Jesus the Gate – May 3, 2020

Jesus the Gate

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 10:1-10

May 3, 2020

Main Idea – Jesus invites us to abundant life.

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.

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 deal 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 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 him 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 call to the sheep and they know your voice, you are the shepherd and you lead them out to pasture.  If the sheep don’t recognize you, you are a stranger and the sheep will run away.  “The images of sheep and shepherd were frequently used with metaphorical significance within the Old Testament.  Traditionally, God is understood as the shepherd and God’s people as sheep (eg. Pss 23:1,74:1, 79:13, 80:1, 95:7, 100:3)” (Gail O’Day, New Interpreters Bible, Vol 9, p.668)

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.  “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (v.9) They will live safely.  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 thinks about gates for a moment.  A gate is a marker, a way between one place and other. 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. (But I am getting ahead of myself) 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.  There is a house in my neighborhood that has a gate across its front side walk but no fence around the yard which seems bizarre to me. Why bother with a gate when one can just easily walk around it?

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; “pie in the sky when we die”.  In the Gospel of John, salvation means abundant life now; safety, community, and sustenance in 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.  Jesus calls us and we follow.  We can rest in the assurance of God’s love and grace.   No matter how isolated we feel, we are never alone for Christ is with us.  

But Jesus as the gate also leads us out of the sheepfold. We “come in and go out and find pasture”.  Jesus invites us to venture out beyond our own worries and concerns 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. 

In this extraordinary season we are reimagining the gates of our ministries.  We are living in the liminal space between life before Corona virus and life afterwards.  It is a time of transition and transformation.  Today our experience of worship is gated by our computers or telephones.  We are fortunate to enter into this virtual space (though we recognize that some are not able to join us) and we are no longer bound by geography or time as we worship with people from Plattsburgh, and New Hampshire, and Maryland, and Florida, and beyond!  Jesus is the gate which invites us together into this virtual sanctuary which exists beyond the walls of our building.  Here, in this time, within this community, we can rest.  We are safe, we are cared for, we are encouraged.

Jesus the gate also invites us out of our own concerns to care for the world; to reimagine how we do church, to speak out about caring for the vulnerable, to check up on others, to contribute to the ministries and programs that help those in need, to go grocery shopping for those who can’t, to make masks, to give blood, all while practicing social distancing.

As we move through this season, Jesus, the gate, invites us to embrace this liminal space of transformation and change.  We can trust that we are known and already residing in the heart of God, as is all of creation. We are safe in the sheepfold. Let us live into this abundant life by sharing this life with others so that all may know the one who calls them by name.

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.