My parents have a farm that has been their retirement dream since I was a little girl. I love to help with the animals. One of my favorite things to do is help my dad open a gate for new grass. The herd kicks up their heels with excitement at this new horizon every time. (It’s not like they are starving… they actually are fed quite well..but as they say “the grass is always greener on the other side.”)
If we could just as easily accept such simple gifts with such delight.
If we could slow down and just be: trust.
I think a lot of what Jesus is saying to the pharisees in this story about the shepherd has to do with trust. The sheep hear his voice and they trust. Trust is the relationship that is natural to a loving and trustworthy God.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It comes every year. We hear the famous parable that Jesus offers and we listen to Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd.
It is important to remember that in the Gospel Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees just after he has healed the blind man. It isn’t clear why these two stories are separated from one another, because this passage is a continuation of the conversation Jesus is having with the pharisees on that day.
If you remember: The blind man hears Jesus voice and listens to him. Jesus and the disciples come across the blind man by the side of the road and everyone is debating what he had done to born blind - and whether his parents did something terrible for their son to have been born blind.
Jesus says neither one.
He intends to intervene, But the disciples are concerned because it is the Sabbath when no one can work. The Pharisees are appalled that Jesus would do so. He is breaking the rules…But Jesus says, while I am in the world I am the light of the world.
“6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”
The man who was blind listened to his voice.
Jesus is impressing upon the Pharisees that life and abundance and healing is for all time and for all of us.
As the famous saying goes: “for those with ears to listen!”
In this Gospel Jesus uses a lot of metaphors to get this idea across: Sheep, Shepherds, gate keepers, gates…
The pharisees are confused… Which one is he?
I sort of think of it as Jesus trying to relate the different trusting aspects of a loving and trusting God to a shepherding metaphor …and ratcheting it up as he goes.
Eventually, he is fed up and exclaims: “don’t you get it?!
I am the gate!”
…he represents the gate to abundant life that is God’s gift to us…
…Not human made rules that wall and divide us with cruelty and judgment.
Although we associate psalm 23 with funerals, the psalm which talks about the good shepherd is about the promise of life (which is always Jesus’ first priority).
The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not be in want.
He revives my soul
Surely his goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
Psalm 23 is pastoral and comforting and speaks to life everlasting, but it also speaks very specifically to life now.
Abundant life is a life that is safe from predation, life that is nourishing with food and water, places to rest, places for revival and restoration.
That life is God’s promise.
The gate then in this story is almost synonymous with psalm 23s vision of abundant life… The gate provides closure for protection, for rest and revival. It also provides an opening and opportunity for newness of life, nourishment and abundance. That is its own kind of revival.
Revival is the improvement and betterment of our lives.
Jesus wants us to live into this revival.
Jesus is the gate to that life; We know him also as the light, and the way.
While he is in this world, he is the light of the world. I”m going to show you that loving way.
Jesus is not offering to construct a wall, or put a barbed wire fence, rather he is saying that he will be with the sheep building trust, for and with one another, embracing everyone. He is a guiding light, offering safe passage to a better life.
When Jesus tells this story to the pharisees who were suspicious of his healing a blind man on the sabbath, Jesus throws at them this metaphor which is a direct connection to the prophecy of Ezekial: The Lord will be Israel’s Shepherd. The Pharisees know this metaphor. Ezekiel was writing about the destruction of Israel in the 500s BCE. And Jesus is reminding these leaders that they are not being good trustworthy loving shepherds. In fact his metaphor is quite biting… because anything less than love we can recognize as thieves and bandits (stealing the joy of abundance from us).
According to Ezekiel “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. … I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. …16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
This is what Jesus has just modeled with the blind man. True justice. The justice of love. It is his model for how we may live with abundance. Open your ears and then your eyes may be opened.
Jesus is actually all of the metaphors he offers us in the parable…. Borrowing from writer Raj Bharat Patta : “The gate stays with his sheep as a lamb, opens the gates as a gatekeeper, and leads the sheep as a shepherd in caring for the world. As followers of ‘Jesus the gate,’ Christians are called to be a source of sanctuary, open to all people, particularly those seeking refuge(e), by offering care, trust, freedom and love. It is through such action ‘Jesus the gate’ comes alive today.
