Gate to the Way and the Life 5-7-17

During the Easter season, we are concentrating on the teachings of the Gospel of John in which Jesus proclaims, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” There are a series of statements like this where Jesus says, “I AM the gate.” “I AM the vine,” “I AM the bread” and so one. I Am statements are inherently statements about the nature of God, since when Moses asks God who he should tell people spoke to him, God says, “Tell them I AM WHO I AM – YAHWEH, sends you. Listen in this passage for Jesus’ I AM statements.

John 10:1-10 “The truth of the matter is, whoever doesn’t enter the sheep fold through the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber. The one who enters through he gate is the shepherd of the sheep, the one for whom the keeper opens the gate.  The sheep know the shepherd’s voice; the shepherd calls them by name and leads them out. Having led them all out of the fold, the shepherd walks in front of them and they follow because they recognize he shepherd’s voice. They simply won’t follow strangers—They’ll flee from them because they don’t recognize the voice if strangers.” Even though Jesus used this metaphor with them, they didn’t grasp what he was trying to tell them. He therefore said to them again:  “The truth of the matter is, I am the sheep gate. All who came before me were thieves and marauders whom the sheep didn’t heed. I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be safe—you’ll go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, slaughter and destroy I came that you might have life and have it to the full.

Let’s take just a moment of silence and gratitude to reflect on how our lives have been full and abundant this past week. (silence)

May 7, 2017

Gate to the Way and the Life

“Who’s there?” I called into the darkness. “Who’s there?” I called down the steps. “Did you hear something? Who’s there?” Did you ever think you heard someone come into your house and get the willies because you weren’t expecting anybody? because something was just not right about the sound of somebody entering your house at that time of night?

We lock doors for a reason. I follow the example of my father in my house. Most nights before going to bed, I check the front door and the back door and the windows to make sure they are locked for the night. We want to keep our family safe.

Did you notice the two ‘I AM” statements in the passage? Jesus says in this passage, “I AM the gate, the sheep gate.” some translations say the door. Right after this passage, Jesus says the more familiar saying – so familiar that we hear it even when Jesus calls himself a gate:  “I AM the shepherd.” The shepherd and the gate are two very different entities, but they have in common that they keep the sheep safe. They are images of security. If we think of ourselves as the sheep, the image of God or Jesus watching over us as a shepherd, can be a comforting image – (as long as we don’t think about how the sheep get fleeced and eaten in the end.) The analogy of the gate has a further implication of being an entrance, a way in or a way out of the sheep pen or the dwelling.

This image of Jesus being the shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep if necessary is one we celebrate every year on this fourth weekend of Easter. As we begin our sermon series on the Way and the Life, I’ve been thinking about the image of Jesus as the gate to abundant life, as showing us the way to the fullest life possible.

Anybody who has taken an Intro to Psychology class knows about the Maslow hierarchy of needs chart. Maslow was a psychologist who made this chart to show that people have basic needs that need to be met before higher needs can even be considered. Hunger or thirst take priority as a bottom line need. If our physiological needs are met, human beings can focus on security and safety. Once we feel safe, we can focus on our needs for companions, for love and family. And only after we have that kind of community are we really able to work on self-esteem and regard for others. Finally, we reach a point where we can work on what Maslow calls self-actualization which includes spirituality, and truly ethical living.

People actively trying to work on a level of ethical living or mutual regard can easily come into conflict with folks who are simply worried about their own security or basic needs and having trouble thinking about anything more than that. Those basic needs must be satisfied somehow to be able to think about those other things that Jesus was so passionate about — so sometimes it’s hard for people to think beyond building a wall or a fence to try to stay safe, even when that is not truly what will make for a better society. Every world religion calls it’s followers to care for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger. We’re in a difficult time where our leaders are more focused on security and safety than on caring for the vulnerable – for health and education

I went to a wonderful workshop at Bryn Mawr College on Thursday put on by the Social Justice Initiative of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work. Three speakers spoke. One speaker revealed that when he was young an intruder entered his house and killed his mother. A second speaker talked about losing her son to gun violence. Another spoke about being 12 years old and witnessing his father shoot and kill his mother. You would think that they would have been talking about the need for security, selling locks or doors, the need to make our lives safer. Each one of them was talking, amazingly enough, about the need for forgiveness.

They each have had experiences that can leave one challenged for the rest of their lives, stuck at a place of fear and insecurity – trying to do anything to build a wall against their fears or their grief. Each of these speakers talked about their journey as a journey of forgiveness. The man who lost his mother in a home invasion spoke about forgiveness as the only way he could become healthy, so that he could not satisfy the most basic needs of his life without using grace which we usually think of as a spiritual ability.

The woman who lost her son said that forgiving her son’s killer didn’t mean that what he did was ok, just that she would not allow what that person did control her life. She intends to live to find a way to challenge the death culture around her and to live the life her son has not been allowed to live.

And the man who saw his mother killed when he was 12 years old was the most profound of all. He talked about forgiveness as one of the 7 sacraments of the church, and he said it took him a long time to develop the strength and fortitude to forgive his father. He talked about the time 20 years after the murder of his mother when he decided it was time for him to seek revenge and to kill his father. But when he found himself in the position to kill his father, he recognized his frailty and his age and he found a deeper truth in himself that called him back to life.

He spoke about finally being able to introduce his children to their grandfather a few months before he died, as the way in which he knew he was finally able to forgive him and to live in a deeper kind of peace with himself.

As we come to the communion table, we are called to think about who it is in our lives that we need to forgive, what we need to make right in order to bring our lives into the Way of the Living Christ, into the fullness of abundant living. Jesus invites us to find the security in God as shepherd, in God as the gate to a way of living that allows us to get beyond our most basic fears and insecurity.