I am the Gate

Think about your church – God’s church, what draws you here, what keeps you here, and what you would like to see here.

Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd. We are used to hearing from scripture: “I am the Good Shepherd. My own know me and I know them. They hear the sound of my voice and they follow me.” In the 10th Chapter of John, with that language as background, we hear Jesus say, “I am the gate.” We get the image of the shepherd, the sheep, the gatekeeper, the thief and the bandit, and the gate. Jesus says, “I am the gate.” If you had a dream and all you could remember from the dream was a gate, what might you think that dream image had for you to learn?

Years ago I got a packet of information from St. John’s. They were looking for a new rector and they sent the information to me to see if I might be interested. There was one picture in the packet that caught my attention. It was a photograph of the front doors of the church from outside. The doors were open and inviting. Most church doors are wooden and closed and off-putting. These doors were open and they were glass doors which led me to think they were inviting entrance even when they were closed. And next to the doors was a marble sign. It read: “Church Open. Come in. Rest and Pray.” That’s the first thing that drew me to this church. It’s one of things that has kept me here. Those open glass doors have become a challenge for me. How open are we? How inviting are we? How transparent are we? How available are we to a sinful and broken world? How available are we to Jesus?

“I am the gate”, Jesus says. “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Christians have created and perpetuated an image of heaven that I really hate. That image centers around the pearly gates. I’m not exactly sure what the pearly part is about other than to imply that it’s a grand gate. But the image also includes St. Peter standing at the gate like a guard. We have jokes about him asking questions to see who qualifies. It’s clear in that image that heaven is on the other side of the gate and St. Peter is there to keep people out as much as he is there to let people in.

“I am the gate”, Jesus says. “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

In that image we are led to consider the gate more as an invitation than a barrier. There’s some flow back and forth. The gate leads to a place of protection and safety; it opens to let the sheep in for rest and nurture. The gate also opens to let the sheep go back out to explore and find pasture for feeding. There’s goodness on both sides of the gate. The goal is not just to get in the gate. The goal is to follow Jesus back and forth.

One of the problems with the pearly gate image is that it has encouraged us to think only about an ultimate destination and who might be allowed in the gate and who might not be. We get stuck thinking about people of other faiths or no faith. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”, Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” We hear that and get stuck trying to apply it to other people. It’s rather like a parent talking to a child about expectations and the child getting stuck thinking, “Well none of my friends has to do that.” And the parent says, “I don’t really care about what your friends are doing. I’m talking to you.”

“I am the way”, Jesus says to you. Don’t get stuck applying that to me or someone else. He’s talking to you. Are you listening? Are you following? Are you responding to the invitations Jesus is giving you? Jesus invites you to come in and go out and find pasture, to be nurtured inside and go back outside to find life there too. Jesus asks you to follow, not to be a thief or a bandit, or a gatekeeper, or to blaze your own trail. He asks you to follow, to listen for his voice, and trust him to lead you where you need to go.

Jesus is the gate. He lived and died and was raised to open the gate for you so that you might be saved and go in and out and find pasture.

 

Yours Faithfully,

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.