“I am the Gate”
May 7, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
“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. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
We probably all know that God,
And by extension, Jesus,
Are big fans of the “I Am” statement of self-identification.
“I Am who I Am” God spoke from the burning bush to trembling Moses.
“I Am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says …
“I Am the vine, you are the branches”
“I Am the bread of life”
“I Am the light of the world.”
The Gospel of John is an exceptionally rich source of “I Am” statements,
Numbering at least seven different titles.
However, they can be found in Matthew and Mark
(“Take heart. I Am. Do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:27 and Mark 6:50)
And in Luke 21:8
“And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name saying, “I Am!” and ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.”
Pronounced in the Greek “Ego eimi”
And “’ana” in our Lord’s original Arabic,
And “ehyeh ašer ehyeh” in the original Hebrew,
The use of Jesus’ “I am” statements have been
The source of great theological analysis and debate over the years.
The repeated uses of multiple metaphors
May bring clarity to some,
But to many others,
It muddies the waters.
Today, it muddies the waters,
At least, in my humble opinion.
The Gospel says as much:
“Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them …” – John 10:6-7a
Which is to say,
“Let me say that another way.”
I, too, am confused with the “I am” statements in these ten short verses.
It sounds like Jesus is the good shepherd.
This matches up nicely with our 23rd Psalm at the beginning of our worship.
The sheep know his voice and follow him.
(Had we read one additional verse,
We would have heard Jesus say as much,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” – John 10:11)
Yet, it also sounds like he is the gatekeeper.
He opens the gate for the shepherd.
And he further piles on,
“I am the gate for the sheep.”
There you have it.
Shepherd, gatekeeper, and gate.
Sometimes, when it comes to swimming in scripture,
It is important to simply strike a claim and just move forward.
Allow me the license to do so.
I’ll filter the muddy water this morning,
And see if we can’t clean it up.
Let’s stake our claim on “I am the gate for the sheep.”
Many of us will have in our mind’s eye
The image of a pasture gate,
Through which a shepherd would drive his sheep from one field to the next.
It is the source of many Tiffany era stained glass windows.
Except, this probably isn’t the image that Jesus was trying to project.
This isn’t the metaphor that Jesus had in mind.
Jesus was teaching inside the walled city of Jerusalem.
He was teaching crowds in the Temple
And responding to an investigation by the Pharisees
Regarding a man born blind
Whom Jesus had given sight.
Jerusalem is the setting.
Jerusalem was, and is, an urban, international city;
Sourced for siege
with underground water springs
and warehouses for food.
The city is ringed by protective walls,
Through which no less than nine gates
At the time of Jesus
Allowed people and commerce to pass.
I’ve passed through numerous Jerusalem city gates over the years.
Swarms of pedestrians,
People on motorbikes, cars, trucks, and assorted wheeled equipment
All crowd together in a continuous jam of humanity
Flowing in to and out of the city.
This past trip
I remember an impatient lady in a car
Beeping her horn,
Crowding a man pushing a wheelbarrow
Top heavy with stacked slabs of steel.
The workman was irritated,
As were the rest of us crowding in,
By her impatient honking.
All of a sudden the construction worker
Lost his balance
And dumped his load of steel
Right onto the hood of her car!
Yes, I couldn’t make this up!
Can you imagine the excitement when a shepherd
Steers a herd of sheep through the gate
Into the city?
It still happens today.
Major city gates were more than an opening in the wall.
From the outside it was a doorway that could be shut if under attack.
The outer door led to a room where one would have to turn ninety degrees,
Either left or right (in the case of the Jaffa Gate),
To pass through a second pair of defensive doors
That led into the city.
The reason for the abrupt turn
Was not to choke commerce,
As it does quite effectively on a daily basis.
Rather, it was to prevent battering rams
From getting a good run at the doors.
Gates were designed for defense.
In a moment’s notice
Defenders could alert the gate keeper
To drop the iron bars,
Close and bar the doors,
Sealing off access in both directions.
The only way in or out
Would be over the top or burrowing under.
Tunneling was impractical.
And 40 foot high walls that average eight and a half feet thick
Were very defensible in a pre-explosives era.
I’d suggest these are the gates Jesus had in mind
When he proclaims,
“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.”
- John 10:9a
Think of Jerusalem’s gates.
I am the gate, Jesus said.
Come through me and be saved.
Thinking about the qualities and characteristics of ancient city gates
Can give us an insight into what Jesus may have had in mind
And how we can apply his message
In a practical way
To our world, work, family, and classroom.
