A sermon for Easter 4
Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10, Psalm 23,
It’s shepherd Sunday. Only Jesus says next to nothing about shepherds, and he proclaims I am the gate. All of which is very confusing; is John saying something about us as sheep, which isn’t necessarily a complement given sheep’s reputation as rather dumb animals; or is he inarticulately setting up Jesus as the shepherd; or is he saying something about God, after all who is the gatekeeper? or is he taking on the Jewish leadership with all the language about thieves and bandits who come in by another way; just what is John up to?
Part of coming to understanding was the structure of Gail O’Day’s commentary on John, which puts the story of the man born blind and this morning’s story in the same section. That is perfectly natural, this morning’s reading beginning with chapter 10:1 follows chapter 9’s story of Jesus healing the man born blind, and the responses of everybody who witnessed, or heard about it. It is O’Day’s belief that the sheepfold story is commentary on the healing. It does follow John’s style of miracle, dialogue, and discourse. Knowing that healing the blind man sets the context of today’s reading let’s review it. Only briefly,it was our Gospel reading six weeks ago.
A man blind from birth is healed by Jesus on a Sabbath. The disciples want to know if his or his parents’ sin was the cause of his blindness. The people who first see him with his sight restored are divided; is it really him, or someone who looks like him. The Pharisees are divided about Jesus; some say he is a sinner because he doesn’t observe Sabbath, others say he must be from God no one else could do such divine works. His parents are divided, wanting to support their son, but afraid of being excluded from the synagogue and thereby the community by supporting Jesus. The conflict in the story escalates ending with the man whose sight is restored being driven from town; (note: Jesus does find him, and introduces himself as the Son of Man giving him assurance;) and the Pharisees being chastised by Jesus: when they ask him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” and he replies: If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
The entire story is about Jesus’ identity, and those who acknowledge, see, or believe, and those who do not; and the behaviors that follow. Chapter 10 begins with Jesus speaking to his disciples about how people enter a sheepfold; the shepherd enters through the gate, everyone else, thieves and bandits enter by other means. We rush to the familiar images of the 23rd psalm, Jesus as the shepherd, the older images from Ezekiel of God as shepherd, and Israel as the flock. We skip right over knowing voices, strangers, and following or running away. If we’d stay just in this morning’s tight text, I bet we’d be just as confused as the disciples are. But perhaps that is not all bad.
If we admit our confusion, then we create the opportunity to hear Jesus’ reply: 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.
There are three bits here to focus on: Jesus as the gate, those who came before, and abundant life. We might as well start with the gat. And I have to admit, I really wish I had a projector and could flash a bunch of gate images, encouraging you to choose the one you imagine Jesus to be. I’d being setting you up for the same surprise I received when I went to Webster’s and looked up ‘gate’. Anybody want to venture a guess? I was surprised to read: “gate: an opening in a wall or fence.” [i] “An opening”, not the plain to fancy stuff, that swings to and fro but the opening, the way in. Of course I jumped to Jesus’ statement I am the way, the truth, the life but that is next week’s Gospel. These two cannot be totally separated, so we will stick to gate, opening, and way.
Imagine an enclosed area. You would like to be inside, and so you seek out the gate, an opening in the wall, or whatever barrier is keeping you out, a way in. Imagine that area to be God’s presence, and that our sins, humanities’ sin, individually and collectively, our community’s, our government’s behavior that separates us from God, and keeps us on the other side of the wall. You know the image, it’s one of the oldest stories in our spiritual library; the one where Adam’s and Eve’s behavior separates them from God’s glory, God’s presence. It ends with a barrier being placed between them, between us, humanity, and God. It’s the end story of the garden, the closing story of our creation epic. However, it is not the last story in scripture, not the last story of our broken relationship with God.
The bible reveals that from the very moment of separation God begins seeking a way to tear down the wall. Finally God decides to come do it God’s self, comes to us incarnate in Jesus, and as we just heard, is the whole in the wall, the gate through which we see our way to move into God’s glory, into God’s presence.
“All those who came before” is an explicit reference to the Jewish leadership, who is charged with bringing God’s people into God’s presence, but, who have for many complex very human reasons, gotten things so messed up they cannot even recognize the Son of Man in their very presence healing humanity, restoring us all to wholeness with God. It’s a condemnation of any leadership whose behaviors are: self-serving, or exclusionary of the least of God’s people, or anything that blinds themselves and God’s people from seeing the gate, the hole in wall through which lies abundant life.
And, as Jesus says: it’s all so that they, that we, that all God’s people, and as you’ve heard me repeatedly say this is literally everyone, may have life, and have it abundantly. This is no 138% of poverty, its abundant life for all.
We live in a created universe. By our ancient and continued hubris in trying to be like God, we are separated all creation from God’s presence. For millennia the wall endures. During which God’s love relentlessly pours out to us. But we could not see, we could not hear, we could not divine glory. So God acted. Jesus, the eternally present Word, left the sheep fold. He taught about justice and righteousness. He showed the wonderful works of God. He reveals himself to be the gate, the hole in the wall, through which we return to glory, dwelling in God’s house, God’s presence forever. Is it story hard to understand? perhaps, but it’s a story we can see our way clear to put your faith in; it’s a story to trust.
cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is May 11, 2014 (Ordinary Time)
Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Acts 2:42-47, Scott Hoezee
The Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 10:1-10, Scott Hoezee
Psalm 23, Doug Bratt
I Peter 2:19-25, Stan Mast
episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwo rk.com/stw/2014/04/29/4-easter-a-2014/, the Very Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier
Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1993 1/4, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 10:1-10 Karoline Lewis
INTERPRETATION A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching, JOHN A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, Gerard S. Sloyan
The New Interpreter’s Bible THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS, GAIL R. O’DAY
The New Interpreters One Volume Commentary, David L. Petersen, Beverly R Gaventa
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Walter Harrelson