I Am the Gate. I am the Door.
Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. 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. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. The Good News of our Lord
Knock Knock. "Who's there?” That is a very good question because the answer - if this is a real door and not just a knock knock joke - may determine whether or not you open the door.
We use doors all the time. Just think: how many doors did you go through in order to get here tonight? Starting with the door of your house, you maybe then went through a garage door, a car door, drove here and then went through the car door again, the outside church door, the narthex door and then the sanctuary door before you could sit down in a pew. If you went to school or work or a store or the soup supper after leaving your house and coming here you went through even more doors. Doors provide access. Sometimes we put locks or use passwords or codes on our garages or computers or lockers at school because we want to control access.
Jesus, living in a rural community, used the image of the gate of sheep pen. The purpose of the door - or the gate — of the sheep pen is to keep robbers, thieves and predators out, and to care for and protect the sheep.
Gates and doors - in Greek and Hebrew it’s the same word. All of Jesus’ listeners could understand the importance of the gate to protect the sheep and… if you’ve ever accidentally left a door open and a cat or dog got out… you too can relate to the importance of the gate. But Jesus isn't just giving good advice. He’s using what John’s gospel calls it a "figure of speech." Throughout the Gospel, Jesus uses ordinary examples to teach a bigger point.
In this case, he is using the story of the sheep and the gate to help his disciples and us learn from a blind man.
Remember this story? Jesus heals a blind man by spitting on the ground, making a mud paste, putting it on his eyes and sending him to the pool to wash it off. The man, with sight restored, comes home - but his neighbors don't believe it is him. They ask how it happened - he tells them. They still don't believe him and so they ask the to investigate. The Pharisees question him. He tells them what happened but they don't believe him either. So they ask his parents. The parents are afraid to answer. The leaders had already told them that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. So they said - ask him. The Pharisees go back to the man who used to be blind and asked him again. Frustrated, the formerly blind man says, "All I know is this: I was blind but now I see." They keep questioning him but he finally says, "Look. You don't know where he came from but he opened my eyes. If this man were not from God he could do nothing!!" Enraged at the formerly blind man's words, the Pharisees threw him out of the temple.
The Pharisees threw him out the door. Denied him access to the Lord's house. As a man blind from birth - it was assumed by everyone in the culture that SOMEONE - his parents or he - had sinned. That was their explanation for his blindness. And so he had never been allowed in the sanctuary. He was "unclean" - which meant "not worthy." So after Jesus healed him, he should have been allowed to enter. He should have been welcomed into the community with open arms. But instead... They threw him out...again.
I'd like to be able to say that such a move - excluding sinners and judging who is or who is not worthy - is just something that Pharisees did in Jesus' day. But...that wouldn't be true.
Just about every church fight, every church fracture has something to do with the question of who is worthy. Who is allowed in the gate, the door.... And who is not? Who can speak? Who can vote? Who can preside? Who can partake of the wine and bread? Who can be part of the body of Christ?
Over the last month I've been using an online tool called Indeed to generate candidates for the Communications/Administrative position. We got quite a few responses, some highly qualified whom I contacted with an invitation to further conversation and others whose gifts didn't quite match up and so I sent them a polite rejection note indicating that while they had many gifts and skill, they weren't the ones we were hiring for at this time. Most people who use a service like this scatter their net - and their applications -- widely and so don't take a polite rejection personally. But one man.... I'll call him Bob, sent me back a scathing email asking why I dared to be a pastor - and citing various (and somewhat unrelated) scriptures. I haven't been challenged as unworthy to be a pastor for quite a while now. But it reminded me of just how exclusive we can be. I thought about responding - either to him or to the group of people that he copied. But I didn't. He wasn't open to hearing that God had made a way for people like me to serve. He wasn't open to hearing about how Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene at the tomb, telling her to "Go and tell."
Although it was tempting to respond, I decided to take the high road. He did not have ears to hear me. So I reminded myself that Bob was not the one who got to decide my call -- or anyone else's. Jesus said, "I am the door. I am the gate." It is Jesus who people must go through. So often, our squabbles in the church is about who gets to decide who is "in" and who is out." But it's not my job - or yours. Jesus is the door. Jesus is the gate.
Who does Jesus welcome? It's not just the ones that you would expect. I sit on the candidacy committee of the synod and I get to hear people's call stories - and how people have welcomed them... Or not. Some of them are people like Vicar Joe. He's immensely likable- and has good theology too. But others are less traditional - a Latino man, a retired woman, a gay African man, a pregnant woman. After hearing all these call stories - and more. They had one thing in common: they loved Jesus - and Jesus loves and welcomes and calls them. Jesus welcomes all sorts of people; He even welcomes people who are afraid — like the disciples.
They were afraid. They had heard that Jesus' was alive - but they didn't know what to think or do. Did they even dare to believe it? Sounded like crazy talk…. besides… it came from the women. They barricaded themselves together in a room and locked the doors and barred the gates - because they were afraid. And yet... Jesus appeared to them. You see, nothing can keep Jesus out because Jesus is the door, Jesus is the gate.
Jesus has come that we — all of God’s children — may have life and have it abundantly.
Knock. Knock. Who's there? Check the door. It might be Jesus. Thanks be to God!