May 7 Sermon: Jesus is, like, a door
May 7, 2017
Acts 2:42–47; Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19–25; John 10:1–10
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Words describing the nature of Jesus sometimes crash into one another. We sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,” and “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, who blood set us free to be people of God,” and turn that upside down to sing “The Lord’s my shepherd I’ll not want, he makes me down to lie, in pastures green he leadeth me the quiet waters by.”
So what is Jesus, Lamb or Shepherd?
Welcome to Good Shepherd Sunday, where the image of a kind and comforting shepherd stands alongside another image of a poor bleating sheep led to the slaughter on behalf of all of us who also identify ourselves as sheep. BAA!
Jesus the strong takes us in his arms and holds us, safe, held, and cherished. [shepherd]
Jesus the weak steps into our place as those destined to be judged as ignoring God’s will and ways and destroying the world and our neighbor by our action and inaction, and on the cross becomes the victim, and in the suffering, and in the dying, becomes the victor. [sheep]
Shepherd and Lamb incongruously, paradoxically, mystically, all describe a way to understand the Savior. Shepherd King. Lamb Mediator.
And today that mystical gospel of John adds yet another image, related to shepherd and lamb. You must know that whenever the Jesus of John says the words “Very truly,” or “Truly, Truly,” they mean “yo listen up.” So in addition to the many I am sayings in this gospel, like I am the living water, I am the way, the truth, and the life, I am the light of the world, I am the Good Shepherd, today, we hear “yo listen up, I am the gate.”
Jesus is like a door. Jesus is, like, a door. He is the place for the sheep to find safe passage. Think of the scrubby, hilly, rocky terrain of the Middle East, where shepherds and sheep still play a role. As flock and guide move to find pasture, come nightfall the shepherd calls out to each one of them who recognize his voice and with their herd instinct, clump together.
Into an enclosure they go where they will be safe for the night. Built up around this circle are rocks and dirt, and thorns to thwart the thieving wolves. At one side though there is a gap to enter and exit, with no true door or real gate. What is to prevent the wolves from attacking the sheep? Why it is the shepherd himself, who lies down in that gap to bed at night, who becomes de facto the gate and the door, to protect the sheep and guard against predators.
As far removed from sheep and sheep herders as we may be, don’t we still yearn to be safe? Don’t we want to be protected from harm? Don’t we continue to get rankled about threats to our well-being?
I want to know that Jesus is reliable and willing to pull me through the most difficult situations that I as a sometimes straying sheep find myself in. In my devotional life, I find tremendous comfort centering myself in the loving arms of one who takes me to a God who will offer me protection. This is undoubtedly why Psalm 23 has been such an enduring type of prayer, while a table is set in the face of enemies, and the shepherd is walking alongside even through the darkest valley. The sense of comfort, offered by God, is so clearly and beautifully stated that this Psalm has carried countless saints, martyrs, and family to the very gates of heaven. The Psalm itself has become a kind of door. The Psalm itself opens up access to what the letter to Peter calls “the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
Stay with me for a moment imagining that Jesus as gate provides passage, a way to abundant life, not just mere subsistence or existence, but a fullness of life, sufficient and sustainable. Think of what that means for you, not just in the face of death, or in some future beyond our knowing, but here, now, today, and soon. Think of how that life, that abundant life, is not something that we keep for ourselves while others are kept out, but that what Jesus offers is for all who seek it, for those who wonder what it is, and for those who only see the Christian community as a barrier to God.
I have been told that most people who arrive at church know pretty much the minute they cross the threshold into the building whether it is a welcoming place or not. I’m not talking about greeters who insist on shaking your hand and chirp “good morning.” I mean that there is something embedded in the faith community where it understands genuine welcome. It regularly examines barriers, physical, cultural, and linguistic, and breaks them apart, and breaks them open. It risks changing the worship space, and all other spaces for hospitality’s sake. It risks inviting more to its ministry and it spaces as it can model the shepherd Jesus who says he must invite others who are not from this fold.
And when people enter into this welcoming and outward-looking community, they want to stay. They want to belong. They are drawn to the energy that emanates from the community, as the very baby community right after Pentecost in Jerusalem described in Acts set the pattern for genuine community in teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers. I treasure this story of unity and love, of a community so enrapt in the abundant life they found. They were not shackled by their possessions or a building. They were not holding grudges or remembering how great the church used to be. They were eating and drinking in house churches. They saw to needs without reservation.
I know that this utopian description did not last. I know that there are ensuing stories of selfishness and division.
But I do not give up on aspiring to behavior and action that flows from the center out.
The National Guard stationed itself on the corner of Spring and Vallette Street in Elmhurst, Illinois around the year of 1988. South of Epiphany Lutheran Church, access was limited, therefore the Guard stationed itself right by the church. Torrential rain decimated many of the homes down to the Des Plaines river. The Watson family lived a couple miles down Spring Street, and the water breached their living room. There was no question they would receive help in their time of need. Folks from Epiphany descended on their home, and began the arduous work of emptying out waterlogged furniture, trashed washer and dryer, wallboard, waiting for everything left to dry out and to rebuild.
It was a terrible time for those living on the flood plain of that Chicago suburb. But for those who were in the community, help was near. For those whose center was the life-giving shepherd, there was a spirit of generosity and unity.
Crisis can definitely break you down. Or it can bring life out of the ashes. Bethesda’s council recently puzzled about a focus statement for Bethesda. It has come out in this way:
Centered in Christ
Bethesda Builds Community and Serves Others
Don’t wait for a crisis. There are crises galore already. Open up the doors and welcome one another. Tear down walls, and remake them into tables around which we find our common humanity and the Christ who serves and leads. Be joyful in the life that Christ comes to give, shepherd, lamb, gate, way, truth, life, savior, friend, servant,
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Tags: Good Shepherd, I am sayings in John