Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep: teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command, that all your people may be gathered into one flock, to the glory of God the Father.
If you were meeting someone for the first time how would you introduce yourself?
There are lots of ways I might introduce myself: I’m Katie and I’m the Vicar of St James; I am Phoebe, Joel and Libby’s mum; I’m Sian’s best friend.
I’ve told some of you this before – it comes from my list of most embarrassing stories to tell about my life. I met my best friend Sian at University – nothing unusual about that. But when I first met Sian she was the year above me at University – she was the JCR President – and it was Fresher’s week. By the strict rules of social and peer etiquette I shouldn’t have even spoken to her – let alone said this to her as my introduction – Hello! I am the friend you’ve been gagging for all your life – I am going to be your best friend now.
I could actually hear the sharp intake of breath around me – no one could believe I’d said it (I can’t believe I said it) but 30 years later we are still best friends. As she tells the story – she says it was such a shocking thing to come out with that I either had to be telling the truth or completely mad.
Thankfully she decided it was the truth.
And the same dilemma is before us today in our reading – just as it was for anyone who first heard the phrase “I am gate” – for this is either the truth or Jesus is completely bonkers.
Jesus is being asked who are you?
And he says: I’m God and I’m the way to get to everything you need – I’m the protection you crave – I’m the way to enter the garden again. Or the way we hear it in the passage – I am the gate.
I am in this passage – the third of the I am sayings – is , as I shared more fully in my sermon 5 weeks ago, not the introduction to a sentence as we might understand it – but a name. I am is specifically the name for God – and the name God uses of God’s self. If you say to God – who are you? You literally get the answer I AM. Or as in Exodus 3 – I am that I am.
So I am God – says Jesus – and this is what I do – I provide a gate for you to the Divine and all that means. Remember these are Temple times – when gates and doors to the holy were carefully guarded and policed. Access to the holy through a person rather than a place was unheard of, shocking and unthinkable.
I imagine the intake of breath was every bit as loud as it was when I first spoke to Sian.
A gate or door can tell you a lot. Take a look at these gates – what do you see? In what ways is Jesus like these gates for you? What might they tell you about Christ? Which is your favourite? Why?
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Some doors invite you in – others are designed to protect and keep things out – some are collapsible and transparent whilst others are more solid and hide what is within – some are designed for children and others for royalty – sometimes the bar is low and sometimes the gap is narrow – some offer healing – others liberation – sometimes the boundary is clear cut and sometimes it seems to flow.
A gate or door is a place of entry, the borderline or threshold between two places, it both keeps in and lets out, it protects and it opens up, it provides security and escape.
There are famous doors – like number 10 – which announce identity and the importance of what lies behind.
There are famous gates – like Buckingham Palace – which divide royalty from the commoners – but through which you can watch the changing of the guard.
Jesus as the gate or doorway to the Kingdom – tells us something about what that Kingdom is like – about the Father from whom he is sent – about our eternal home which we are called to.
In biblical times they would have had one very clear image of that gate too. The image Jesus has already been using in this passage from John’s Gospel – that of the shepherd. Like this…
The shepherd is the one who sits by the doorway – and becomes the gate in himself.
He sits on the threshold to protect the sheep – who are actually, despite appearances, rather fragile creatures. Sheep need regular feeding, rest and temperature control – they don’t cope well with change and are defenceless and prone to parasites – they can be short sighted and dumb enough to walk off in the wrong direction and they also make very tasty treats for wolves. So the sheep need a shepherd who can be their gate.
I am (God is) the shepherd – that sits in the gateway – for the benefit of the sheep – so that in the words of John 10:10 – they might have life and have it to the full.
That is what Jesus is telling us today.
So this is your COVID19 door and gate challenge…on your daily exercise I invite you to pause at interesting gates and doorways – and use this as a prayer prompt – what is God is revealing to you? What he might be saying? And by all means take a picture and send it to me – I’d love to chat about what you find.
If you are sheltering and not going out at the moment take a look at Psalm 23 – and meditate on what that tells you about God as both shepherd and gate – call me if you want to discuss it – it is one of my favourite Psalms. In what ways is Jesus a gate to the holy for you?
And may you experience God as the gate this week – opening things up for you – protecting you and keeping you safe; and despite lockdown may the promise of John 10:10 be fulfilled – and life in all its fullness be yours in Christ.