Enter to Go

John 10:1-10             May 15, 2011           Enter to Go
Good Morning!
It’s good to be upright and awake this morning.  🙂
I spent the first part of last Sunday morning lurching around like Frankenstein because of some back problems I was having, and the rest of the day sleeping.  So it’s good to be feeling better.  Thanks for the prayers and the support.
…We had a meeting up in Kidron on Tuesday of this past week.
It was one of the first truly beautiful days we’ve had this year, so the drive was really nice.
As we drove up 241, I kept noticing the Amish farmers out plowing their fields.
We were running late (as usual), and so we were trying to go as fast as we could without being wreckless, but eventually we came upon a long line of cars, and we had to stop.
Traffic was backed up in both directions.
Our lane was stalled because of some roadwork that was happening, and the oncoming lane was stalled because there was an Amish guy with a team of 4 big workhorses that filled the entire lane on the other side of the road.
He was stopped because he needed to turn across our lane to get into the field he was going to plow, but our lane was backed up to where he needed to go, so he couldn’t go anywhere until our lane started moving.
I was busy watching him and his horses, but Christine noticed he had a helper in the field, whose job was to open the gate to let him in when he had the chance to cross traffic and start his work.
At the time it was something we just noticed, like we were noticing all the Amish folk as we drove to Kidron.
But then I started working on this sermon, and something clicked.
It took me awhile to put it into words, but hopefully it will make sense this morning.
Jesus says “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
It’s a pretty simple verse that’s pretty simple to understand.
Jesus is talking about a situation that’s similar to the one I saw unfolding along 241 last Tuesday.
We can all imagine Jesus approaching a fenced-in pen full of sheep who are enjoying the protection, the security, and the relative comfort of the sheep-pen.
We know that Jesus is the good shepherd who knows his sheep, and from what he says, his sheep know him, too.  They know his voice.
So as long as his sheep stay in the pen and practice being good sheep, the chances are that everything will be OK.
As long as we learn how to discern His voice from other voices; then the bandits and thieves who jump the fence will have a hard time hurting us.
Like I said, it’s pretty straightforward.
But I think there’s more here.
The thing that’s easy to miss in this passage is that at least in these first 10 verses of John chapter 10, Jesus doesn’t start off by calling himself the shepherd.
He gets there eventually, but it’s not until verse 11.
In the passage we’re looking at this morning, He calls himself the gate.
And it’s an interesting thing, about gates.  They provide access both ways.
The Amish guy who was entering his field last week; he would leave the same field at some point that day, maybe by the same way.
See, a gate is really just a fence until it’s opened, and whether you go in or out depends on where you’re standing.
…I have a friend who went to Israel a few years ago, and he told me about visiting a kind of cave when he was there.  It was apparently a cave where they think that in ancient times the shepherds would put the sheep sometimes to sleep overnight.
The shepherd would put his sheep in this cave, and then he’d lay across the entrance to sleep.
So knowing that, it’s easy to think that maybe that’s what Jesus was alluding to; blocking the entrance to the sheep pen so that nothing could get in or out without his knowing about it.
It’s an interesting train of thought, and it’s a fascinating window into the resourcefulness of shepherds back in the first century.
But I don’t think that’s a real compelling picture of the deeper point Jesus was trying to get across in the passage today.
I don’t think Jesus ever saw himself as someone who wrangles his flock into a cave and then lays across the opening to make sure they don’t get out and thieves don’t get in.
So let me propose a little different understanding of this passage this morning.
Our main problem in reading this passage is that we’re used to thinking about the sheep pen as something like a place of protection, security, and safety.  It’s like a little island of paradise that’s set apart for us sheep to enjoy; as long as the thieves and bandits are kept away.
We’re used to thinking of the sheep pen as the place where sheep should be.
We are the sheep who need the protection of a good shepherd who will keep us safe and sound through the darkest night, using whatever resources are at hand to give us the comfort and security that we need to make sure nothing bad happens to us.
When we relate this mindset to current events, it’s not hard to imagine the church as the sheep-pen; a place of safety where all who enter are free to join us in learning how to hear the voice of Jesus in spite of all the bleating that’s going on around us.
So we emphasize the role of our community in helping each of us to discern the voice of the good shepherd as opposed to the imposters that might jump the fence and lead us astray.
