1 “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.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good “shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
this is roughly the sermon I preached last night
To fence or not to fence. Several years ago, that was the question asked as began creating the community garden over there on 26th St. next to the US Bank. Should we build some kind of fence around our garden? Should we construct some kind of defense and protection for all the hard work, the building of raised bed boxes, the planting, the watering, the growth of fragile and precious plants.
It is a natural question, fences and walls provide us with that sense of security and safety that we all long for.
Of course, no fence is truly impenetrable. We know that if someone wants to get over, under, or around a fence they sure can do that. We’ve seen that over and over again. Right here I’m holding a piece of the Berlin Wall, built to keep the East Berliners from escaping Communism . This was part of a wall of cement, rock, barb wire fencing, and guards, but still that wall came tumbling down.
Our world if full of attempts to surround ourselves with wood, stone, cement, and iron to try to keep us safe. Fences and walls in the Southwest between the US and Mexico, between Israel and the Palestinians, between neighbors, to keep the good in and the bad out.
At first glance this may seem like what Jesus is talking about in our passage tonight from John’s gospel. Tonight Jesus gives us two images to describe who he is. One is the good shepherd. It is a comforting and even somewhat familiar image, especially for us pretty regular church folk. We like the image of Jesus as the good shepherd staff in hand calling us to safety, calling us to follow, to go to the pasture that is God’s world and calling us to gather back to rest. But that’s not the only image Jesus gives us.
This night we heard these words from verses 9 & 10. Jesus says, “ I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus is the gate. Not such a pretty picture. That’s probably why we haven’t seen too many artistic renditions of those words. Of course, he is not talking about a literal wall—a literal fence. And unlike most of the walls and fences we may picture his is more agrarian. His imagery is that of a sheepfold, an enclosure built to protect sheep.
And, Jesus doesn’t say, “I am the fence. I am the wall.” Instead–the gate. The gate, the door—it is the opening, it is the way in and the way out. It is interesting Jesus doesn’t ever say, “I am the gate which is/will be shut and locked.” That is a gate that can give us all the security and safety, but that’s not what Jesus is about.
This night is Ash Wednesday, a day in the church that frankly is not terribly popular. I dare say we will never see the Christmas crowds fill the pews on Ash Wednesday. This day and its emphasis on our weakness, our fallenness, our brokenness, our human frailty is difficult. It is too difficult and painful for some. They would rather not face the reality of their mortality. Oh we know, up here in our heads that death is part of life. But when it comes to our own death or the death of those we love and cherish dearly. This is not something everyone wants to come face to face with, to have their noses rubbed in it, so to speak.
But that is exactly what we do this night. We rub ashes and dirt on our foreheads, on the outside to remember the dirt that is inside us, the anger the pain, the resentments, the fears, the sins, the prejudices, that we are sick, we will age, we will weaken, that we will not live forever, that we are broken.
I really believe that what is wrong with so much in this world is this denial. With all our diversions, our alcohol, drugs, gambling, violence are just different ways of building walls and fences to try to keep out this reality.
But Jesus is the gate. He is going to open a hole, a way in our defenses. The thing about Jesus isn’t that he is impervious and impenetrable. Jesus was not impervious to the brokenness of this world. The trust he had with his friends and family was broken as he was betrayed. The people who followed him broke away and bailed on him. His own body was bruised, his skin and flesh torn, bloodied, bruised, beaten he was broken. Jesus is broken, he is the broken gate for us, broken open. Broken open for all of us to come to, broken open for all of us to have life, life lived beyond scarcity, to have life lived abundantly beyond fear, beyond the safety of walls and fences. Jesus is the gate broken open for us. Amen.