The Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 15, 2011)

Lessons:Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1st Peter 2:19-25 St. John 10:1-10

Prayer of the Day: O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10:1 [Jesus said,] “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

St. John 10:1-10, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America).

Open Gates to God’s Grace

In my last church, the campus featured an inner courtyard, surrounded by buildings and concrete block walls. It had the feeling of a sanctuary — of a fortress — except for one thing: there were two entry points into the courtyard. Each featured a masonry arch with wrought iron gates. When the architect first presented the plans to the building committee there were concerns. Do we want to project the image that we are walled off from the world around us? Do we want to draw such a clear distinction between those who are inside and those who are outside? The architect had already considered that. “What you can’t see on these drawings,” he said, “is that both of these gates are permanently fixed open.”

Both gates permanently fixed open. What an image for the church! Here at Saint Peter, we have committed ourselves to being a welcoming community. Our welcome is general, inclusive and universal: all, indeed, are welcome here. That isn’t an easy commitment to make. Frankly, some people make us uncomfortable. There are some people with whom we disagree. It would be easier to keep them at arm’s distance, but far less faithful. We are called to offer a welcome that is as certain and as unrestricted as the one we ourselves have received. All are welcome here.

At the same time, our welcome is specific: it is a welcome into God’s love. Not just into this congregation. Not just into a vague sense of supportive community. Not just into a pleasant and inspiring experience on Sunday mornings. We are welcomed into God’s searing and redemptive love. A love that lays bare all of our imperfections and shortcomings; a love that forgives us; a love that redeems us; a love that heals us and empowers us for a new beginning.

This week’s Gospel lesson from the tenth chapter of St. John comes to us as a barrage of images. The shepherd enters through the gate (the thief climbs in). The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd. The sheep know (and follow) the shepherd’s voice. Jesus is the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by Jesus will be saved. Jesus comes, so that members of his flock will have abundant life. It is a mystifying collection of images and analogies that stand on their own, yet don’t always fit so well together. But combined with this week’s Psalm (Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…”), the message is clear. Jesus is the gate. His word is “welcome.” He invites us into the powerful presence and redeeming grace of God.

If Jesus is the gate, and his word is “welcome,” then our job is to help by holding open the door. Too often in the history of religions, the primary movement has been to bar the door. Regulations and limitations have been established, describing who is in and who is out. (And surprise-of-all-surprises: the ones articulating the regulations and limitations are always found to be on the inside!) But Christian faith does not find its heart in rules and regulations. Christian faith finds its heart in the radical, limitless, offensive grace of God. Jesus is the gate permanently fixed open, and his word is “welcome.” Our call is to join him in welcoming the world into God’s grace.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Were religious leaders of Jesus’ day barring the door, or opening the gate?
  2. What does the image of “sheep following the shepherd’s voice” mean to us today?
  3. What does the “abundant life” that Jesus mentions look like?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who makes me uncomfortable?
  2. When has someone surprised me with a warm welcome?
  3. How might I strengthen the welcome of my own church?