The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
It is Good Shepherd Sunday but where is the shepherd? Now, it’s true, we are in the middle of the city. And our property doesn’t exactly lend itself to sheep farming – although I feel confident, if given permission, Mike Saccoccia could make it happen. But really, because of our total lack of sheep and urban location, we are an unlikely candidate for a large shepherd population.
But I did expect a shepherd today. On this fourth Sunday of Easter, on this Sunday we traditionally call in the Church, “Good Shepherd Sunday”, I expected to find a shepherd. I expected Jesus to hit the shepherd metaphor pretty hard. Typically our Gospel reading on this Sunday is all about that wonderfully pastoral image of Jesus the Good Shepherd. But while all the trappings are there, sheep and sheepfolds, the metaphor Jesus chooses is not the Good Shepherd; not this year. This year Jesus is the Good Gate. That is a weirder image. But that is what he says; Jesus says, “I am the gate.”
Jesus as shepherd is a more obvious metaphor. It translates well: Jesus is a person. A shepherd is a person. The metaphor is easy to picture. In fact, the pictures of the picture are easy to picture. It is not difficult to conjure an image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, a tiny lamb on his shoulders, his crook in hand. It is a popular image of Jesus.
Jesus as gate is a less popular metaphor. Jesus is a person. A gate is a thing. No face. No hands. No feet. The metaphor does not translate as easily. I never hear anyone say, “Jesus is my personal gate and Savior.” Jesus the Gate does not inspire as much popular religious art as does Jesus the Shepherd.
And for some the metaphor is off-putting. For some a gate seems too exclusive. The gate keeps out the unwelcome – like in a gated community. Is that what it means to say that Jesus is the Gate? Is Jesus there to keep out the riff-raff?
For some the gate is too inclusive. Gates open. Some gates are too wide. And some gates, like those of the heavenly city at the end of the Book of Revelation, never close; they stay open – day and night. Sometimes the gate is there to mark the entrance – to collect the masses. Is that what it means to say that Jesus is the Gate? Is Jesus funneling everyone in?
It’s tricky because we know gates do both. Gates let in and keep out. They open and they close. And so the question is: what is being let in and what is being kept out?
In our Gospel today, while playing with the metaphor, Jesus defines himself in opposition to those things that steal and kill and destroy. Jesus the Gate is the defender of life. He defends his people from those things that seek to destroy life, those things that work against the will of God the Creator. Gates do both: let in and keep out. In this case, let in the people; keep out the death.
That can sound a little bit nebulous – like we are being pursued by the shadowy forces of destruction, ghostly Grim Reapers at the gate. But actually Jesus is saving us from the very things we renounce in baptism: the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. They are those things that take the life right out of us: addictions, obsessions, detestations. We are destroyed by things all too common. It's the substance abuse that we totally have under control. It's the racism and sexism that helps us fit in at work. It's an insatiable desire for success and wealth that we believe makes us better at our jobs. It is all of those “little” things that destroy us, that dim the love in our hearts, that undermine our relationships, that suck the life right out of us.
Jesus is the gate; the gate stands between us and those things that are killing us. But it is more than that: Jesus offers life, abundant life, a new kind of life - not in isolation, but in the sheepfold. Jesus offers us life, abundant life, a new life, in community. The gate let in: Jesus is the entrance – collecting us into a new community of love, forgiveness and accountability. Through the gate we find our salvation.
It was that the Church of St. John the Baptist in Brussels was known for its historical place in the city and its beautiful architecture. But when Belgium rejected a large group of Afghan refugees from staying in the country, the church became known for something else – their new mission, a mission that found them. They became a sanctuary – a different kind of sanctuary – no longer just a place of worship but a place of refuge. The church took in about 200 mostly Muslim refugees – men, women and children. To protect them, defend them. They live and learn there; they sleep and eat there. Inside they found salvation. Inside they found life. Whoever enters by the Gate will be saved…
There is salvation in the entry. The practice of placing the baptismal waters at the entrance of the church is no mistake. In baptism we enter into Christ, through Christ the Gate, into the new community he is forming. And there we find salvation – a salvation that opens to us a new kind of life, that brings new life into the world. It is a salvation that we are meant to share.
You will notice in our Gospel reading that the gate acts as a two-way street; it's a both-and. The sheep come in and but they also go out. There is salvation in the entry but they also leave through the same door. The gate becomes a source of protection, a defender, but it is permeable. The gate is the entrance into the sheepfold; the same gate is also the entrance out into the pasture.
We come in and we go out. We gather in the name of Jesus – to worship together, pray together, feast together, to be saved together. But then out we go – through the Gate – in the name of Christ, soaked in the abundant life we find in and through him. We go out into the pasture to share what we have found – like explorers who have stumbled into the Promised Land.
We go out because there is still plenty of room in the sheepfold. There is salvation through the Jesus the Gate. And the Gate is wide – and it’s always open.
 _ http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/photo-gallery/2014/02/28/Afghan-asylum-seekers-occupy-Brussels-church.html#slide=5