John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”
May 13th – New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, CO
May 14th – Women of the ELCA, RMS Boulder Cluster Gathering, Wheatridge, CO
May 15th – Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO
John 10:1-10 “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
So which one is it?! Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd? So which one is it?! Are we the sheep? Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers? This text is saturated to overflowing with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples. But today, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.” He says it twice. “I am the gate.”
Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day. Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed. Think about what the gate is for and who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.
Now, picture another gate. And picture this gate welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open. The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way. It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes. A gate that stands open.
Every so often a text from the Bible is such that it really helps us if we know what comes right before it in the story. This is true of so many things. If we learn just a little more of the context of what someone is trying to say, then we have a better shot at understanding at least a little of what is going on. This story of Jesus is the gate is one such story. Right before our verses today is the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight. The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations. And Jesus receives that man.
How many times in each of our lives has a new experience led us to new questions and then to new answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God? Not God changing but us changing. Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear. Time and time again in our adolescence and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults, we are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene. It is the way of life. And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally…we’re talking about when we talk about loving to tell the story Jesus.
But it is also the way of life to not let all the possibilities and information in. It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it. It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters. And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds and set ourselves and our beliefs about Jesus as the gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us. And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we are the ones who are the gate.
During the Apostles’ Creed, the traditional line spoken throughout the centuries is “I believe in the holy catholic church.” This can be incredibly confusing for people since a large part of the world worships in the Roman Catholic tradition. So, we often change the traditional language to say, “I believe in the holy Christian church.” My kids will tell you that on any given Sunday, they’re not sure exactly what will come out of my mouth during this part of the Creed. In whispers, you might even hear them say, “You said it again Mom.” And here’s the truth of it for me. I love the word catholic. I love that it means universal. I love that our ancestors in the church applied the word that means universal to the church. I love pondering what the God of the universe, which includes us sitting in our teeny-tiny corner of it, thinks about how we’re doing in our teeny-tiny part of the church catholic as we divide, and divide again, and divide again – driving people out of sheepfold, after sheepfold, as if we were the gate.
And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.” Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different then Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker. You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.
I’m pretty sure a ticket of faith in Jesus does not purchase protective outerwear that deflects the worst kind of pain – perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.
And I’m pretty sure that a ticket of faith in Jesus does not unleash a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.
In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters experience, indeed, what we experience as we experience life and others at their worst, is faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection. And we don’t have to look very far within ourselves, our own families and our circle of friends to see and feel its shadow too. In this season of Easter, we do live on this side of the resurrection although we see it in a hazy kind of way because the realities of the cross are real even today. Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves. Jesus names the bandits as real, the powers that rob us of life and health.
So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what? He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.” That he says this through the specter of the cross is critical. Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross; Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it, lighting it up so that our vulnerability cannot be ignored and we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods. Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits.
Jesus is the gate and sees and speaks the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and worst of the brokenness in you.
Jesus is the gate who pours out forgiveness for you when you bring your worst.
Jesus is the gate who stands open by the grace of God for you – nothing you do opens it and nothing you do can close it.
And Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and Jesus welcomes you into the arms of the eternal God.
 Craig Koester, Gospel of John, Course Lecture at Luther Seminary, October, 13, 2010.