In other words, we’re content to stay here in the sheep pen, waiting as patiently as we can for Jesus to come in through the gate and lead us out.
That’s all good and fine; it’s just not what I think Jesus meant when he says he’s the gate.
Let’s back up a little bit and see if that can help us understand better.
In the chapter right before this, John 9, Jesus just finished healing a man who was born blind.  The blind man was a Jew, we heard more about the whole story a few weeks ago during Lent.
Jesus spit on the ground and rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes, he washed up and he could suddenly see.
This was Jesus’ response to a question his disciples asked about who sinned that the man was born blind.
Now, the guy was a member of the Jewish community.  The Pharisees heard what had happened and started asking around about it.
To make a long story short, they threw him out of the synagogue because he didn’t fit within the system they were maintaining.
The blind guy had somehow jumped the fence (or did he go through the gate?).
So Jesus hears about what had happened, and finds the guy he had healed.
And at the end of the story, the man who was born blind believes in Jesus.
The Pharisees confront Jesus about what he was saying to the blind man, and then chapter 10 starts; which is the passage we’re looking at.
So all this talk about sheep and gates and thieves; it’s all in response to the Pharisees who had just kicked the blind man who now could see, out of their fellowship.
It could be a coincidence; or it could be that Jesus is drawing a parallel between what had just happened between the Pharisees and the blind man and Jesus’ role as gate and shepherd.
Jesus is the gate; He’s the breach in the boundaries we try to maintain.
I’ve already shared that we often think of the sheep pen as the place where we’re protected from the outside.
Maybe we think of it like a church.  Back in Jesus’ day, it was the Synagogue.
For those who have grown up around here, it might just be Holmes County in general, or your family system in particular.
Part of what makes us human is that we enjoy constructing, maintaining, and living in our pens, hobnobbing with other sheep and making sure the outside world stays outside.
But I’d like to suggest this morning that we’re so infatuated with our pens that it’s hard to see it’s more like a prison than it is like paradise!
Sure, we’re protected as long as we stay in the fence…at least from some things…but a gate is only useful if and when you go through it.
Jesus is the gate!
He’s the gate the blind man walked through.
That man who was born blind; he wasn’t from our sheep pen.  He was a Jewish guy from another time and another place.
But he went through the same gate we did; the gate who is Jesus.
So when he went through the gate, did he go in, or out?
…When you went through the gate who is Jesus, did you go in?  Or out?
When you look at what Jesus is telling these Pharisees, you start to realize that this whole discipleship thing is a little more complex than just showing up for church on Sunday morning.
Jesus the good shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them out.
Not in.
He doesn’t lead them into the enclosure.
Jesus enters and leads them (leads us) out.
We tend to think that when we go through the gate, when we become a Christian, we turn into something like domesticated sheep who need protection from the wild world that’s outside our sheep-pen.
We’ve convinced ourselves that the Christian life is supposed to be lived within certain boundaries that make most of the world off-limits in some way, for our own good.
But the way I read Jesus, He’s not here to lead us into constraint…he’s here to lead us out from bondage into freedom!
He’s the gate; which is another way of saying He’s the only way out!
The old ways of doing business as usual—the ‘world’s’ way of living, with all it’s excesses and addictions and waste—that’s actually the fenced-in existence from which Jesus is here to free us!
His voice leads us out of the pen if we can hear it.
His life, his death, and his resurrection breached the wall that’s meant to keep us in our place!
Jesus doesn’t offer a cave that’s there to protect us from all harm.
He offers life; free and unfettered to anything but the shepherd.
He goes on to say he is the good shepherd, who goes before us and stays with us, sharing in our existence no matter what.  From the scorching heat of the mid-day sun to the damp chill of a moonless night, the good shepherd is there with his sheep!
Jesus entered the world to lead us out.  Not sometime in the future.
Not after we’ve accomplished something meaningful with our lives.
Not after we’ve cleaned up our act.
He is the gateway into freedom right now!
He’s provided the way out of even the most attractive sheep-pen, if only we’re willing to follow the shepherd.
So where is it you’re living right now?
Are you content to be in your spacious pen, surrounded by the bustle and bleating of other sheep?  Or are you in the wilds of life, seeking the voice of Jesus our redeemer, our liberator, our Lord?
The call is to enter life and life abundant; come out from the pen and live!

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