FEBRUARY 28th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
PSALM 118:1,19-24 MATTHEW 7:7-14
JESUS – THE GREAT I AM JOHN 10:1-10
“I Am the Gate”, Jesus said. (John 10:9) So what does he mean by that? A shepherd I get. It's a person – but a gate? Most of us have used one at some point or another. There's a gate out back, as a matter of fact. It leads from the lower level into the Preschool playground.
Some of us live in or have visited others who live in the gated community of Kala Point. If you head to SeaTac in the hopes of traveling by plane somewhere you're going to have to wait at the gate. And while you're over there in the Seattle area you might even drop in on Bill and Melinda Gates.
So what does any of that have to do with Jesus? What's the purpose of a gate? Well, like doors, they provide entry into a space of interest and keep that space safe from unwanted entry. Imagine if your house or apartment didn't have a door. You'd likely wake up in the morning with mice in your pantry, squirrels in your breakfast cereal, flies in your bathroom and raccoons in your trash!
If your home didn't have a door you'd be vulnerable to thieves and door-to-door salesmen..., not to mention how cold and damp your home would be. Doors keep in the heat and keep out the elements!
Without doors we couldn't welcome friends into our home or guests into our church. The front door provides a space of welcome for all who enter. So doors and gates are simutaneously the tools of exclusion and inclusion. Their function is somewhat of a paradox.
It's the same sort of paradox that many struggle with when it comes to the Christian faith. Con-sider, for a moment, the context of Jesus' “I Am the Gate” statement. It comes directly on the heels of his healing a man born blind as recorded in John 9. The man had been excluded from certain circles of society due to his infirmity, which was believed to have been caused by his or his parents' sins. As if Jesus' healing of this man was not enough to catch the attention of the Pharisees, it happened on the Sabbath – a major no-no according to Mosaic law. So the pharisees interigate the poor guy and then have him booted out of the synagogue – pernamently, excluding him from the family of faith.
The story ends with Jesus confronting the Pharisees' spiritual blindness and embracing the man born blind. Jesus' words about being the gate immediately follow this exchange. The text reads as one continuous interaction: “Some of the Pharisees asked him, 'Are you saying we're blind?'
Jesus replied, 'You remain guilty because you claim you can see. I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going thru the gate, is a thief and a robber!'
I tell you the truth, I AM...the Gate!'” (John 9:40-10:1,6) So does the gate include or exclude?
Jesus' images of gates and gatekeepers, shepherds and sheep, thieves and robbers, left his original audience scratching their heads even though these images were far more familiar to them then they are to us – even though we do have a sheep pen right next door to the church here.
In Jesus' day, flocks of sheep would often graze together in the same pasture. When it was time for one flock to move on or be shepherded into their pen, that flock's shepherd would call to his sheep who instantly recognized his voice and would follow him. As a result, strangers or greedy shepherds couldn't simply sneak away with extra sheep in their flocks. Jesus uses the metaphor to take a jab at the pharisees and other religious leaders for trying to lead God's people in the wrong direction.
He mixes his metaphors, referring to himself both as the Gate and the Good Shepherd, (which we'll take a look at next week). His metaphors leave many, past and present, scratching their head. Its as if Jesus was trying to tell them a joke, and they didn't get the punch line.
“Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn't understand what he meant.” (John 10:6) Having failed to understand his warning and invitation he shifts gears. “(Since they) didn't under-stand what he meant, Jesus explained, 'I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the true sheep did not listen to them.., for the thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.'” (John 10:6-9)
This last verse is commonly understood to be a reference to Satan, but here in its context, its clear that first and foremost it was a condemnation of the false shepherds of Israel, specifically of the Pharisees who were more concerned with being in control than in the salvation of sinners. It's implica-tions carry over today to those who use spiritual language to mislead folks off the path of Christ, who lead them down a path by which they can steal and destroy what Christ came to give – an abundant life.
