Wait...what? How does that work?
If you have ever been hurt, excluded, or told that you have to fit a certain mold in or by the church...this sermon's for you.
Wait...what? How does that work?
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Leanne Masters
May 11, 2014
I think that it may be possible that my favorite line out of this passage is this one: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Now, the other metaphors I get...the other six great I AM passages out of John.
I am the Bread of Life, I am the Vine (and you are the branches)...I am the light of the world, the way the truth and the life. I am the good shepherd who lay down his life for the protection and care of his sheep.
All of those metaphors seem fairly straightforward, easily understandable to what it is that Jesus is trying to say to us in them, and beautiful in the hope and the vision that they set forth for who Jesus is and how he is acting in the world.
But this one?
I am the gate?
Nope. Don’t get that one. At. All.
Just how does that one work?
I, like the disciples whom Jesus first shared this metaphor with in the first century, sit and scratch my head at this metaphor, trying to figure out what Jesus meant by it.
Honestly, what it comes down to for me is that I struggle with the idea of Jesus as The Gate. Especially since there’s the inclusion of a “Gatekeeper” in this metaphor who determines the worthiness of the shepherds that pass through the gate to lead and guide the sheep.
At first glance, it seems like such a negative metaphor. After all, in our world today, when we refer to “gatekeepers”, we tend to be referring to those people who, often self appointedly, stand at the threshold of our institutions determining who is worthy and who is not, who is welcome, and who is not...human eyes and hands and hearts and minds determining who it is that they think speaks for God.
I’ve heard too many stories of people who have been turned away from churches, from leadership in churches, from participation and fellowship in churches, because someone who was a gatekeeper determined that they were not the “right fit”. People who were the wrong age, race, gender or ethnicity. People who had the wrong background or personal history. People who spoke the wrong language. People who believed the wrong theology, or held the wrong view of People who wore the wrong clothes. People who loved the wrong person.
I’ve seen it in action, and watched the heartache and bore witness to the pain flow around me as those who were securing the gates to the fellowship of Christianity effectively shut people out of the fold.
I’ve seen the effect of it on those who were inside the fold, too.
We’ve begun to live in fear. Fear of letting people know who we really are. Fear of letting people know what we really think about things like our understanding and views of atonement. Fear of letting people know our struggles and fears. Fear of letting people know where we have been in our lives and what we have done. Fear of not looking, acting, speaking “right” in church or in churchy circles.
Fear that if the “gatekeepers” were to know, to see...then we would be effectively be shown the door, and we would hear the clink of the gate behind us as we were shut out, set out into the world to fend for ourselves spiritually and emotionally.
The sad thing is this: too many of our sisters and brothers, too many of us, sitting in this room today, have seen this, experienced it for ourselves, and know it to be true on some level in the Christian Community. There are too many people who have been hurt by the fences that have been erected around Christianity that they have experienced in their lives that have kept them out, that have kept them apart.
Yes, I struggle with the metaphor of Jesus as the Gate. And I wonder and I ask: how does that metaphor work? How do we understand it in terms of those other beautiful passages about the expansiveness of Jesus love, through which we find beauty and peace and salvation and life?
And then...I read it again. And I read it through to the end, to where Jesus said that he came to give us, all of us, life...abundantly. And I realize that my problem is not with Jesus as the Gate...but with how we have allowed ourselves to serve as gatekeepers in a way that walls us in and out, and that prevents people from truly experiencing that abundant life. We have allowed the gate to be barred to so many who hear his voice who want to pass through him into that life abundant...and we have allowed the gate to be barred to us who are “in”, preventing us from going out and living that life abundant, fully and without fear.
This is not who God calls us to be.
This is not what Jesus came to do and to be for us.
This is not how church should be.
And it is up to us to change that. We must do the hard work of examining our own actions and attitudes...how have we, each of us, acted as a gatekeeper in a way that has prevented someone from entering into fellowship and community with us out of worry that they just didn’t “fit”...even if it was unintentional?
How have we allowed the fear of exclusion to keep us from fully being a part of the community, with all of our faults and defects, and thereby promoting the idea that one has to “fit” a certain mold in order to be welcomed?
How have we allowed fences to be built up in front of the Gate that keeps us prisoner, inside and out of the “fold”, that prevents us from walking through the Gate of Christ alongside Christ the Good Shepherd into the life abundant?
And what can we do to change that?
How can we tear down those barriers to welcome and participation? How can we open up our understanding of what it means to be a person of faith who trusts in Christ to welcome all those who don’t “fit”? How can we let go of our fears and our worries of not being “good enough” long enough to allow God to step in and show us the joy that is being offered to us?
How can we serve as gatekeepers who do not keep out those who have heard and know the voice of the shepherd, but instead who open the paths to the Gate and invite all through?
Let us start here:
You, who are seeking, who are searching, who are longing to know God in your life are welcome here.
You are welcome here.
Whether you are young or old, you are welcome.
Whether you are rich or poor, or somewhere in between, you are welcome.
Whether you are married, single, or divorced, you are welcome.
Whether you struggle with an addiction or never touch a drop of alcohol, you are welcome.
Whether you dress to the nines every Sunday, because you believe that God deserves your best, or you dress in jeans and a tshirt, because you believe that you need to come to God as you are every day, you are welcome.
Whether you are sure in your faith or you are questioning and searching, you are welcome.
Whether you are sick or healthy, you are welcome.
Whether you have a criminal record or have never had so much as a speeding ticket, you are welcome.
Whether you have a college degree or never completed high school, you are welcome.
Whether you live typically or differently abled, you are welcome.
Whether you have tattoos and piercings or a needle has never touched your body, you are welcome.
Whether you love men or women, no matter who you are, you are welcome.
Whether you are full of energy and can barely sit still through a hymn or enjoy the peaceful meditation of the sanctuary before the hustle and bustle all begin, you are welcome.
Whether you fit fully into any of these categories, or fall somewhere inbetween on all of them...you are welcome.
I could go on, but I hope that you get the point that You. Yes, you. You who are seeking, who are searching, who are longing to know God in your life, who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling out to you. You are welcome here.
May you, all of us, and all who seek to walk through that Gate, experience the fullness and the joy of the abundant life in Christ, the warmth and the joy in the fellowship of community, and the peace of God in our hearts, each and every day.