Sunday, April 13, 2008

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

“Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.”

“I am the gate for the sheep.”

What do you hear in these verses? Many people hear a gospel of exclusion, a gospel predicated on praying the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Because, after all, Jesus is the gate for the sheep and only those who enter through the gate of Jesus are saved.

When we hear these words, it can be easy for us to think we are the only ones who are saved. People believe this because they have an idea . . . no, they KNOW . . . that they have entered through the gate of Jesus to be saved. And they also KNOW that the vast majority of other people are not saved because those other people have not been through the same Jesus Gate that we have.

It is easy for us to fall into the trap of determining what that gate looks like. We can be so sure that we have the right answers, or that we are owners of the right gate, that we might condemn others who don’t choose our gate. You see this with Baptists who preach and require a believer’s baptism, regardless if you have already been baptized as a child. You see it in the Assembly of God church where speaking in tongues proves that you have been baptized in the Spirit. And we see it in our own larger church with certain people leaving over specific issues and other people only too eager to show them the door.

“I am the gate for the sheep.”

“Whoever enters by me will be saved.”

People can take those verses and claim, for whatever reason -- moral purity, correct confessionals, liturgical literalism, biblical bias -- they can claim that they have entered through the gate to be saved. They can also claim that anyone who hasn’t followed them through the same gate are nothing but thieves and bandits.

They can claim that. They would be wrong.

“Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.”

“I am the gate for the sheep.”

“Whoever enters by me will be saved.”

Who are these verses talking about? Obviously they are talking about Jesus. When we read these verses, it’s fairly easy to extrapolate that Jesus is the gate and that if we enter through him we will be saved. Likewise, it is also fairly easy to extrapolate that Jesus is the gate and those who don’t enter through the gate, Jesus, are thieves and bandits.

If it’s so easy to come to that conclusion, why is it wrong? It’s wrong because we are extrapolating. We are interpreting the meaning of those passages to fit our view that, for salvation, people must enter through the Jesus Gate that we determine. It’s wrong because we are the sheep who have no idea and no control over who enters through that gate. It’s wrong because Jesus is the one speaking. He is the one who is telling us how the sheep are led to life.

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus is the gate. That also means that Jesus is the gatekeeper. It is the gatekeeper’s job to determine who gets in or not. We’ve probably all experienced gatekeepers in our lives. Whether it’s the guy with the velvet rope at a posh New York City club, or a Commission on Ministry overseeing who is allowed through the ordination process, or a Ph.D. program limiting the number of students, or . . . whatever. Gatekeepers are the ones who ultimately determine who gets in and who is kept out.

Jesus is both gate and gatekeeper. Jesus is the one saying, “Whoever enters by me will be saved.” Since Jesus has this role, then it is his responsibility to determine who can enter. If he chooses to fling open wide the gate so everyone has the ability to enter regardless of denomination or politics, that’s his business. If he chooses to stand guard at that gate, limiting entry to only the most conservative fundamentalists, that’s also his business. It would seem, however, that he makes himself open and available to receive all people through that gate of his self.

The gate is there and the gate is Jesus. The gate is open, we simply need to enter. And it is the entering that is our choice.

Jesus is our shepherd. We are his sheep. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow. The shepherd knows his sheep and calls to them. We are all different. He calls us to different ministries. He also calls us to different understandings. He may even call us to different denominations. But he calls us. And we answer. And different people answer in a variety of different ways. And when they answer, they are entering through the gate that Jesus provides.

“I am the gate for the sheep.”

“Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.”

“Whoever enters by me will be saved.”

We need to hear these statements not as litmus tests for us, a way to determine who the Really True Christians are, but as statements made by the shepherd and gateway himself. We need to understand that Jesus meets us all where we are and speaks personal words that we need to hear, and that he provides each of us a gate that leads to life.

Our shepherd is calling to us and showing us the gateway to life. The question is: are we actively listening to the call of of our shepherd, or are we bleating so loudly that we drown out the voice of the shepherd?

Listen for the call. Listen to where Jesus is calling you. And let Jesus lead you through his gate.

2 comments:

Tor Hershman | 1:03 PM, April 14, 2008  

What moi hears in those passages are
1. Self-doubt
2. Fear
3. Shame

The Lovely Wife | 11:17 PM, April 14, 2008  

even though you were not there to preach it--it was a grea-aa-aat sermon.

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