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May 11, 2014 - John 10.1-10

“The Open Door”

John 10:1-10

May 11, 2014

 

10 “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

Throughout scripture God gives us images – word pictures, if you will – of God’s identity and character.  All of those images give us details about who God is and what God’s personality is like.  In Genesis when Hagar is cast away (the first time) from the home by Sarah and Abraham, she is left for dead in the desert.  When God delivers her and her child, she names God – “El-roi” which means God of seeing (Gen. 16.13)  God saw her and cared for her.  The names of God tell us about God – Yahweh means “I am”, El-shaddai means “God that nurtures” with the image being a mother nursing a child. 

Jesus chose several word images to describe himself.  I am the Door.  I am the Shepherd.  I am the Son of Man, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life. I am the vine, and you are the branches. I am confused. In our text today, Jesus uses two images that need our attention today.  Jesus is the Door, and Jesus is the Shepherd.

Jesus is the Door.

The most important part of a church building is the front door, says a church architect.  It is the first impression that is made on people.

The front doors of a bank.

The front doors of a speakeasy.

The doors of the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The doors of most Lutheran churches are red because the doors of the church at Wittenberg was red.

The front door of Riverside Baptist in Jacksonville.

The front door of one church I served is always open.

The slogan for the UMC begins with “Open Doors…”

Doors during pastoral visits to hospitals and homes.

Doors can say a lot.  They are the way in.  Jesus is the door, not a door, but the door.

Jesus is using a rather humble image of himself when he says that he is the door.  He is saying that he is the way to God, that he himself is not the goal, or the home, but the only way to God.  But that is not all.  You see people come in through the door, but people also go out the door into the world.

Jesus is not only the way we get to God, but Jesus is THE way that God gets to us.  This is a wonderful picture of the incarnation here.  God needed a way to get to us, and Jesus was the doorway into our world. 

It is also important to note the very specific and precise language that is used by Jesus here.  He is not a door.  He is the door.  Other religions might be good for humanity, but they are not the doorway to GodGod might be able to use another faith to reach someone, because God is God, after all, but only Jesus is the door to God!

The other image used in this scripture, seamlessly alongside the door metaphor, is the image of the shepherd.  The word pastor has in it the root meaning of shepherd.  Jesus is our shepherd.  We love that image.  It is in our art, it is in our hearts.  And yet, most of us really don’t understand what shepherds are like or what shepherding involves.  Sheep are stubborn creatures.  They smell bad.  They aren’t the brightest bulbs in the animal kingdom’s pantry.  It takes a person long on patience and persistence to really care for sheep.  But we are Jesus’ sheep – and Jesus is our good shepherd.  Well, what does that mean exactly for us, other than a chance for us to tell baaa-aaad jokes?  What does having Jesus as our shepherd really mean?

In the Middle East, shepherds have very little time to spend with other people, so when they run into another shepherd, say at a watering hole, they take time to talk.  During this time, while the guys are talking, the sheep are mingling.  They are getting all mixed up.  If there are 3 or 4 shepherds talking, then there are 3 or 4 herds of sheep intermingling and getting mixed up.  Shepherding is not the type of job for an obsessive compulsive type, because some of you are just cringing at the thought of having to sort out all those sheep, aren’t you? 

Well, the shepherds don’t worry about it.  When it is time to go, the shepherds simply break apart, each going his or her separate way and the sheep follow.  The shepherd calls the sheep and each one knows to follow his or her own shepherd.  They know the voice of their shepherd.  Sheep follow.  It is what they do.  You prod and drive cattle, but you lead sheep.  In the same way, if you are a sheep of Christ, you will follow him.  If you are not, you will not even recognize his voice.

Dr. Barry Braselton of Harvard was on TV once demonstrating the way that very young infants can recognize their parents just by the sound of their voice.  Brasleton took this infant and made cooing sounds at it, telling the audience to look closely at the baby as it reacted to new voices.  The baby responded to the sounds rather apathetically, like it was no big deal.  Braselton had other people come by and talk nicely to the baby, and again no big deal, some response but nothing significant.  Then he asked the mother to come over and speak to the baby.  When her mother spoke, the eyes of the baby visibly brightened, and expectant, toothless smile broke out on her face, and she turned toward her mother’s voice.  Unmistakable recognition.  Even an infant knows the sound of their parent’s voice.  Spend time with God and you will know God’s voice.

In verse 11, Jesus says an incredible thing.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Maybe you have heard it said so often that the amazing reality of that statement is lost upon you.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This is not the standard sentiment among shepherds.  Most shepherds will NOT give up their life for their sheep.  Sheep can be very dense, stubborn and stinky animals.  They are not your war buddies or even your team members.  They are sheep.  But Jesus says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Well he is right of course.  Jesus lays down his life for us.  Shepherds are willing to put themselves on the line in case of danger to the sheep, but its not because they love the sheep.  They will slaughter and eat the sheep themselves.  The sheep represent the well-being and survival of the shepherd’s family.  By protecting the sheep, the shepherd is protecting his family.  The shepherd cares for his herd out of his love for his family.

