Monday, May 8, 2017

Going Through That Gate

John 10:1-10
May 7, 2017

When we have our bible studies in Council or other meetings,
one of the questions we ask is
what is Jesus (or God, or the Holy Spirit) doing here?
Face of SheepDiane Whitehead
Why is Jesus doing or saying 
what he’s doing or saying?
So what is Jesus doing here?
Why does he tell his disciples 
and us about this sheepy stuff?
What does he mean when he says 
“I am the gate”, Jesus says
“whoever enters by me will be saved.”

Now classically in Christianity 
people have, almost without question,
seen that Jesus wants to give us an invitation or maybe a warning -
that we need to know that Christianity 
is the only true way in.
It must be followed, 
church that must be attended,
doctrine must be believed,
the sacraments – that are administered rightly –
must be taken regularly, or at the very least,
we need to have claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.
That’s the gate that Jesus needs us to go through.

So we have claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and savior
and we enter through that special Christian sheep’s gate
and we get ‘saved’. And what we mean when we say that
is that the believers get sent to heaven after death,
and everyone else gets send to hell, or Gahenna, or Gahanna,
or Blacklick. Wherever  the unfortunate or stubborn
experience the eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But is that really what Jesus is doing here?
Was Jesus purpose in coming here to create a religion?
To establish an institution parallel to
other institutions but just a little better?
Was God’s objective to make some of us inside the club
and to leave other people outside of this
great plan of salvation that God has?

For those of us who have professed Jesus Christ as our
Lord and Savior and have a relationship with him,
we know that Jesus had bigger plans than just to make
a club with an exclusive membership.
God so loved the whole world that he sent his son.
Christ died and rose for us. It is finished.
God didn’t do that so then we would all need to
pass some litmus test to get loved by God and get into heaven.
So let’s consider eternal life a sure bet for everyone, forever.
No need to fear about that.

Jesus does tells us that the gate is the way to abundant life,
for those living in this world, today, right now.
And this world today is still in a lot of trouble and
needs some saving as far as I can tell.
So Jesus objective is for us to have an abundant life.

Now some Christians teach that when Jesus talks
about “abundant life”, he is talking about
having lots of wealth and comfort.
At least enough for us and our family.
They teach that living life the right way will result in good health,
and a large bank account, and a happy family life,
and that anything less than that
proves that you haven’t lived a good life.
There was a congressman who said just those words this week,
in defending the new insurance bill
not covering pre-existing conditions. He said,
“It will help reduce the cost for people who have led a good life”
and aren’t sick. (That’s a false gospel at work.)
Some Christians think abundant life is about
me not having to worry, and living a comfortable life.
It’s about me building my wealth by myself,
and maybe giving some of it away if I feel like it.

But we who have a personal relationship with Jesus
know that he never said that. He didn’t live that.
All Jesus had was the sandals on his feet
and the tunic on his back. He begged for places to stay
and his disciples stole ears of corn off of farmers’ land.
He actually told us that suffering was part of
the experience of going through his gate to abundant life.
And we learned from Jesus that
we can’t have a lot and watch our neighbor have
nothing and call that an abundant life.
Abundance is found in making sure that other people have abundance.
Abundance is having our hearts filled with the
care that Christ showed us and sharing that.
Abundant life is found in our hearts breaking for others.
Abundant life is found in giving our abundance –
ourselves, our time, and our possessions – away.
Abundant life is not lived alone with me and my family only,
it’s lived in community with others.
And the gate that Jesus is talking about is the way
that we live our lives.

In its early days, Christianity was called “The Way”
Christians marked themselves by the way that they
acted and cared for each other and the world.
Some say that’s why the religion grew,
because Christians were different.
They went through that narrow gate,
based on the way that Jesus lived and died.

They followed that road of radical uncomfortable love.
having compassion for the hated, serving the ungrateful.
loving their enemy, welcoming the outcast,
treating society’s throwaways as equals.
Making sure that their neighbor was fed before they were.
Not taking another life, but laying down their life for others.
This is the gate. Jesus way.
This is the way to abundant life, here, now for the whole world.
Jesus says the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
We live in a world where many try to pass themselves off
as saviors and possessing the ‘right way’ and plenty of people follow.

We have preachers who are so convinced of their hatred,
that they call God’s children abominations.
We have rich, celebrities, with no discernible occupation,
other than to tell young people that designer labels
and selfish needs are the best way to live.

We have people in power who are convinced that
killing more people is the only viable solution to our international relations.
We have people who are actually proud of their sexist
and racist views and want more people to share them.
We have politicians who are open hostile towards poor people,
and pass laws that are designed to punish instead of help.

We live in a world of thieves and bandits,
And so many claim to be followers of Jesus, 
but they don’t want to enter the sheepfold by the gate,
they only want to jump over the fence.

And as God’s sheep, we too have often rejected the gate
and we have adapted too well to the world.
We have demanded safety for only ourselves,
and helped create more privilege for the privileged,
We build our own castles and forget about others.
We try to claim our abundant life in isolation,
and not worry about God’s other beloved sheep.

We try to jump over the gate too.
and not travel the hard road that Jesus showed us.
The road of love and sacrifice.

That is the way.
That is the way of abundant life.
That is the gate that Jesus wants us to go through.
The gate that will save this world, right here and right now.

I was reading a friends sermon on this scripture
and it quoted a farmer who said
“sheep are born looking for a way to die.”

That is a good description of the human race.
We are attracted to things that are bad for us.
We drawn to the ways of destruction rather than life.
Left on our own, we are born looking for a way to die.

We need a leader to guide us.
We need a savior in Jesus Christ to show us where the gate is,
and show us the way back to life.

Like in the reading from Acts today it says,
We devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching,
and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
That is why we come here regularly,
to return to God’s Word and to Christ’s table
and why we come together with the
Baptized body of Christ to continually
to remind us where that gate is and what the way of life is.

God loves us.
God loves the crazy, suicidal sheep.
What God is doing here is saving us all,
in a spiritual way and in a real, physical way.
The way of the world is a long, slow road to certain death.

But Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.  

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