The Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 7, 2017, Solemn Mass, Sermon by the Reverend Dr. Peter R. Powell
I Am the Gate
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. 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.”
It’s nice to be back to Gospels of reasonable length! A couple of caveats as I begin wrestling with this text. As I was preparing for this morning’s sermon an article I read cautioned me to look at the text before me and not the text for 4th Easter next year, John 10:11-18 the story of the Good Shepherd. Today’s text talks about Jesus being the gate and gatekeeper, not the shepherd. The image is a little muddled since he is both gate and gatekeeper and shepherd is mentioned; nevertheless, today I will focus on Jesus as the Gate. Easter 4’s Gospel is always from John 10 and it is known as Good Shepherd Sunday but really only next year is totally about the Good Shepherd.
The 2nd caveat is that when I look at the Gospel my bias is to look at the Gospel as I find it and not read the teachings of theology back into it. This might be startling this morning since we’re accustomed to think of the Trinity as the ordinary way that Christians understand the Godhead. I accept the Trinity but I know three years ago when I preached from this pulpit on Trinity Sunday I confounded and disappointed some, and they told me I’d let them down, when I said that I accepted the Trinity and that was all I was going to say about it. Nothing has changed. I accept the Trinity as the Christian way of understanding how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are related, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
To understand what Jesus is saying in much if not all of John, and especially this morning, we need a different understanding of Jesus’s relationship with the Father. While what I’m about to say can be tempered and usually is my reading of John supports an understanding of hierarchy that challenges our common understanding of the Trinity. Jesus is clear throughout John that everything he has comes from the Father and he is subordinate to the Father. He is dependent upon the Father. Yes, he is the coeternal force used to create the World, he is the Word and he will identify himself by the name God uses when God reveals Godself to Moses, I Am, but this morning Jesus is giving himself into another reality. He is the gate. He is subordinate, crucial, but he is God’s as one scholar writes, honest broker with us.
So Jesus is clear this morning that he is the Gate. He is the access to abundant life. Elsewhere Jesus has a lot to say about the amendment of life necessary to be saved but not this morning. This morning Jesus wants us to know that following him assures us that we will have life abundantly. He doesn’t otherwise qualify it. We hear his voice, we follow him and we enter into the abundant life by going through the Gate.
Not only is he the Gate but nowhere in this Gospel does he say that the Gate is difficult to find or to get through. Jesus is amazingly open to inviting anyone who recognizes his voice through the gate. Jesus practices a radical theology of abundance. There is enough salvation, enough life, for all of us to enjoy it abundantly. In this image Jesus is challenging the fear that characterizes the rest of our lives. Is this an eschatological challenge, that is, does it only treat eternal life or is it a here and now challenge and therefore does it affect how I live my life today? If you’ve heard me before you know I believe it is an existential challenge to be met today.
Salvation, abundant life, is not a scarce resource. If we are Christian and believe this then we are asked to model what it means for Jesus to be the Gate by being the Gate ourselves. Do we do that? Or do we live as if we’re in a time of scarce resources in which your having something means that there is less for me to have? Do we as Christians live as if there is so much joy in our lives because we know the Gate and we know we’ll go through it that we treat everyone we meet regardless of their racial, geographical, economic or social background as welcome to go through the Gate too? Or do we rationalize and say that this is an eschatological gate and we need to be ready for everyone to get through when they die but right now resources are pinched and it is necessary for France to be First, or Britain to be First, or America to be First, because frankly being second is for losers?
As I read the Gospels they are primarily about how we live this life. They are about how we demonstrate today that we know that all that is of most importance, our salvation, is assured so we can risk a theology of abundance now and let everyone through the Gate. We don’t need walls whether of steel, concrete, wire or fear. We need ways for people to come to us. I was amazed in the NewsHour reports this week on South Sudan to hear the Ugandans saying that all refugees are welcome in their country. Uganda is hardly a wealthy country but it remembers being war-torn and it is open to refugees. We need to learn from them. They are the gate by practicing radical hospitality. They aren’t deporting people; they’re welcoming them. They are caring. We are called to actively care for everyone for whom Christ died and help them through the Gate, in this life not simply the next. We are called not to fear them, exclude them or limit them but to behave believing in abundance that there is enough for all of us to have. That is what Jesus means when he says he’s the Gate. He doesn’t mean simply that living however we live we can rest assured that there is cheap grace and we’ll squeak through the Gate at the end. As I read the Gospels they’re concerned with today not tomorrow.
I have no idea what life after death will look like. When asked I invariably refer people to C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Most depictions of eternal life bore me. I don’t want to lead existence listening to or being part of a heavenly choir. I trust that God has something else in mind. I do have a good idea of what difference following the Gospel would make in this life and I am convinced, faithful and devoted to saying that it means that my life conforms to Christ’s, the Gate, when I model my life on his. I fall short of this but life’s a journey and I pray that my ability to conform will improve with time. I know that I chose my parents well. I selected a prosperous country and time to be born in. In other words I won the genetic and prosperity lottery. That of course is absurd. I didn’t earn my parents, my citizenship or anything else. I was born white, Christian, straight and privileged. If I can’t give that away then I have achieved nothing in my life. I gain no meaning and I compromise the Gospel when I fail to be as welcoming as the Gate in today’s Gospel is. I pray that we will all walk through it and model how we live on conforming our lives today to opening gates in this world to model the destination and our confidence in abundance now.
 Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., “”I Am the Door” (John 10:7, 9): Jesus the Broker in the Fourth Gospel.” CBQ, 69/2 (2007) 271-291. Also James P Martin, “John 10:1-10”, Interpretation, 32/2 (1978) 171-174.
 My understanding of the relationship of the Prologue to the rest of John would take longer to explain than this sermon can accommodate.