Easter 4 B-April 22, 2018-Hope Lutheran Church, Riverside, CA
I am the Door, the Gate, the Way
Shepherds are a fertile image for the people who live close to the land, which of course, we rarely do in places like the greater Los Angeles Basin. They understood the metaphorical implications in ways we do not. Each year, you hear this passage in church and I am sure that over time you will learn many of the metaphors of this passage. Today though, I want you to hear the metaphor for a shepherd and what that means. At night the shepherd would craft a make-do pen of rocks and branches. Rather than crafting a
door, the shepherd would lay himself down in the opening, becoming the actual door to the dangers of the world. When Christ declares himself a shepherd, he proclaims what we see over and over again, that he is the door, the gate, the way. But for more reasons than can be covered in one sermon, instead of the way into death and danger, he is the way of truth and life.
My own know my voice
Sheep knew their shepherds voices. From a distance a yodel or call from just the right voice would bring just the right sheep coming in for protection, leaving the others behind. Like the response of a newborn babe to voices that they were exposed to in the womb, there is an autonomic response. It is as though they did not need to think, they just knew. This is a voice in whom I am loved and cared for. Christ is clear that when we are his, we know him, we respond to him and we trust in him.
There are other sheep
But he also talks about other sheep. The John text on the good shepherd this morning is Jesus interpretation of John 9, where a blind man is healed. It is important to realize this man is not Jewish, to him, Jesus should be a nobody- not even on his radar, let alone a teacher and prophet of any sort. The miracle here is not only that the man was healed. Rather, that his life was transformed and he found new being, not just new sight. His life went from sitting in mud to being able to be a productive participant in community. He could earn a living, could marry, could be considered “one of the rest of us.” He was no
longer a random guy who did not belong because he was different. But he was not a follower of Jesus and he was not a Jew and he did not follow the rules in any way. His
very blindness made him and outcast as though he chose to be blind. Yet he knew Jesus voice; he was one of the other sheep that followed and knew Jesus in another way.
And Jesus claimed him.
Jesus healed him and led him into life and newness of being.
Unauthorized and dangerous.
In the Acts reading, the disciples are on trial. They stand declaring through whom they have healed a man, just as Jesus instructed and equipped them to do. But to those they were gathered in front of, this was unauthorized healing- it was dangerous and unknown as the proper way of doing things. It was inexplicable and thus, not acceptable.
Sometimes, in the church, we respond the same way.
The idea of giving a small child communion can create controversy because it is not the way it has been done. The idea that a child can understand the implications of the bread and wine just as an experienced adult goes against our “knowledge” and tradition. And yet, I am often more impressed with a child’s simple and solid knowledge that this is absolutely given “for you” because “Jesus loves you” than by an educated adult’s expression of what communion means. It is controversial because we cannot explain the work of the Holy Spirit let alone how it works in a small child. It is controversial because it is not what we believe to be true or explainable.
So, too, is the idea that there may be other ways to follow Christ. It is unauthorized and dangerous to consider that maybe we don’t have the only way to Christ. It is a theological earthquake of epic proportions to consider that being a Lutheran/Christian is a way to Christ, but in the end, we are not Christ and thus not THE way. Because the only gate, the only door, the only WAY is THROUGH Christ. And even though we may not like it, even though we cannot explain it, the sheep of Jesus Christ know his voice and follow him. Which means we cannot argue that we know the only way to follow Christ, only he can know and only he can judge. What matters is that we do not have the power and he does.
The Power of Laying Down his Life
It boils down to the fact that Jesus has the power.
All of it.
Not us; not humanity. We are truly powerless. In our corporate confession we state that we understand we cannot free ourselves from sin and the truth is not in us. But God who is faithful and just still forgives our sin. The power is, was and always remains God’s. And as part of the Triune God, Jesus holds the power over who is his. Not us.
On the night he is betrayed, he chooses to come out of the Garden, leaving the sheep protected in the garden. He chooses to come away. He chooses to be arrested and tried. Christ never loses his agency in this- his power and control remains his even in the moment of giving up his last breath. Every last second he is in control and his power is fully his- even when it looks like humanity had it.
The Act of Love
When Christ lays down his life, it sounds like an act of imperialistic violence, degradation, and shame (thanks and credit Workingpreacher.org!)And while it is all of these things, it is most fully an act of Love. It is an act of selfless giving that we can
only hope to copy but never achieve on our own. It is an act of welcome- to offer up his life even for those who do not yet know him, but will recognize his voice when they hear it. It isn’t our power or our choice to love that decides who is saved and right about how to get to heaven. It is always about God’s sovereignty- Jesus agency and power.
And our choice is in this: that we can love. We can try to love like Jesus did- with open and forgiving hearts. We can love abundantly and trust that even if we get it all wrong, even if we are like sheep and dumb as rocks and can’t find our way, Christ is still watching over us and will call us into the fold at the end of the day. We can love EVERY single person in front of, beside, and around us without reserve because it doesn’t
matter if we are right or not. Jesus has the power, Jesus chose to love us first and his love, his forgiveness, and his power are the way to everlasting life.