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.



First time comments will be moderated.