Jesus' words here serve as a warning to the false shepherds of the world and to any who seek to sneak over the walls of God's Kingdom without using the Gate. But they're also an invitation, extended to whoever would enter thru the narrow gate Jesus spoke of in his sermon on the mount:“You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate.” (Matthew 7:13)
Jesus' teaching in John 10, then, clarifies his message in his early sermons. The perplexing paradox of the exclusive yet inclusive Kingdom Jesus was all about, takes shape here as he identifies himself as the gate that he'd spoken of before. “Very truly, I tell you, I am the Gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
Does that sound exclusive or inclusive? On the one hand he says, 'Whoever enters', implying that there isn't a necessary requirement for eligibility, that whoever recognizes his voice can enter. Yet at the same time he says 'by me', implying that there is only one way. As he states later, “I Am the Way...., the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me!” (John 14:6)
So is Christ being inclusive – allowing all to enter, or exclusive – allowing only those who come thru him to enter? And the answer is....: (bing, bing, bing) Yes! Both! Jesus IS the only way to salvation. (*) Some will try to tell us there are others ways but Christ the Gate is The way by which ALL may enter. This invitation is to everyone – no matter what their past or present.
( * cue song: “Let 'Em In” )
As Paul McCartney sang years ago: Let 'Em In! Interestingly enough most of those he named in his song have since died: Brother John Lennon, his wife Lynda (Susie), his Auntie Gin, Martin Luther..
We tend to equate Jesus' claim to be The Gate with the pearly gates, but its about much more than that! The life we enter into through The Gate begins here and now! As Jesus said, “For I have come that you may have life and that you may have it abundantly!”
As much as the inclusive exclusivity of faith in Christ is about the eternal reality of heaven, it is also about the present reality of his kingdom breaking in here and now! It's about a life lived in the freedom afforded us by Christ, to “come and go freely, finding green pastures” as we do so. There is such joy and comfort to be found in knowing Christ came to die so that you and I may have life – and not simply a life of existence, but a life of abundance, here and now!
When I was growing up my family were big fans of the TV show, M*A*S*H. In one episode, Hawkeye gets in trouble and is confined under house arrest to his tent, that he shares with Frank and his friend, Trapper John. Frank delights in the moment taunting Hawkeye every time he leaves by remind-ing Hawkeye of his freedom – that he is able to go in and out of the tent at will.
At the end Frank gets sick and is quaranteened to their tent whereby Hawkeye mischeiviously delights in turning the tables. “Hey Frank, check it out! I can go in and I can got out, in...and out...!”
That's the image that Jesus conveys as he invites his flock to freely come in and go out: “I am the Gate! Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come in and go out freely and will find green pastures! My purpose is to give you life, lived to the full...!” (John 10:9-10)
There is great freedom in me, he says. I will grant you access to all that truly brings life, and joy and delight because wherever you go, I will be there, navigating your coming and going.
In Jesus' day, shepherds often placed themselves in the only opening to the sheep-pen. No one got in or out without the shepherd allowing it to be so. The shepherd made himself into a human gate.
As The Gate, Jesus grants anyone so interested access to all that brings life. And what is it that brings life if not our Creator and Heavenly Father? The image of a gate leading to green pastures is suggestive of the beauty of that lush garden in page one of the Bible, where we're told Adam and God walk beside each other in the Garden of Eden. It's an image of trusting intimacy & lush living!
Jesus, the Gate, gives us access to such a relationship. It's reminiscent of the story told of Tad Lincoln, the President's youngest son, who, during the Civil War, was often approached by wounded Union soldiers seeking help from the President. As the story goes, one day while Lincoln was meeting with his cabinet, Tad slipped into the room, unanounced and told his dad that a soldier needed his help. Lincoln dropped what he was doing, making his cabinet wait, as he helped the soldier in question. Tad, the son, gave a wounded soul access to his Father, just as Jesus, God's Son, has done for you.
What's more, he offers green pastures. Do you know why green pastures are so attractive to sheep? It's because these are untrampled, sumptuous feeding grounds. These are fields well watered with the Water of life, a metaphor Jesus uses elsewhere for the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, The Gate, we have access to green pastures – a metaphor for a rich and abundant life, feasting on the fruit of the Spirit! This is the life, and the purpose for which Jesus came is to open it up to us...like a living Gate!
This is now....and this is forever! As John would later share in the vision Jesus gave him of our future in him, a future in which, the Gates of heaven will remain open for our coming and going!
“I was carried away in the Spirit...and shown the Holy City..., coming down out of heaven from God...., and its gates will never ever be closed again!” (Revelation 21:10, 25)
“This is the Gate (which is) the Lord through which the righteous will enter, (Psalm 118:20),
And we will come in and go out freely and will find green pastures....and life in abundance!”