Preached @ Grace Church, Georgetown, 5/15/11, John 10:1-10
e all know when we are doing something wrong. For almost all of us, except for those who suffer from some psychological deficit, we have an inner voice, or perhaps we think of it as a feeling deep within us that twinges and let’s us know, “Hey, there is something odd about what we are about to do.” And there are times in life when we choose not to listen, not pay attention and go full steam ahead. Afterwards, when we have had time to think, to reflect on what we had done, we can rationalize our way through having done the incorrect thing, or we can admit that we goofed. That voice, that twinge of feeling deep within us, is one of the things Jesus is talking about today in John’s Gospel: our ability to hear Jesus, to know Jesus, to follow Jesus.
All of our Easter Season Gospel selections this year have revolved around our ability to have faith in Jesus, recognize Jesus, hear and follow Jesus. The Sunday after the Feast of the Resurrection we had the accounts of Jesus appearing to the disciples and then a week later to Thomas. Neither the apostles nor Thomas believed until they saw the wounds. That account is about doubt, but more so about how we, as faithful Christians, come to believe, grow into our faith. And last week we were given the account of Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus until he performed the four-fold Eucharistic actions we do every Sunday: take, bless, break, give. And this week, we have Jesus describing himself as not only the shepherd, but the gate to the pasture, the gate to the Kingdom. He refers to himself as the gate five times in today’s Gospel passage.
These metaphors in John’s Gospel today, of the shepherd and the gate, go hand in hand with one another. The shepherd provides the image of God and the patient and constant care God has for us, even when we wander away from the fold. The image of the gate being an entry point into this pasture, this kingdom, gives us a sense of security and peacefulness into which God intends for us all to live. That phrase Jesus uses toward the end of our passage today “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” is a common and ancient Hebrew phrase: will come in and go out and find pasture. Jesus is talking about safety and peace and security and serenity provided by the gate that he embodies. And the final words to us by Jesus, that we “may have life and have it abundantly,” is Jesus’ usage of a Greek term that translates as a life that is vital and purpose-driven and spirit-filled…..These are very powerful images, powerful metaphors we are given to explore today.
These metaphors, these images that Jesus provides, which we are told were not understood, are referred to as a “figure of speech.” What that Greek word translated as “figure of speech” literally means is “proverb” and sometimes “parable”. So, Jesus’ voice, calling each of us by name to lead us to the kingdom….that voice that is known to each of us, can be thought of as a proverb, a parable. This intimacy to which Jesus refers, our knowing his voice, his knowing our individual names, is bringing us down the path of faith, of belief, of how we recognize Jesus’ involvement in our individual lives.
And Jesus uses the “I AM” phrase twice today. Remember that Jesus’ use of the I AM phrase is deeply offensive to the Pharisees and Sadducees, because of God’s saying to Moses “I AM who I AM.” Jesus is adopting God’s name for himself when he says “I am the gate for the sheep” and once again “I am the gate”…..very powerful images. This joining of the shepherd, the voice, and the gate, the entryway into the kingdom, are critical to the message we are called to consider in today’s Gospel selection.
One of those issues we are drawn to reflect upon is the question of whose voice do we listen to? If you believe the end-of–the-world folks who have descended upon this city and so many others, Jesus is coming to see us in six days: on 5/21/11. Now, I do not know much about these folks and their beliefs, and perhaps in six days I will rue my gentle mocking of their beliefs (but I think not), and yet are we to listen to them? Have they, somehow, figured out God’s intended purpose? I often wonder how those kind of extreme beliefs can take such strong root. It says a lot about a person to be able to stand in the middle of a large metropolitan area with a sign saying “Jesus is coming on May 21st” and withstand the taunting, or just as bad, the non-seeing ignoring to which these folks are regularly subjected. To whom have they listened? To whom do we listen?
How would we recognize Jesus, if perchance he arrives this coming Saturday, the 21st? How do we recognize Jesus today? If we accept the metaphor that we are all sheep, with this deep seated, this buried understanding that we will hear Jesus call us by name and then follow him into and out of this safe haven of a pasture….what does that mean for us, as a community of believers? How do we exist in a world, in a community, where we are all sheep waiting for Jesus to call us and lead us?
There is a developing theme this Easter Season of our ability “to come to believe” (as we heard two weeks ago), to recognize Jesus in sharing the four-fold Eucharistic action of taking, blessing, breaking and giving bread with each other. And we, as Jesus’ sheep, entering the kingdom through this belief and recognition of Jesus, become a community that dwells in love for one another rooted in that belief and recognition of Jesus and seeing Jesus in each other. We see Jesus in each other’s kindness. We hear Jesus in that voice inside our head directing us to right action, and chiding us for those times when we make a misstep. We feel the real presence of Jesus when we are joyfully living in our intentional Christian communities, reaching out to those who need, and who do not yet know that they need to be a part of this new life to which we all are a part.
This abundant life to which we are invited, this life that is in no way dull or disappointing, this life that instead is filled with vitality and purposefulness and the palpable presence of the Spirit, is available to all of us. We just need to tilt our head, listen to that sane, small voice….respond to the urge, that nudge, that tweak, to do that which is the right thing, and share it with our fellow community members. What if that voice, that nudge is Jesus’ calling us by name? Some deep-rooted, deeply implanted trigger given each of us by God, to help us step forward into this Kingdom, not away from it…..Our Gospel today is telling us to listen for the voice that calls us, be open to that nudge that prods us….to the Kingdom. Where those 5/21 “end-of-the-worlders” have missed the mark, is that we, as the body of Christ in the world today already see Jesus, know of the real presence of Jesus in our world, that Jesus is present in each of our lives….we see Jesus in each other’s actions and our own….in our listening to that sane small voice….in our responding to that Spirit-filled nudge….that voice, that nudge that is steeped in love and is a deep-rooted part of who we all are as people created in God’s image….And for that we can be eternally grateful.