the one about gates and walls...
May 8, 2017, 7:24 AM

Sermon from May 7, 2017

Text: John 10:1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, today is Good Shepherd Sunday and our Gospel focuses a bit on that. But, there is something kind of startling about the text we read on this day. Jesus makes a few ‘I am’ statements, but he doesn’t make the one that we expect to hear. At least we don’t hear it in this part of the text that we get to read courtesy of the Lectionary. Though, if we extend the gospel selection by one verse we do get that ‘I am’ statement that would fit so neatly into the celebration of this day, but then it would kind of mess with the theme of those first 10 verses.

Nonetheless, today is indeed Good Shepherd Sunday, but instead of hearing Jesus matter-of-factly state that he is the Good Shepherd, we hear instead that he is the gate or the door to the sheepfold.

As I pondered about and talked with my colleagues and friends about this text this week, something struck me. If Jesus is the gate or the door to the sheepfold it means that there must be a wall. For what would the thieves and bandits be climbing over if not a wall?

Walls, borders, and more are pretty loaded terms during our current time and day. In fact, today you can’t mention the term ‘wall’ without thinking (or being asked) about what side of that ‘proverbial’ wall you place yourself.

When we think of walls what tends to come to our minds first? We’re keeping something away, right? Separating what is mine and what is not yours. You stay over there. Keep out. Not for you. Members only!

We put up walls for privacy, for protection, for separation. And, they don’t have to be literal walls either. There are walls that we place within ourselves, that we lock ourselves behind so that we feel we cannot be hurt by others. Perhaps, anyone who has ever shared a room with a sibling or a roommate has probably gone through the stage of dividing your stuff from their stuff. If things got heated, you may have even drawn a line down the middle or around your ‘side/portion’ of the room to announce to any and all where people were freely welcome and where they needed invitation and permission.

Our gospel reading this morning invokes the image of a walled garden and because of the world we live in today, I think we are tempted to say that even our Lord is keeping out what doesn’t belong. There is a lure to believe that Jesus has setup this exclusive club and only admits those who are worthy. Would make sense, wouldn’t it? He’s the gatekeeper, he’s the one who opens the door. It would be easier if it were that way, wouldn’t it? Where Jesus clearly marks and separates us from them, we from they, me from her.

But, that’s not really how Jesus works from what I can read in the gospels. Jesus has been more about breaking down the walls and borders that we continually set up to separate one from another. In fact, Jesus makes not one literal mention of a wall, we just allude to that. What Jesus does say is that he is the door – he’s the gate to the sheepfold.

If there is a wall to keep out thieves and bandits it isn’t to prevent them from being a part of the sheepfold. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many thieves or bandits whose desire it is to be a part of what they are sneaking into. A thief doesn’t break into your home to claim his or her spot around the dinner table. The thieves and bandits that Jesus is talking about here are not seeking to be a part of the sheepfold.

In fact, their desire is to sneak in, to climb over ‘the wall’ in order to take the sheep from the shepherd. To entice the sheep away with false hopes, puffed up words, and insincere gestures of love, truth, care.

And here’s another thing. It’s hard to ‘break-in’ to a place when the door is opened. As Lutherans, we believe that Jesus is at the door – outside the door – and calling us each by name into the fold. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd and that’s who they listen to and for. Jesus isn’t holding us back at an arm’s length to make sure we are ‘good enough’ to be in the fold. That isn’t how this works.

We are called and welcomed by the one who knows our name. In that voice – in that call – we find comfort and grace. We find hope and acceptance. We find forgiveness and love. All are welcome – I’m certain even those bandits and thieves – to enter into the sheepfold by the wide-open door.

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate those two voices – the one of the thieves and bandits; and the one of our shepherd. It really is. We live in a world that constantly is seeking to know whether the voice we are listening to is the right one. And sometimes we might just be wrong. Many times, we may be correct in whose voice we listen to, but sometimes we might be wrong. Yet, even in those moments of error our Lord – our Shepherd – does not push us away, but is still calling to us out of love, grace, and forgiveness. The door that our Lord gracefully proclaims that he is, is always open still.

This week I read a quote from Frederick Buechner that one of my friends shared. It’s a quote that I think helps us find comfort in the fact that we cannot always tell with certainty where God is calling and is present, but how we still live into the faith and hope of Christ’s presence here among us and within us. Buechner writes, “A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross – the way he carries me.”

You see, the ‘wall’ that we’re talking about isn’t about keeping things separated. It isn’t about dividing the good sheep from the ‘bad’ sheep. Perhaps, it is instead a wall that gathers the sheepfold. A wall that gathers the faithful under the love and protection of the shepherd.

It’s hard to ‘break-in’ when the doors and gates are opened and the only ‘requirement’ to wander in is to hear the voice and listen to the call of the shepherd. The one who knows us, who knows you by name.

Of course, we will still have walls. We always have walls. We are broken, sinful, and fallen creatures that try in desperation at times to separate ourselves for a multitude of reasons. Separate one from another, separate ourselves from those around us. Yet, our Lord’s ‘I am’ statement this morning continues to ring loud and true. Jesus adamantly proclaims that “I AM THE DOOR.”

Jesus is the door. Jesus is the gate. He’s the one breaking through the boundaries that we set up. Jesus is the one calling you by name. Calling in comfort, love, peace, and forgiveness.

Hear it now. Listen. Come. Follow. Be gathered. Amen.

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