Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus is Your Gate” (John 10:7-9)
May 7, 2017
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday.
Scripture often refers to God as our shepherd—“The Lord is my shepherd” we read in the first verse of Psalm 23. And seven centuries before Christ the Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied that the coming Messiah would “feed his flock like a shepherd” and “gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom” (40:11).
In the New Testament Jesus is identified as “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), “the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25), and “the chief shepherd” (1 Peter 5:3). In fact, Jesus identifies himself as “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11 and 14) who leaves the ninety-nine sheep that are safe to find the one sheep that is lost (Luke 15:2-7).
And in today’s gospel lesson Jesus also identifies himself, twice in fact, as “the gate”:
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 (John 10:7-9, italics added).
One of my all-time favorite comedy movies is the classic 1984 film entitled This is Spinal Tap, a documentary that director Rob Reiner describes as a “rockumentary” about the life of the fictitious British rock band, Spinal Tap. It is a hysterical satire on the ridiculousness of the 80’s rock ‘n roll lifestyle. About halfway through the film the band is preparing to go onstage in Cleveland. They can hear the crowd cheering and chanting their name, “Spinal Tap! Spinal Tap!” The band, sporting their big hair, has donned their spandex outfits, and they are pumping their fists in the air and rehearsing what they will yell to the crowd—“Rock ‘n roll! Hello Cleveland!” But as they try to go onstage they get lost backstage, very lost.
As they keep trying to find the stage in their own power, they keep running into one dead end after another. As the frustration mounts for Spinal Tap, it becomes funnier and funnier. At one point they encounter a maintenance worker. They ask him for directions, and he mumbles the following convoluted response:
You go right straight through this door here, down the hall, turn right, and then there’s a little jog there—about thirty feet—jog to the left, go straight ahead, turn right at the next two corners and you’ll see a sign on a door, “Authorized People Only”—open that door, that’s the stage.
The band nods its collective head in relief, “Thank you very much! Rock ‘n roll! Here we go! Hello Cleveland!” But, you guessed it, they get lost again. After taking various twists and turns backstage, they find themselves right back in the presence of the same maintenance worker, who just looks at them like they are complete idiots, which of course was not far from the truth.
In your life, have you ever gotten lost backstage? In your own power have you ever tried to find the right door, following whatever convoluted directions you have heard, only to find yourself going in circles, arriving at one dead end after another? It can be hilarious in movies, not so much in real life.
Last year country music superstar Miranda Lambert found herself lost backstage as she went through a painful divorce from Blake Shelton, who left her for someone else, which provided abundant fodder for the tabloids. But recently at the Academy of Country Music Awards she brought the house down with a vulnerable solo acoustic version of her song “Tin Man”, written in the aftermath of her divorce. See if you can relate to this:
Hey there Mr. Tin Man
You don’t know how lucky you are
You shouldn’t spend your whole life wishing
For something bound to fall apart
Every time you’re feeling empty
Better thank you lucky stars
If you ever felt one breaking
You’d never want a heart
Hey there Mr. Tin Man
You don’t know how lucky you are
I’ve been on the road that you’re on
It didn’t get me very far
You ain’t missing nothing
‘Cause love is so darn hard
Take it from me, darling
You don’t want a heart
Hey there Mr. Tin Man
I’m glad we talked this out
You can take mine if you want it
It’s in pieces now
By the way there, Mr. Tin Man
If you don’t mind the scars
You give me your armor
And you can have my heart
(From her 2016 album, The Weight of These Wings)
Scripture tells us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6). In other words, every single one of us has been lost backstage, often with a broken heart. Maybe that is the case with some of you here today. But scripture also tells us how Jesus responds to those lost backstage: “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
And out of that place of compassion, Jesus’s words to those lost backstage are very simple, very clear: “I am the gate,” Jesus says, “Whoever enters by me will be saved” (John 10:9). “I am the gate.”
And as is the case with every one of Jesus’ “I am” sayings in John’s account of the gospel—like “I am the light of the world,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life”—John uses a Greek phrase—ego eimi—which is literally translated “I, I am.” John is not being redundant, but rather hearkening back to Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, when God referred to himself as “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14).
In other words, when Jesus says, “I am the gate,” he is again revealing that he is God—that the right door to a relationship with God, the right door for all those lost backstage with a broken heart, is none other than God himself.
And the One who says, “I am the gate” is also the Good Shepherd, who sees you and all the ways you are “helpless and harassed” in your life, all the ways you are lost backstage, and is moved with compassion.
One of the roles of shepherds in Jesus’ day was to guard the sheep pen. Biblical scholar Merrill Tenney describes what this looked like:
When the sheep returned to the fold at night after a day of grazing, the shepherd stood in the doorway of the pen and inspected each one as it entered. If a sheep were scratched or wounded by thorns, the shepherd anointed it with oil to facilitate healing; if the sheep were thirsty, he gave them water…After all the sheep had been counted and brought into the pen, the shepherd lay down across the doorway so that no intruder—man or beast—could enter without his knowledge. The shepherd became the door (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 9, 108).
And that is what Jesus does for each one of you. Jesus does not inspect you looking for all your flaws, all the ways you fall short—he is already fully aware of those things, as are you. Jesus does not give you a lecture about why you are lost backstage. And Jesus certainly does not give you convoluted directions that will send you in circles.
Instead, Jesus your Good Shepherd looks for the places where you have been scratched or wounded by the thorns of life, the places where you are thirsty on the inside, the places in your life where your heart has been broken—and in those very places Jesus anoints you with grace, mercy, forgiveness, unconditional love. In fact, in his death on the cross Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, including you—and became the gate for all the brokenhearted in the world lost backstage, including you. “I am the gate,” Jesus said, “Whoever enters by me will be saved.”
And the Risen Good Shepherd, Jesus, is your gate, and even now gently beckons you by name to follow him.