A sermon based on Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10 preached on May 11th, 2014.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever noticed this myself, but maybe you have: every 4th Sunday of Easter has a passage where Jesus talks about sheep. Each year we return to some part of John chapter 10, all of which is about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and we his sheep.
Exploring this theme every year makes it hard to say something new about these passages in John, and I think it’s safe to say that none of us want to hear another sermon about how we are all just bunch of dimwitted sheeple. So that’s not the sermon I’m preaching today.
Our Wednesday night bible study group just wrapped up the New Testament portion of Adam Hamilton’s book Making Sense of the Bible.
We dived head first into a bunch of things about the bible that most of the time we don’t get to stop and talk about—we talked about how the bible was put together, why we have the books we have, when they were written, and how they fit together.
We talked recently about how different the gospel according to John is from Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospels. One way John’s gospel is different is it does not have any of Jesus’ parables in it, while the other three are packed with them.
Rather than having parables, John has “I Am” statements. And here in this passage we have one of them. Jesus says, “I Am the gate.” I have to say it’s one of Jesus’ more perplexing “I Am” statements.
We know the others well. There’s “I Am the Good Shepherd”. Jesus says that in v.11. There’s “I Am the vine and you are the branches”—that’s pretty, what a great little image that is! Hallmark couldn’t have said it better.
I Am the bread of life. I Am the way the truth and the life. I Am the light of the world. I could go on, there’s 8 of them in John’s gospel, but you get it. They’re all good-looking and they roll off the tongue nicely. They give us rich images of who Jesus is and how he comes to us as Savior and Lord. But this “I Am” statement? “I Am the gate.” …It’s not so pretty. What is this about a gate? How is Jesus like a gate?
When I think about a gate, I think about a barrier. A gate is something to cross over or through. They keep people out. We think of gates almost like tolls. There’s something we need to do to get on the other side of a gate. We need a ticket or money.
There’s all those jokes about St. Peter guarding the entrance to heaven at the pearly gates, and the premise of all those jokes is that everyone who stands on the outside of them needs to prove something about themselves to gain entrance. Somehow or another, we need to work our way through gates, don’t we? But if we think this is what Jesus is saying to us in this passage, then we’re not hearing him right.
Flocks of sheep congregated on hillsides out in the country or just outside of towns. Several shepherds would assemble together—sort of like the passage from Luke’s gospel at Christmas, there were shepherds, plural, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
So all these sheep belonging to different shepherds would congregate together—I’m not sure sheep really mingle—but surely the separate flocks would get mixed together. The shepherds didn’t mind this at all. It wasn’t a problem, because whenever it was time for the shepherd to journey forward with his own flock, he would call out to his sheep and only those that belonged to him would come running. The sheep knew their own shepherd’s voice and responded.
It gets me thinking about all the different voices we hear out there calling to us—trying to gain our attention. We live in a loud world where it’s increasingly hard to find a voice we can trust. We have at least 3 24-hour news networks constantly feeding us information and what they say is intentionally repetitive because each of those stations know that the more we hear something the more we begin to believe it ourselves.
Instead of being invited to sit down at 6:30 every evening to hear a discerning take on the events of the day like past generations would do, today we are confronted with a news-sharing culture that comes at us with all the subtly of water from a fire hose. We’re deluged by way too many voices coming at us from way too many directions—radio, TV, internet, smartphones, microphones, and megaphones. Which voices are we to listen to, and which ones are we to follow?
Recognizing and then responding to the right voice is not just a problem for our age, though. It was also a problem in Jesus’s time too. There were many false teachers who claimed themselves to be the Messiah. They gathered followers and taught them wrong-headed and wrong-hearted ideas. Many of these false Messiahs preyed upon their followers and often exploited them. Jesus speaks in this passage about thieves and outlaws who climb over the walls of sheep pens and take off with a sheep or two. Jesus is, in part, referring to the false Messiahs of his time. These false Messiah’s, Jesus says, only come to steal, kill, and destroy. But the Good Shepherd comes to give life. Jesus comes so that we may have life and have it in abundance.
These days we aren’t so much confused about false messiahs. Or are we? Maybe it’s just not so clear-cut.
Aren’t these voices that inundate us everyday through all these different channels we have—are they not trying to lead us somewhere? Are they not trying to convince us to trust and follow them? Are they not trying to offer us a sort of salvation—at least salvation from something? The voices we hear entice us with promises of a better future, a way out of our problems, a fatter wallet, a thinner waistline. Each of these voices offer us their own version of abundant life—and they think that it’s up to them to define for us what that is. And don’t we sometimes believe them?
The Good Shepherd’s words in this passage should make us think about several things. All the beliefs and ideologies we get from TV, radio, magazines. All the stuff, the habits, the activities, and the hobbies we fill our life with—all this stuff that the voices in our world offer to us—are they really life-giving?
What Jesus says here should make us think about how we spend most of our days. We should be critical of all the voices we hear in our culture—do they really give us abundant life or are they robbing us of it?
Gates do something other than keep people out. Gates also protect those who are on the inside of them.
Out in the hillside there were wolves that threatened to carry off any sheep they could get their mouths on. So the shepherd had to act as the gate—the shepherd himself had to be the barrier that protected his flock from all those things out there that could harm it. Shepherds would risk their life for the good of every one of his sheep. They would stand in between their sheep and anything that sought to harm them or lead them astray.
Jesus is the gate that protects us from all the things that try to steal us away from him. It is the Good Shepherd whose looks over us no matter whatever it is out there that tries to grab a hold of us. But of course we have a responsibility to keep our ears open. To listen up for the ways that the Good Shepherd speaks to us and instructs us.
Do we know his voice?
We hear many voices these days. In one way or another, all of them tell us how we need to live our lives. All of them want to persuade us to follow their lead, to flock their way. If we are not discerning enough—if we are not familiar with the voice of Jesus, then we will continue to be swept away by all these other voices out there.
The challenge of this passage for us is this: Are we able to ignore the voices that speak half-truths to us about ourselves?
Can we tell the difference between the voices of those one know us and love us and the voices that speak fear into us and want to lead us down wrong pathways? Can we cut through all the loud voices around us, all the noise-pollution of our culture, and hone-in on the one voice of Jesus? And out of all those voices that offer us “ bigger, better, thinner, faster, more”, do we know what abundant life really is? Because, here it is, the abundant life that Jesus offers us has nothing to do with the abundant life that any other voice out there is trying to convince us of. Abundant life is never about filling ourselves with more and more stuff. It’s not about filling our lives with more and more activities. Real abundant life can only be found when we listen to the voice of Jesus and follow. Abundant life is a by-product of knowing his voice and going where it leads us.
Let us train our ears to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd.
May we be better able to discern Jesus’ voice calling out to us through all the other gunk we hear as we move through our days and throughout the world. And when our Good Shepherd calls to us, may we drop all that other stuff and follow.
All praises to the one who calls us by name, who made it all and finds it beautiful.