Out of the Gate
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
April 30, 2023
Main Idea – Jesus calls us out.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning we are going to talk about Safety. What it means to us, how we get it, and what Jesus has to say about it. In our nation, Safety is a high priority and yet we feel less and less safe in our homes, in our schools, in our churches, and in our public spaces. In one week, American young people were shot because they knocked on the wrong door, got in the wrong car, turned around in the wrong driveway, or chased a basketball into the wrong yard. These shootings happened in Missouri, in Texas, in North Carolina, and in New York State, just over the border from Southern Vermont, less than 100 miles from here. On Friday in Texas, a man was asked to stop shooting his gun in his yard because his neighbor was trying to put their baby to sleep. He went into their house and killed 5 people, including an 8 year child. Guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the US. However we are trying to keep ourselves safe, it is not working. Jesus shows us another way.
Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday because each year on this Sunday, the lectionary Gospel reading comes from the 10th chapter of John and deals with shepherds and sheep. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian symbols, predating the symbol of the crucifix; Jesus on the cross, by 1000 years. (Robin Myers, The Underground Church p. 61) It is interesting that this important image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd only occurs here in chapter 10 of the Gospel of John.
Our text for today includes lots of shepherding talk but not Jesus declaring himself as the Good Shepherd (which happens in verse 11). Instead, in our text, Jesus twice declares “I am the gate”(v.7,9). So this morning we will explore this idea of Jesus as the gate to safety and to abundant life.
This text is part of a larger narrative which starts in chapter 9 and continues to chapter 10:18. The Good Shepherd discourse is commentary on the story of the man born blind which we heard during Lent. Remember, the religious authorities were angry that Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath and they then refused to admit what had happened or who had done it. They threatened the man’s parents, called him a liar, and generally blustered about and made fools of themselves. That story is about being able to recognize Jesus. The man born blind sees Jesus for who he is while the religious authorities remain blind in their willful ignorance. Today’s text addresses the religious authorities with the disciples (and us) listening in.
It starts with a parable about shepherds and bandits. If you climb over the fence to enter the sheepfold, you are a thief and a bandit. If you enter through the gate, you are the shepherd. If you are the shepherd, you call to the sheep and they know your voice, and you lead them out to pasture. If the sheep don’t recognize you, you are a stranger and the sheep will run away. Sheep and Shepherds are a common metaphorical image in the Hebrew Scriptures with the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel equating corrupt leaders with bad shepherds who exploit their sheep. The leaders listening to Jesus choose not to recognize themselves as the thieves and bandits.
Because those listening don’t understand, Jesus tries another image. “I am the gate for the sheep.” (v. 7) Everyone else are thieves and bandits but the sheep will not be fooled. Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (v.9) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But Jesus comes so that all may have life; and not only life but abundant life.
Let’s think about gates for a moment. A gate is a marker, a way between one place and another. It is a liminal space, a place of transition and transformation. When you stand at a gate you are in the space of “already/not yet” which is a description of the Kingdom of God. A gate provokes a moment of decision. “Shall I go forward or back?” A gate provides both protection when it is closed, and access when it is open. It can be welcoming, like a flower covered arbor or forbidding like a heavy metal door.
Gates can swing in, inviting people to come in for shelter, rest, and protection. Or gates can swing out, inviting people to go out into the world to serve, and learn, and grow.
What kind of a gate is Jesus, do you think?
First, Jesus is a gate to God. Through him, God is made known in a way which the religious authorities in the Gospel cannot understand. Jesus reveals God to the man born blind, saving him by returning him to his community, giving him sight, and safety, and security. Throughout the gospels, Jesus reveals God to the people and to us, serving as a gate through which we can know the depths of God’s love for us.
It is in today’s text where Jesus, as the gate, first offers salvation. “Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (v. 9) This is not a golden ticket to heaven; the ultimate gated community, “pie in the sky when we die”. In the Gospel of John, salvation means abundant life now; safety, community, and sustenance by knowing God through Jesus.
Jesus as the gate offers us sanctuary, rest, and protection. In these fearful days, we yearn for the safety of a nice secure sheepfold and Jesus gives us this. We can rest in the assurance of God’s love and grace. We are never alone for Christ is with us.
But notice that Jesus calls us and we follow him, not into the sheepfold but out of it. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. ” We “come in and go out and find pasture”. Jesus invites us to venture out beyond our own fears to experience the wider world, to see the needs and concerns of others, to recognize them as fellow sheep, and to see God’s grace beyond our boundaries.
Jesus does not call us to build bigger walls or to barricade ourselves from others. He calls us out of our fears and into abundant life.
Thieves and bandits are real. There are real dangers in our lives but we are not made safer by isolating ourselves and demonizing those who are strangers to us. In fact, that fear and isolation is just what the thieves and bandits want. If we are cowering at home, they can act with impunity. They can control what we know and how we spend our time and our money. The grandson of the man who shot Ralph Yarl in Kansas City said that he was not surprised by his grandfather’s actions because his grandfather spent all day, every day watching cable news which the grandson described as “the 24 hour news cycle of fear and paranoia.” In each of the shootings from last week, the man pulling the trigger felt somehow justified in the moment. In doing so, he ruined his own life as well as the lives of those he shot.
The thieves and bandits don’t want us to step out and get to know our neighbors, especially those who look different from us, or who speak a different language. We just might find out that these neighbors are great cooks, or might help us with our broken lawn mower. We just might find out that the world is filled with good people who want to live in peace, who want their children safe at school, and who want to work together so that all might have abundant life. Opening our hearts, opening our minds, opening our lives in order to build community and care for others, isn’t easy, but it is the way to have safe and abundant lives.
Jesus calls us out of our fear and isolation. He guides us and sustains us as we work together to build a community where no one is afraid. May we listen for our shepherd’s voice and may we follow him out of the gate and into the beautiful life he intends for us and for all people.
Let us pray, Shepherding God, we thank you for your guidance, protection and care. Help us to follow where you would have us go. May we be living testaments to the grace and power of your love for the world. Amen.