me to my second point: that of a mature faith.

The first part of this gospel passage has Jesus discussing his departure. This passage today is part of the larger Farewell Discourse. Judas has left to betray him and he is preparing the remaining disciples for what is to come, both immediately and in the long-term. Jesus says very clearly that he will come again and will take us to himself so that we will be reunited.

An immature faith stops there. An immature faith goes no farther. An immature faith reasons that, since Jesus is coming again, we don't need to do anything. This leads to some very problematic scenarios.

If Jesus is coming, all we need to do is believe. If Jesus is coming, we don't need to worry about the environment, clean water, melting ice caps, or the depletion and extinction of species. If Jesus is coming, we don't need to care for the poor, the hungry, or the homeless because Jesus will take care of all that when he comes back. Not only is this an immature faith, but it's also an incredibly selfish way to view the world.

A mature faith, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with a one-verse theology. A mature faith will engage with scripture and examine the whole. A mature faith will look for context. A mature faith will say, “What else is there?”

Looking at the totality of this passage, a person of a mature faith will notice this: “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

In other words, we are not called to remain in a holding pattern doing nothing until Jesus returns – we are called to do the works of Christ.

What are those works? First, let's not confuse miracles with works. We won't be changing water to wine, raising the dead, or walking on water. Instead, we need to look at what Christ did in his life. He refused to condemn even one caught in sin, opting for restoration instead of eradication. He worked to feed people without judging why they needed food. He healed the sick without regard to pre-existing conditions. He spoke out against an establishment that put burdens on the lowest in society while looking for ways to make life even easier for the rich and powerful. He broke down walls instead of building them. He welcomed the foreigner.

These are the works of Christ.

As we move through this Easter season, our faith is being challenged in two areas:

  1. Are we willing to see Christianity as inclusive rather than exclusive, offering a room to all who stop in and ask?
  2. Do we have a mature faith that urges us to do the works of Christ, even in the face of the same worldly opposition that he himself faced?

If we are able to do this, then we will be that much closer to seeing the kingdom of God in our midst.


Amen.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sermon; Easter 4A; John 10:1-10

Our Easter journey of faith continues today with a pre-crucifixion story of the good shepherd. On Easter we saw the faith of the women at the tomb. Easter 2 gave us the determined faith of Thomas. Last week we heard the story of two disciples and their faith being elevated at the breaking of the bread. Today we have another faith story, that of Jesus the good shepherd.

Our Collect for today begins: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people . . .” And the gospel passage from John certainly alludes to Jesus as the good shepherd. John records Jesus saying things like, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. The sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Add to that the words from Ps. 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and we have some powerful imagery of Jesus as the good shepherd.

Herein lies one problem with the lectionary . . . it doesn't always cover what you think it covers. How many of you heard the Collect, the Gospel, and the opening of my sermon and thought, “Oh, right, Jesus is the good shepherd?” But nowhere in today's gospel passage does Jesus refer to himself as the good shepherd. Let me read it to you again:

Re-read John 10:1-10

This is my fifth sermon on this particular Sunday (once every three years going back to 2005) and this may be the first time I have noticed this.

In this lectionary cycle, and in this particular gospel selection, Jesus is not the good shepherd – Jesus is the gate and/or the gatekeeper. In this passage, he is not the good shepherd who leads and protects the flock, he is the one through whom the sheep come in and go out. In this particular gospel selection, he is the one through whom we gain entry to salvation. I think that's significant.

As I pondered this image of Jesus as gate and gatekeeper, I struggled with how to express this new-to-me image instead of the traditional image of Jesus as good shepherd. What does it mean to see Jesus as the gate? What are the implications of Jesus as gatekeeper? And then I began to think about society in general and church in particular.

We make use of gatekeepers all the time. The role of the gatekeeper is to allow in and keep out certain individuals. Sometimes this is a formal role, sometimes it is an informal role. Sometimes it's a select few, other times it's a group effort.

When I was going through the discernment process for ordination I encountered a formal group of gatekeepers in the Commission on Ministry. In essence, the fate of my call was in their hands. They determined who was let into the process and who was kept out. One person said it was their job to make sure we don't ordain the wrong people.

An informal role occurs all too often in churches where the “old guard” overtly or covertly works to limit access to “their church” from newcomers. This could be by refusing to invite new people into the altar guild, as greeters, as coffee hour hosts, or any other group or committee. Or it could occur when the old guard turns over leadership to newbies, only to constantly tell them how to do things, or, in some cases, retake control because “we've never done it that way.”

Sometimes it's a select few, such as Dana Carvey's Church Lady from Saturday Night Live. Or maybe it's the few patriarchs and matriarchs who want to protect THEIR church. And sometimes it's a group effort, like an occurrence of the parish never voting onto the vestry one person who has put his or her name on the ballot for the past seven years. Or maybe it's those signals at coffee hour that we really don't want to talk with you.

Gatekeepers are known more for who they keep out. They are known for protecting their turf. And today we have an image of Jesus as gatekeeper. I don't think, though, that gatekeeper Jesus can be compared with the gatekeepers we know or have known.

One of the images of the church is that we are the flock of Christ. We are his sheep. If we are his sheep, note that it is not the sheep whom the gatekeeper excludes – it is the one trying to lead the sheep astray. The gatekeeper will only allow access to the one not trying to steal sheep.

In this passage Jesus is telling us that the sheep have free access in and out. Jesus is telling us that those who enter through the gate, through him, will have abundant life. The shepherd is calling us, and it is those who listen to that call and come to the gate who will have abundant life.

What does this mean for us? It means that we are not gatekeepers; Jesus is the only gatekeeper. It means we don't have to work so hard to protect OUR church or our turf, because this turf and this church belongs to Jesus. It means that if anyone shows up at our doors, we must understand that they heard the voice of Christ and the gatekeeper of all is granting them access.

Is our faith strong enough to turn over those duties to Jesus? Is our faith strong enough to allow everyone and anyone who shows up access to this sheepfold?

I would hope the answer is yes.


Amen.