theunfamiliarname

Homily for Easter 4A

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm

There’s a famous brain teaser.
It involves two doors, identical,
guarded by two gatekeepers.
One leads to heaven, one leads to hell.
You can ask only one question
to one gatekeeper about this situation
before deciding which door you will take.
The gatekeeper for heaven only tells the truth.
The other, only lies.

What one question do you ask?

Lest you spend the next few minutes
absorbed only in that puzzle,
I’ll tell you the answer:
you ask either gatekeeper what the other would say.
And that answer actually identifies their own door.

You have to be pretty bright
to get to that answer without help.
And our passages of Scripture today
don’t put great faith in our intellect
or in our common sense.
Because we are sheep.
“The Lord is my shepherd” kind-of means “I am a sheep”.
Perhaps a little stroppy, but often quite dim,
dependent, and easily led, if not fleeced fro time to time.
[Note:  I am told that I have unfairly besmirched the reputation of ovine intelligence, for which I unreservedly apologise to any sheep who may be reading.]

In this morning’s gospel,
Jesus speaks of himself in two ways:
as the shepherd of the sheep – the theme we have
every Fourth Sunday of the Easter season –
but also in John’s Gospel as the gate.

In one of those key “I am” statements we find in John,
Jesus says “I am the gate for the sheep”.

I wonder what he means?

Those who first heard these sayings
obviously struggled with them,
which may mean we need to do a bit of work here, too.

“I am the gate”.

The gate is question, in Jesus’ farming world,
is one of protection.
It keeps the sheep safe.
The shepherd himself sleeps
over the only entrance to the enclosure
where the sheep are corralled for the night.
If a predator or a rustler wants to get in,
or a dopey sheep wants to wander away,
it’s literally over the shepherd’s body.

The gate is about protection, and belonging,
not some sort of imprisonment.
This gate allows those within and without
who belong to the flock to come and go
in safety to find rest and pasture.

Back to our opening teaser.
We know about (often self-appointed) gatekeepers.
Our Gospel isn’t speaking about our role to keep the gate.
Those who would take on that role are challenged, if Christ is the gate.
We are not called to lock people in or out.
To say who gets in or who stays out,
if Christ is the gate.
We simply have no right, no role like that,
if Christ is the gate.
Jesus calls his sheep, and they follow him.
It takes a pretty stubborn, strange kind of sheep
to choose to stay apart from the flock
going out to find pasture.
Or a creature very afraid.

Afraid of the possibility of life
and nourishment outside the walls of security.
Afraid even of the shepherd, the gate.
Afraid of having life and having it abundantly.

If that is us,
then what would it take for us
to be assured, comforted, calmed?
What might we discover in this Easter season
about not letting our lives be ruled by fear?

Love conquers fear.
Casts it out.

The God who in Jesus Christ has sought us out,
who calls us by name,
does so because of the Love that is God.
We can trust that.
We can trust
that the promise of abundant life is made to us.
Now.
Not a life where we are never hurt or unhappy,
but the fullness of our existence
– here, in this place and with these people,
and with the promise
of our being in God’s presence beyond time and space.

“I am the gate” says Jesus.
But I’m not sure that’s a message of exclusion
in the way some Christians would have it.

There is no other who choses who comes and who goes.

No place here for those of us who would be gatekeepers.

Which both affirms the uniqueness of Christ
in our theology,
and challenges any presuppositions we might have
about who will be able to enter and be saved.

Even the Church with a capital “C”
doesn’t get to play gatekeeper here.
The allegory of the Easter tomb,
with its stone rolled away,
the guards powerless to keep the Risen Christ within
or the women and other witnesses out,
takes away any sense of the power of the gatekeeper.

Takes away the power of what in other metaphors
we might describe as the one great gate, death itself.

Christ’s victory over death brings life, and abundant life,
not the judgement and annihilation we expect.

Jesus claims the power
we would give to and we fear in our own dying.
Jesus has not only entered there,
but has assured us that our death is not the thief we fear,
who steals and kills and destroys.
Christ, risen from the dead, is the gate –
even when we stand at the portal of death.

In Christ we will enter – and can touch already –
life in its abundance.
That is our Good News,
and nobody and nothing can take that away from us.

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