He is...We Are To Be: The Gate - John 10:1-10
Three friends die in a car crash, and they find themselves at the gates of heaven.
Before entering, they are each asked a question by St. Peter himself, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning, when they look down, what would you like to hear them say about you?”
The first guy says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor and a great family man.”
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and schoolteacher.”
The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say…LOOK!!! HE’S MOVING!!!”
Today, after last week’s wonderful service by the laity, we return to our series on the “I Am” statements of Jesus.
We need to remember just how controversial these statements were to those who heard Jesus speak them. To understand this, we have reflected on the fact that when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and sent Moses to bring the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses asked, “When the people question who sent me, who shall I say, “what is your name?”
God replied, “My name is I Am that I Am, tell them that I Am has sent you…you shall teach this name to all future generation, and it shall be My Name forever.”
The Hebrew people listening to Jesus would have heard and known this, and upon hearing Jesus say, “I am…” would have heard Jesus say, “I am,” and felt that He was equating himself with God…the irony of which is that we know that Jesus is God…but they would not have heard it that way, they would have heard and accused Jesus of blasphemy.
We also noted that as we examine these “I am” statements and understand the significance of what Jesus was saying about himself with each statement, that we also need to understand that the Church, as the Living Body of Christ, is to be for the world the same things that Jesus says of himself.
We heard Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life,” and understand that Jesus reveals Himself, as God, to be the only thing that can truly fill the empty holes in our lives that leave us hungering, not simply physically, but emotionally and spiritually. As the continued presence of Christ in the world, the Church is to be the Bread of Life, providing sustenance to those who are hungering…not only sharing food with those who are hungry, but also sharing with them the Gospel of Christ, introducing them to the God who can fill that void that leaves us hungering for something.
We heard Jesus say, “I am the Light of the World.” As the light of the world, we know that Jesus is the one who brings God’s creative order into the chaos of our world, illuminates the path we are to travel on, reveals our intentions and our sin, gives life to God’s people, and draws those who love God together. We know that as Christ’s presence still on earth, the Church is to be this same presence—offering peace, revealing God’s way, confronting sin in order to redeem, giving life, and drawing God’s people together.
I would have to say that at least once or twice a year, if not more often, I get an email containing jokes about folks getting to heaven and running into St. Peter standing outside Heaven, at the Pearly Gates, and suggesting that there is some kind of test or quiz that must be passed in order to get into Heaven, or maybe a review of our lives that determines how our lives will be once in heaven, what type of robe, house, or car we will have once inside the Pearly Gates. We have these images of Peter acting like the hostess at The Cutting Board, O’Charlies, or Texas Roadhouse, determining whether or not we can get in and be seated.
How have these images come to be? I’m not sure, it is as if someone has taken images from John’s Revelation with images of the gates of heaven being pearls, the references to the Book of Life, and the fact that Peter was the initial leader of the followers of Jesus after the Day of Pentecost, and combined them into the image of Peter being the gatekeeper, determining who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. This image, though humorous at times, is not Biblically accurate.
Jesus, however, gives us the image of a gate, actually, “the gate.” The image He gives us is that He, Himself, is the gate…He is the gate that leads to pasture and abundant life.
How often have we hear the phrase, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”? Urbandictionary.com suggest that this comes from the idea that when we stand on our own land and look at someone else’s yard, their yard always appears to be greener, healthier, more attractive. Yet, it is not usually the grass that we are looking at. It is usually some other aspect of someone else’s life that we think that if we have, then our lives will be as great, or greater, than our neighbors. We look at our own lives and are dissatisfied, and think, if we just had that, we would be happy.
Maybe it is our house…we think to ourselves, if I just had a nicer house then we would be truly happy. That is kind of the idea behind shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In this show, we usually see a family that is in some type of dire straits and whose homes leave a lot to be desired…then through the generosity of this show and its sponsors, these home designers swoop in, send the family away, work feverously while we watch, and present the family with a newly redesigned, larger, fancier home. Everyone’s excited, tears of joy are shed, the family is on the other side of the fence in its greener pasture, and the show is over. However, in articles I read earlier this year, those tears of joy have turned to tears of sorrow as larger utility bills and other expenses have forced many of those families out of their dream homes.
Maybe it is our car…we look at the car we have had for years and think, if I could just get rid of my old jalopy and get a new car, I’d be truly happy, my life would be complete. Yet how many times have we finalized the deal and driven that new car off the lot and suddenly found something we didn’t like about it, or realized that something was wrong with it that was not covered by the remaining warranty (if it was a used car). It may simply be that we go from a vehicle that is completely paid off, to having to make car payments once again.
Maybe it is our job…we are unhappy with our job and think, if only I had a better job, one making more money or having better hours, then I would truly be happy. So we apply for promotion and get it, only to find that the stress level is not worth the pay increase. Maybe we change careers, thinking this other field of work is easier, only to find out while there are less demands, there are also less benefits. Maybe we leave a hard job with a good boss to find ourselves working an easier job with a harsh, demanding supervisor.
In the end, if we are unhappy with the pasture that we find ourselves in, and try to find the good life by passing through the gates of this world, houses, cars, careers, politicians, or anything else, we are going to find that the grass on the other side of the fence, if we are blessed, is the same shade of green, but often we may find that it is drier and more brittle than where we were.
There is only one gate through which we pass that will bring us true happiness and abundant life. Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus says,” if you are looking for a way out of the unhappiness and misery in which you find yourself trapped, nothing else in this world is going to truly fulfill you. Like a thief that will come in, steal, kill, and destroy, those things will still leave you troubled, struggling, and empty…they will always leave you searching for a greener pasture. However, if you come to me, I will help you pass through to find yourself in a place that will give you not only peace, but abundant life.”
Paul would experience this. Paul tells the church in Phillipi, “If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, [if anyone has reason to find security and happiness in the things and accomplishments of this world], I have more, circumcised on the eight day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”[i] A biography I listened to as an audiobook earlier this year suggested that Paul would have probably come from a wealthy background as well. Yet Paul says, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ….”[ii]
It is only in Jesus that we can find true happiness, true joy, true abundant life. It is in knowing the love of Christ in our lives, the salvation He brings to us, that we can find true contentment in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in this life. He is the place where we can know and experience the love of God right where we are and know that nothing in this world is greater. Everything else is fleeting and temporary, but it is only in Christ that we find life everlasting.
Too often we think of life everlasting as being something we will experience on the other side of a fence, the fence of death. We think of eternal life as beginning when we die. But the eternal life that Jesus speaks of in his conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John is life that is filled with the Living Water that Jesus shares with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Bread of Life that we discussed a few weeks ago. Life eternal is the abundant life that Jesus speaks of in our reading today. It is not about the quantity of life that is to come, but about the quality of life we can experience right here and now in knowing the grace of God surrounding us each and every moment of every day. It is knowing that God loves us enough that He came to us in Jesus Christ and voluntarily laid down His life for us, atoning for our sins, and freeing us the threat of death and eternal separation from God. In that is abundant life, a life of contentment and peace that we find passing through the Gate that is Jesus Christ.
How do we become that gate? We become that Gate as we share with others that true peace, contentment, and fulfillment is found not in what someone else has, but it is found in what God has given us. It is in offering them the acceptance that God has given to us, it is in offering them the forgiveness that God has given us, it is sharing with them the love that God has freely offered us, and in our life together we will find that we have life, and have it abundantly.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.