Saturday, May 14, 2011

the good gate

Something different to post today. This is a partial sermon that I do not know how to end.


Psalm 23, John 10:1-10 – True shepherd/gate/ abundant life – it’s not about death –it’s about living now. It is polemical – it is part of an argument with ‘them’ – so it is compare and contrast. Jesus=true shepherd/true gate/true way. ‘Pharisees/false teachers = death/slaughter/restrictions/destruction.’ Abundant life is not – destruction, but excellent, superior, great in measure.


I bless and love this Sunday and all the songs and sheepy imagery – but guess what – we aren’t sheep. We are a little smarter, and probably more confused than sheep. Our lives are probably more conflicted and noisy than Jesus makes the existence of sheep out to be. Our lives are full of life things, much more than eating and sleeping and growing wool. Our lives – oh my goodness – our lives are full of worry, and questions and gray areas. At some time, we fear death, and poverty and loneliness, we feel empty and angry and stuck. And we have times of joy and fulfillment as well. We are so much more complex than sheep.

That’s okay, because the point of all these ovine metaphors in the Bible isn’t sheep. The point is that we are in need of something – our existence, our human core, our best selves need to be connected to the bigger picture, to meaning, to the divine. We live, and we suffer, and we need to understand our lives and our suffering in a big picture. We need a way, a gate and a guide, a shepherd.

You see, the whole Good Shepherd discourse begins in the midst of miracle and separation. Maybe we forget that, or never knew it, because we see the Good Shepherd so naturally as the one who keeps us from pain, the hero, the fairy tale comforter. The image does appeal to children. But these passages are really for adults, for those of us who find ourselves lost in the middle of our lives, and for those who find ourselves full of grace and joy and miracle.

Yes, it’s both the loss of community and new beginnings. All these great words about the Good, True, Noble shepherd and his path, gate, way – this great promise of abundant life – begin with the consequences of miracle.

These words follow the great story of the man born blind, who discovers not only his physical sight, but his spiritual vision in Jesus. The man worships Jesus – because of that is separated from his family and community. Jesus is speaking to that man, and to his disciples, and to also all those who have opposed him. The man without community is beginning a new life – coming into a new community – and these words are intended to guide and warn him. And we are like him – now alive in Christ through his death and resurrection.

So Jesus says: I am the gate – the right way. I am the one to listen to.

The point of the Good Gate is the identity of Jesus and the relationship of Jesus to his followers. To say ‘I am the Gate’ is like saying “I am the way, the truth and the life’ – Jesus is making a claim that he, and he alone, opens the door to the Father, provides the living water, secures the abundant life. His voice is the One Voice of Life.

Jesus uses the image of the shepherd calling out his sheep as a model for the believer who will walk in the way of the Light of God – not turning right or left, not straying, but attending to the voice, on the right path.

We live a world full of static: Some time ago (May 28, 2009), USA Today reported the findings of a 2009 survey by Qwest Communications in which respondents were asked how long they could last before feeling “antsy” about checking E-mail, instant messaging, or other social networking sites. Of those surveyed, 47% said they couldn’t last more than an hour…46% said they could only make it one day…and the remaining 7% said they could probably go a week without checking in.

We live in a world full of competing voices. There is a whole industry devoted to making you and me loyal consumers of one brand or another. This industry – media consultants – takes aim at our need to belong, our confusion about the meaning of life, our intrinsic spiritual orientation and attempts to use that to develop ‘loyalty beyond reason’ (Frontline) and ‘brand communities’.

We live in a world where huge stakes rest on our loyality, our choices. My struggle – I want a Dyson Vacuum cleaner. I want the DC25 Animal Ball to be exact. I really want this. It’s not rational. Consumer Report has plenty of vacuum cleaners that perform better and are cheaper on their list. But I want the $550 Dyson, not the Kenmore, not the Hoover, and not the 150 dollar Eureka! Why is this? Branding. I’ve been brand-marked. I’ve been brand-influenced. This is a small and funny example, of course, but it’s real.

That’s how it works – it’s subtle, it’s subliminal, and it’s real. Other voices call to us, other voices obscure or contradict the voice of the Master. I can name many versions of this: the call to self-love that tells us that being happy is everything – the call to anxious security that warns us that generosity is foolish. You can name these voices as well – we once called them sin.

Jesus knows that – he says: Don’t listen to them! Don’t listen to the false shepherds, the hawkers of rules and fear – don’t listen to the siren songs of self-fulfillment and self-love. That’s what Jesus is saying – listen to my voice. There is the good life of the brand identity – and there is the True Good Life of abundance that Jesus is promising.