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. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again, Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 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.” [NRSV]
Sheep Herding Risk
Very few if any of us will shepherd sheep. We are much more likely to have cows, dogs, or cats. We may not have a herd, but we know the risk of opening the door or the gate and allowing out pets to go out. All manner of dangers awaits out the gate or door. from the mechanical, mischievous, and manageable ones. The coyotes that boarder our properties lay in wait. Driver speeding though neighborhood and country roads are distracted. Air borne contagions blowing at our windows and doors.
We found ourselves on the verge of leaving our shelter-at-home and wonder about the risk of opening ourselves to the risk of being exposed to infections and re-infections of the virus, and all manors of evil, sin, brokenness, grief, hurt and suffering. If I were charged with herding sheep today, the herd would be at great risk. I lack the experience.
Have you ever reflected upon the great risk God has entrusted in us? God has no desire nor need for smart robots to do God’s work or give God praise as a programed creation. God has made us from love, hoping that we would choose to love and trust God in return, and to show that love and trust to one another. We certainly fail, and God is gracious. God offers himself as the gate and door through that love and trust.
God risks children in the garden of Edan to be trusting of God’s graciousness and single command. The Tree in the middle of the garden is the central figure of that divine-human trust. God provides without request everything that we would need, surrounded in love and relationship, and asks of us to trust God more than we trust ourselves.
The sin in the garden is upon hearing something different from God’s instruction, that we forfeit our life in the moment of curiosity, disobedience, or selfishness.
What if the story had Adam and Eve exploring the garden together, and when confronted by the diversion of the slick talking snake, that they asked each other before acting alone? Of if divided on what to do in a giving situation asked God directly, what to do or what are the consequence of our choices, thoughts and actions. If we have learned anything in this time of quarantine, may it be that we need each other more than we ever realized.
I am the Gate
As our eternal remedy to sin and misplaced trust and the forfeit of our lives, Jesus offers himself as the gate, the way, back to God.
We think back the garden of Eden passage and know that after the failing to trust and communion, God sends Adam and Eve out, and set an angel with a sword to close the entrance back into the garden.
While this is a fearful and passionate scene, their thoughts, actions, and choices bore fruit of rejecting God, trusting themselves above God’s heart and instruction. The consequence should have been death. But God continue to love them, and loves us even when we sin and reject by our thoughts, actions and choices.
All those who came before were not the way.
Jesus makes it plain to disciples. There are those who USE God’s trust and love are thieves and robbers. We like to blame the devil or find someone to blame for our irresponsibility with our lives. We want to blame our leaders, the wealth people and corporations. We find it easy to blame governments, but remember we are the one’s who selected to lead us.
Too many people are overwhelmed by the deep fighting in our political parties. One side blaming the other, day after day. Answer this question before we move on: If all the time, energy, and passion that we given to find the correct person or party to blame would be refocused on holding each other accountable to God’s love and trust. We would reopen to the doors of trust between each other, and with God.
The reality is we don’t. It is easy to point fingers, find flaws, and get rid of that which we in our own way. If you have a problem with me as a neighbor, as a friend, as a pastor, as a human being: is it better to gather our like-minded friends and supports and being to get me out their way or to sit down together, talk through our struggle and find the consensus of how to love and work together. I choose the latter and reject the former.
But how to do ever get to that place where we can restore trust, love, and relationship. Many times, we don’t but there is a way. Many times, we listen to others who offer what is easy in the moment, or less challenging of ourselves, and we steam ahead into campaigns of righteousness that robe our relationships of trust and love.
The church has placed on the second burning its goal of division in a time of pandemic. I pray that we have found in this time apart, a time of prayer, study and renewal, and return to impending threats of division with the confession that we have closed our hearts to those who think differently that we think and believe. In place of this division may we have a return to the heart of God and see that God has both an open-door policy of accepting sinners ALONG WITH an angel of accountability and consequence for misplaced trust. Our hope lies in the one who is the doorway, the gate.
The Gateway to Salvation
Those who enter by the gate of Christ find life, fulfillment, wholeness, belonging and salvation. If the great risk for God was for Adam and Eve to understand trust, love, and grace, then taking their lives for one action would end the whole expression of God. God is more interested in our relationship than our past. It is the great BOTH/AND.
God knows that we continue to make poor choices, we continue to surrender our lives for our own sake and not God’s. God knows that we seek ill toward some. God know we are hesitant to forgive those who have trespassed against us. God know we only look at the manna we need for the day or a few days ahead, and that we grow tired and bored without the Garden, the trust, the ongoing work of the relationship.
God entrusts Adam and Eve with the work of faith and trust. All the other tasks and responsibilities were taken by God. The shelter-at-home has been a change at our household. We have shared more tasks and been forced to learn better communication and interdependence. We have find an ever great need to pray and seek each other’s grace, forgiveness and contributions. God is hoping in our time, that the Garden where we trust God and We work to be faithful, loving and trust of God and one another is fully known. Knowing how hard that is we have a clear picture of why we need the risen Lord in our lives.
The Big Risk
The gate is open to all. God has been about boundaries and grace throughout history. The Ten Commandments are boundary markers that let us know when we have crossed the lines of God’s expectation for our relationship with God, family and the world. The consequences may appear to have differing degrees, but frankly each has a ripping and separating effect on our trust and love of God.
We need to reclaim the GRACE that God has both boundaries of our thoughts, behaviors, and choices, and the GRACE to come running to him to restore our broken trust, love and forfeits of our lives.
Robber and thieves are sneaking if they are good at their vocations. The work in darkness. They come when we are absent. The take when we are not looking or paying attention. They distract and are persistent without compassion or concern for the value of others and their belongings.
God is risking to love, trust, and restore us knowing that we are just as likely to work in darkness, to be absent from God’s presence, absent from supporting and encouraging one another. We are likely to tire with our attention, we are easily distracted, we give up on persistence and looking ourselves when pressed.
If that does not prove God’s love for us, there is the clearest gift, that God lays down his life in Christ, for us, as the bridge, the gate, the passage, the ability to restore our relationship. God is willing to give his life for ours. That is the supreme gift of trust.
The Instruction to Disciples
What do we take from this parable? We not only see what great love God has for us, we also see how we are to love and trust one another. We see how we become gateways to Christ for others. And it is a BOTH / AND relationship.
While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.. While we are deserving of the world’s criticism that just a bunch of sinners, God is still working to transform our hearts, our faith, our trust, our relationships.
The church is the body of Christ, BOTH crucified and risen. We have a marks of sin and we also have the life, the hope, the joy, the trust, and love of God that gives us life, and life that is abundant.
Join me in naming someone who need to hear this BOTH / AND message and tell them this week.