For those with ears to hear listen!…
This passage from John is considered part of the Farewell Discourses. It is one of the conversations that Jesus has with the Disciples on Maundy Thursday actually. So why are we hearing it again in Easter?
This is the Season when we are reading about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. Some say Acts should be called "the Acts of the Holy Spirit" because it is the Spirit that lives through the early church …and continues to today. This is Resurrection Life.
The martyring of Steven is a grisly story that mirrors the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The early Christian Community in the Book of Acts is described as having singleness of heart. They shared their possessions - and their works were aligned with their beliefs.
The community of followers was growing, but also the way of life for the larger community at the time was being threatened on many fronts; Roman occupation, unfair taxation, different ideas. The community was not just in disagreement, but afraid and so angry that they want after Stephen as a mob.
Stephen is executed illegally for his beliefs, stoned to death by an angry mob. He was not given a hearing. The intolerance was real and it had devastating consequences. It fits with us in Easter because it is a story of the early church, but it also mirrors Jesus’s crucifixion. Stephen even repeats Jesus’s words…”While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Sound familiar?] Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he said this he died [Sound Familiar?].
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says “forgive them father for they know not what they do”… and… “into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
The book of Acts reveals the Holy Spirit moving through the early church. We see it in Stephen.
The Spirit that Jesus gave them.
The Spirit of Peace
The Spirit with the power to forgive.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Jesus says that in his father’s house there are many dwellings. I believe forgiveness is a key to these dwellings spaces.
This passage is often read at funerals, but Jesus is not just speaking of death, but of life, and not just some far off idea of life eternal, but life eternal in the now. It is very intimate and real. It is life and life lived abundantly, it is active.
It is following in the footsteps (as the collect says)…and using "the Gate” (as Jesus says).
Do you remember last week: Jesus refers to himself as the “gate.”
Here he goes on to say no one comes to the Father except through me. Emphasis on the word through. I am the gate.
Jesus is not talking about understanding God intellectually or by “going through the (ritualistic) motions.” Jesus is talking about integrating this relationship with God experientially.
Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life” offers not simply a model of behavior, but a “gate,” an expansive opening that comes when the heart and the mind are aligned. We refer to it as “singleness of heart.”
Singleness of Heart includes a lot of forgiveness..
Singleness is both the act of giving and the act of receiving.
Jesus says that within my father’s house there are many dwelling places. Forgiveness is the key to the gate: The gate of life. It will help us recognize these spaces within the community, within one another that allow for thriving, for dwelling, for refuge (as the psalm speaks of today).
To experience life abundantly, eternal life, is to help us recognize God’s life as our life. Jesus says that I am in the father and the father is in me.
In other places he says that you are in me and I am in you and we are all in the father.
This is the “infinite presence of God - the eternal pouring itself out as the reality of ourselves.” (James Finley)
There are many dwelling places, in each one of us. Sometimes recognizing the infinite presence of God is easiest in the Spring.
I can’t help but be reminded of God in the face of every budding flower. Each one with its own song, singing “God dwells here.”
Contemplative, Meister Ekhart said “Every creature is like a book filled with God.” [There are many dwelling places.]
“God is infinitely generous in opening the gate and giving it away…
And Meikart says “We are the act of receiving… it is not simply performative. It is what we are…”
“Our very being is God in Action giving.” (James Finley)
It is this singleness of heart that we sometimes feel in a flash when we experience something beautiful, intense, or painful, but poignant. We recognize home. Recalling: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Jesus finally says to them, if you can’t get this just yet… if you can’t simply believe this, then “believe in me because of the works themselves.” (The goodness that we do).
It is the singleness of heart that we share when we forgive one another - and when we receive forgiveness. It is the singleness of heart that Stephen showed in his life as in his death.
It is the singleness that Jesus came to teach through his life and his death.
And Jesus says we will do even greater works than he has done.
That is the power of the Spirit…
To give and to receive…
To dwell in the presence of the Lord.
That is the power of Easter!