I am the gate.
Gates bring people together.
If you want to pass,
You need to crowd in tightly together.
You need to all be moving in a common direction.
You all need to learn to get along.
And so, too, does Jesus.
Think about how Jesus has brought people into your life.
If it wasn’t for your Savior, we probably wouldn’t have met.
If it wasn’t for my Savior,
I’d be on a beach in the Mediterranean sipping a beverage,
And I know we wouldn’t have met!
Just as Christ has brought us together,
There are still others who we have never met,
Who God is intentionally steering into our lives,
Who will be handed over to us
To lead them through the gate.
Watch. Be aware.
Anticipate who God is placing in your life,
Who God is squeezing in with you on your spiritual journey,
And consider how you can help them
Navigate the way.
I am the gate.
Gates slow you down.
City gates are inefficient for commerce.
If tolls, taxes, tariffs, or tithes need to be paid,
This is where the IRS or the church finance committee
Would set up shop.
Lots of people are trying to get through a crooked, narrow passage.
The more people are jammed together,
The slower the line moves.
So, too, is it with Jesus.
Jesus slows one down.
There is no fast shortcut to Christ.
High energy, slick marketing, coffee kiosk-ed churches might be fine for some,
But from where I sit,
And from my experience,
The journey with Jesus rarely goes down the fastest pathway,
Or via the link that leads to a Facebook list
Of the top ten ways to increase church attendance or giving.
The way to have a relationship with Jesus
Starts with being still.
Put down your smart phone,
Lay aside the calendar,
Give yourself all the time you need, …
Plus an hour more.
Slow down the breathing.
Listen in silence.
Be still, and know the I Am.
Let the I Am know you.
I am the gate.
Not only do gates squish people together and slow down the line,
But they also require those who pass
To become acutely aware of the needs of others.
We are pushed together with the needs of the world:
The hungry child whose parents love but can’t afford to feed,
The shoeless elder, who walks all day searching for deposit bottles,
The out of balance construction worker pushing an overloaded wheelbarrow,
Headed to get to his third job on time.
A life with Jesus, our gate,
Reveals to us the needs of the world.
His light shines on the darkness within,
And on the burdens that others are carrying.
Passing through Christ
Places us in a unique position of knowing our neighbors
And learning their needs.
Passing through the gate
Requires us to reach out with love and support
To ensure that everyone makes it through,
Everyone navigates the cobblestones without tripping or falling,
That even those who might stumble or fall,
Might be lifted up,
And if necessary,
Carried through to the other side.
This is our call.
I am the gate.
Jesus Christ is God’s gate;
And it’s His to control.
It is the Lord’s desire for everyone to pass.
It is the Lord’s desire to see that it remains open.
It is the Lord’s desire to maintain its strength against any who would assail it,
Against any thief or bandit who would try to circumnavigate it,
Against any force of Darkness that may attempt to defeat it.
And it is always the Lord’s judgment and will
To properly maintain control.
Yes, our God is the gate, and the gatekeeper.
We pass by His will;
That’s called GRACE.
It is his judgment through which all may pass.
If you’re walking with Christ,
There is nothing to fear.
It is His will that you will pass.
But if you’re not walking with Christ,
If you’re opposed to his Way,
If you’re attempting to steal and rob your way into the kingdom by some other way,
Expect to be stopped, judged, and be held accountable.
I am the gate.
The last observation I’d make about Jesus being the gate is this:
Salvation is already prepared.
It waits just on the other side.
Pass through the gate.
Abide in Jesus
And allow Jesus to abide in you,
And you have already received this promise:
“Whoever enters by me will be saved,
And will come in and go out and find pasture.”
- John 10:8
Not only one will be saved;
Everyone who passes through the gate will be saved.
Salvation is now.
Salvation is also in the future.
Salvation is personal.
Salvation is also communal.
Salvation is God’s will.
It is God’s desire that all might pass through Jesus.
Salvation is God’s gift
That all might have life, and have it abundantly.
Jesus is our gate
For we, His people, are His sheep.
Slow down the pace.
Watch for the needs of others,
And whenever or where ever you can help meet a need,
Give thanks for God’s grace;
His gift of salvation
To you, and me, and to our world.
It is only by God’s grace that we have a gate,
That we’ve been given Jesus.
Let us live our lives
Aware of this blessing,
Forever returning to God
Our thanks and praise.