In each gospel, Jesus begins his ministry with the call of a shepherd.  “Follow Me,” Jesus says to his disciples.  They heard his voice and followed.  They surrendered their own will and chose to follow Christ, to do God’s will and not expect God to do their bidding.

How could you not follow your shepherd?  Knowing what Jesus has done for us, how much God has nurtured us like our parent, how could you not want to surrender your own will and follow God’s?  If you are Jesus’ sheep, then follow your shepherd.

I’ve heard it said, “Preachers are always telling us to get out and do something but never give us specifics.” Thus a very popular contemporary preacher says that you ought to come to church with pencil and paper. It’s a good sermon if you can write down two or three things for your “action plan” for the coming week by end of sermon. That is, a sermon is supposed to help you devise your “action plan.” And we tend to love such sermons. You like thinking of yourself as an active, resourceful, competent, caring, active, and practical hands-on Christian. So you want the sermon to give an “action plan,” an assignment for the week.
     Well, forget it. Sure, we might like to get our “action plan” for this week, but we believe that the most important thing for us today is to listen to scripture, so . . .
     “I’m the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
     Why didn’t Jesus say, “I am the great teacher, you are my brilliant students. You kids can do anything you put your minds to. Study hard”? Or, “I am the great do-gooder, and you are all my valuable assistant little do-gooders, go do good”? Or, “I am the CEO in the front office, you are my second level managers out working the floor: look busy”?
     No, what Jesus said was, “I am the loving, searching, seeking, self-sacrificial shepherd . . . you are the wayward, inept, wandering, lost, totally-dependent-on-me, bovidae (hollow-horned), ovis aries (docile, dumb, and domesticated) sheep.” Wow. As so many times with God’s word, a seemingly sweet, reassuring little passage – “I’m the good shepherd; you’re my dumb, lost sheep” – is an assault on just about everything we believe about ourselves, a metaphorical affront to the way we enjoy thinking of ourselves.
     Jesus says, “I’m the good shepherd.” It would have been ludicrous for him to say, “I’m the good shepherd – now I want you sheep to get organized, take matters in hand, turn the gospel into a technique for self-improvement. No, what he said was, “I am the good shepherd; you are the sheep.” 
     Then Jesus raises our definition of “good shepherd” up to the nth degree in saying, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” If Jesus could have merely improved the sheep, equipped the sheep, enlightened the sheep, that is, if he could have taught the sheep the key to saving themselves, by themselves, he would have never said, “The good shepherd not only loves the sheep but lays down his life for the sheep.” 
     When Will Willimon was a college chaplain, on a dreary Monday, he sat across from a young man who had, the weekend before, made a terrible mistake (under the influence of alcohol, but no less terrible for that). He candidly detailed his misdeeds. And Willimon responded, “What were you thinking?”
     “How long have you been a college chaplain?” he asked.
     “Twelve, maybe 13 years,” he replied.
     “That long? I would have thought you would have learned more about students,” he responded. (Willimon restrained an impulse to strangle him.) “If I had been thinking I wouldn’t have done what I did!”
     “Surprisingly wise observation,” Will said.
     Still, for another hour he berated him for his sorry behavior.
     Then he said quietly, and with a sigh, “I just thank God that Jesus died for sinners – them that knows and them that don’t know, just us sinners.”[1]

Yep.  We are the sheep and Jesus is our Shepherd.  He is the door and we are the ones we get invited in.

That brings us back to the image of the door.  Jesus talks about those that want to go in with the sheep, but do not want to use the door.  In other words, some people want to be in the Christian crowd, but make no effort in following Christ.  You cannot have a part of the body of Christ without making an effort in taking up the disciplines that are required of one who follows Jesus Christ.

When Jesus says “I am the door;” when he asserts “I am the door that leads to eternal life,” many of you sitting here today can say, “Amen.”  You have come through that door.  Your own life bears the fruit of that passage and you know it to be true.  That’s why you are here.  That is why you have come to church, because you have heard your Shepherd’s voice.

But perhaps some of you have never heard the Shepherd’s voice.  Perhaps you are just now realizing that you are among the sheep only because you snuck over the wall, or came in through the window.  You are among sheep but are not a sheep yourself - perhaps.  Only you know, that is, you and the shepherd know. 

There is but one name by which humans are saved.  Jesus is THE Door.  Amen.

 

 

[1] Willimon, William, Pulpit Resource, May 11, 2014.