May 7, 2017

I Am the Sheep

 

John 10:1-10

10 I assure you that whoever doesn’t enter into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs over the wall is a thief and an outlaw. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.

So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.

 

I am born of red clay.

I am of oil and grain and green.

I am cast in the image of my father, the resilience of my mother, and the etiquette and edge of my grandmothers.

I am good.

I am short of fire, medium of stature, and big of heart and hope.

I am conservative as a child of God.

I am progressive in my vision of God’s kingdom.

I am humor and kindness; I am brooding and impatient.

I am who I am called to be. I am who I would prefer to forget.

I am born of red clay.

 

“I am…” is a powerful way to begin a sentence. It is direct and personal.

 

The I am sayings of Jesus are one of the unique elements of John’s Gospel. They strike a familiar tone for those who are somewhat versed in the biblical stories, because “I am” reminds us of the name of God given to Moses from the burning bush in the Book of Genesis: “I Am Who I Am”

 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses “I am” to describe his role as Christ – the anointed one. Last week, I noted that Jesus sometimes takes notes from God’s actions in the Old Testament. Here, that connection is greatly felt as Jesus connects himself to prophetic statements about the messiah found in the words of the prophets.

 

“I am the gate,” he says.

 

By Christ saying, “I am the gate,” he tells us that it is through him that we are saved; it also tells us that it is him who is the gate – not us.  There are times when religious people like to create our own gates. Before others can enter our space, we ask questions like: “what do you believe?”; “Are you dressed correctly and do you act like we do?”; “Are you here for the right reasons?” We like to think we are the gatekeepers so that God only has to deal with those people we accept.

 

Christ did not say, “you are the gate,” he said, “I am the gate.” It is him to offers safe passage and security to those who seek it. His grace goes far and wide, and it is him alone who decides whether one can go through the gate. I am glad that Christ is the one who judges whether or not we belong in God’s kingdom rather than fickle people who prefer only those who think and act like they do.

 

But, then, if Christ is the gatekeeper of God’s kingdom, what are we? Are we the shepherd? Are we the grasses that surround the gate?

 

We are the sheep. I am a sheep.

 

Individually, sheep are smart animals – able to learn patterns and solve problems. In flocks, however, sheep are prone to distraction, will literally fall into a hole if one is present, and cause destruction wherever they go. We are like sheep. We can make smart choices and are highly adaptable, but we can also cause great harm without even thinking about it, without caring how it affects others. On our own, without a gate to call us in, we would simply continue to consume everything we could until nothing was left.

 

Thankfully, we rely on the guidance of God – the Good Shepherd – to keep us where we need to be until we arrive at Christ’s gate. We have been given the task of taking in the lost sheep that God guides to our flock. We like to think that we can decide whether the lost who God brings into our fold belongs with us. That, also, is not our job. Our job is to incorporate new persons into our flock, teach them of our faith, and care for them as one of us until we get to the gate.

 

This week, I was reminded that I am one of many, many sheep leading others toward the gate of Christ. At the National Workshop on Christian Unity, I sat alongside Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Christian Scientists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and a host of others in worship and dialogue. We talked about the problems of the world and our common goals to solve them. We read and sang very old hymns and liturgies. We listened to a homily about how it is our unity that strengthens us, and that difference can be tolerated if love of God and neighbor is our ultimate goal.

 

It would be easy for each of us to decide that our individual flock was best. We could have said our way to the gate is the only way or the best way, but then, what’s the point if all we know is what divides us? When we think in terms of difference, we divide up into our preferred groups that are ultimately less useful. When we choose to see that we are all sheep, all looking for the way of Christ, no matter our color or size or breed, we make a larger force far more capable of doing good.

 

There has always been difference of thought within Christianity. We have splintered off into many denominations because we have drawn lines in the sand on certain issues that define what we think is right thinking. That is simply a matter of fact. But we cannot let the church fall victim to blinded, uncooperative tribes that think we are better divided than we are together.

 

It is unity that makes us a powerful force. We do not need to look alike and act alike to be alike. Our likeness as children of God makes us that. We must embrace what we can find in common and follow that. In our case, it is love of God and neighbor. That covers a whole lot of ground.

 

You are a blessed child in the eyes of God. You belong in the flock, no matter what others tell you. If you are already within the flock, I hope you welcome others and to make it known that we will care for them as we would any of our own.

 

I am the sheep, and I am okay with that, because my master is the keeper of the gate, and he calls my name.