Do any of you own sheep? Probably not, but we do see them around our area sometimes, especially in the springtime when they are out with the lambs in the fresh green grass. I miss church, I even miss the drive and seeing the lambs. Sheep cheer me up. And it’s been a rough week with some tough losses to process. So, I like sheep, I like silly riddles about sheep to cheer me up. So Here goes:
- What is a sheep’s favorite painting? (The Mona Fleesa)
- Where do sheep get their hair cut? (At a baa-baa shop)
- What is a sheep’s favorite newspaper? (The Wool Street Journal)
- What is a sheep’s favorite Karate move? (A lamb chop)
- When they open a casino in Columbia County what game will the sheep play? (Woolette)
- Why did the sheep get a ticket on the Thruway? (For doing an illegal ewe-turn)
- What do you get when you cross a sheep with a porcupine? (An animal that knits its own sweaters)
- What did one sheep say to the other? (After ewe)
- What would you get if you crossed a sheep with a goat? (An animal that eats tin cans and gives back steel wool)
Today’s gospel seems to be all about shepherds and sheep and gates and the way to abundant life. It’s a welcome topic in the midst of our anxiety about the Covid-19 virus and our time of separation on Sunday mornings. One of the great joys on my drive to church was seeing the spring lambs frolicking around the farms as I drove the 38 miles up to church. Can you believe I even miss the driving?
Sheep are kind-of fun-loving creatures, sociable, and family-oriented. They seem to have a kind-of nice life. Sheep, unlike goats, are smart enough to follow their shepherd, to listen to the shepherd’s voice. I have several friends who are shepherds, and it’s amazing how the sheep instinctively know and follow their shepherd. And the shepherd protects the sheep from predators like coyotes and wolves.
The people of biblical times knew a lot about sheep. And so, Jesus was probably quite familiar with sheep and shepherds. In this gospel passage, he first speaks to the Pharisees, describing the sheepfold – a place where shepherds gathered their flocks overnight, where the intimacy of knowing and being known was experienced, where they shared protection of walls and other shepherds ensured the flock was safe. “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” (John 10:3b,4). The sheepfold was a place of welcome, of community, of security, and rest. But that didn’t seem to clarify anything for the Pharisees who were listening, so Jesus tries again, this time calling himself the gate.
And you might be interested to know that the gate is not really a gate. In biblical times the sheep gate was an opening to the sheepfold which was attached to the house. The shepherd literally laid down and slept in the opening, so that no predator could enter without encountering the shepherd.
“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep”. And again, in verse nine, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” And in verse ten, “I came that they may have life,” Jesus says, “and have it abundantly.” (John 10:7a, 9, 10b).
Jesus is the gate! The way in and the way out! The entry point, the access, the one through whom one must pass in order to find safety and respite. For religious leaders who thought they set the criteria for who had access to the benefits of God, this only added to their shock and confusion.
Notice that Jesus does not say he is the gatekeeper. Jesus says, “I am the gate.” He is the gate itself, inviting “whoever” in to “be saved,” allowing easy access, safety, and abundant life. Jesus is the gate, the place of welcome, security, freedom, and rest. Jesus says to the Pharisees and to others listening that he isn’t about restricting or stealing or harming, but about offering life, abundant life; life that is sweet, and whole, and full.
And so today Jesus invites us to abundant life, a vitality experienced in the sacrament of communion. “I am the gate,” Jesus says, “whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture (refreshment, relaxation, peace, rest). I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
As we celebrate communion in our hearts and our homes may we hear this word of welcome for each of us. No matter who we are or what we have done, may he be our shepherd restoring our souls. May we trust our shepherd to lead us through the green pastures and still waters. May he lead us through the darkest valley without fear. May we go to his table and dwell in his house all the days of our lives. May our faith be lived in such a way that we enter and share easy access with any and all who seek the Jesus gate and with it, abundant life! Amen.
Please pray with me:
You told us, “I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Yet in this season of anxiety and separation, we long for a deeper relationship with you. We long for the peace that you can give.
Let us enter the gate of your love and be kept safe and be fed by your care.
We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.