Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Gate Is the Way

What is a shepherd? Why would Jesus use a shepherd as an example of his role in relation to his disciples and us? After all shepherds were dirty, smelly people and no one wanted to get too close to them. All they did was take the sheep to the pasture and bring them back in to the fold. And when it was time to shear them they would do that. Sometimes the first born and the best lambs were offered as sacrifices to God for the people’s sins. But for the most part shepherds were people who lived alone with the flocks and so smelled a lot like those they cared for.
So why would Jesus want us to remember that he was our good shepherd? Maybe it’s because a shepherd spent so much time with his sheep that they became his friends. He spent so much time with them that he even had names for them like “brown leg” or “bent black ear” or “one black ear”. They were like a part of his family or maybe they were his only family. At the very least the wool they produced allowed the shepherd to earn enough to feed himself and his human family.
Jesus wanted them to know that he was their friend and like a shepherd he cared for them. He knew each of them by name. He probably even knew them better than they knew themselves. After all he was the incarnate God.
Shepherds lived very simple lives. All their waking hours and some of their sleeping hours were spent tending to the flock. They had to move the sheep from pasture to pasture and had to be certain that where they were going was safe for their charges. So while they were grazing in one location the shepherd would be checking out the next pasture to be sure it was clear of poisonous weeds and that there were no nests of snakes or scorpions.
Even though the sheep were leisurely grazing their way across the pasture the shepherd was ever alert for danger, whether it was a predator or some plant or insect that might cause the sheep to become ill and die. And when they were dead they didn’t produce any income.
The shepherd knew that the sheep only required three things for their well-being. What they needed were good pasture land, adequate water, and safe paths. They were incapable of securing their own needs or of defending themselves from danger.
This is what Jesus told the disciples and they didn’t get it. Why do you suppose that was? After all they lived in a country where there were sheep and goats and shepherds everywhere. You would think they would understand what he was telling them, but they didn’t get it and so he tried explaining it a different way.
Jesus said he was the Gate to the sheepfold. And the only way to enter was through him. Again this was a reference to the shepherd. The shepherd would put the sheep into the fold and then would lie down in the only entrance so that he would know if anyone was trying to get in or anyone was trying to get out. He was the gate to the fold and he was the protector of his flock. But there were then and still are those today who would try to come in over the fence to take what wasn’t or isn’t theirs.
This parable points out the fact that we are helpless to help ourselves. Oh we are sure that we can provide for all our needs and that we can take care of anything that comes our way. If that’s the case then why is it that there are so many who abuse their minds and bodies with sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Why are there so many angry people around us if we are so taking care of ourselves? Why aren’t we exuberantly joyful? It’s because we aren’t taking care of ourselves spiritually.
We, the human race in general, are so focused on taking care of number one that we forget that we have been given a commission by Jesus to go out into the world and make disciples. We forget, or we shove it way back in the recesses of our brains, that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And that we are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. We forget these very important things. We get mean and surly with our neighbors and we neglect God. Shoot we can’t even be civil with our own members sometimes. But the Shepherd still loves and cares for us. He is watching out for us and listening for our cries for help. His voice is calling to us. Do we remember what it sounded like? He knows our names do we remember his voice?
Friends, we are all in need of healing. Every day the Evil One takes a nip out of us and we aren’t able to protect ourselves without our Shepherd. He has prepared a place for us. I pray that we can find our way back through the brambles where we have strayed.
How are we ever going to find our way to the Gate? Friends, Jesus told us he is the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through him, our Gate. We need to be opening the Word every day so that the light of Christ’s love shines on our path and we can find the way home.
Friends, I’m worried that there are many who are lost and don’t know it. I’m worried that we have become so complacent that we don’t see our neighbor’s needs or hear their cries for help.
Jesus is our shepherd but he has given us the task of caring for the little ones, those who are babies and are looking to us to give them food and shelter. The early Christians in Jerusalem pooled their meager resources so they all could eat. They took care of each other so none were ever in need. Now they had their own logistical problems and some just couldn’t trust in God to provide. There were many bumps in the road but eventually with God’s help they figured most of it out.
They made a commitment to the teachings of the apostles, to their life together with each other, to share a common meal, and to prayers. These were the most important things to the early Christians. They tried to live in harmony with everything in common.
What are the most important things for you? I believe it all goes back to what Jesus was teaching the disciples, love God, love your neighbor and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is here. And to do all of it required them to make changes in their lives and it requires us to make changes in our lives. For some of us it means that we have to make some drastic changes, focusing on the needs of the least in our community and providing for those needs so that they can come to know the love of Jesus Christ through us.
Jesus is our shepherd. He is calling to us; he is knocking at the door of our hearts. Are we listening? Can we find our way to the Gate of the fold? Are we able to help others find the way? Do we understand what Jesus is telling us?
Friends, today may be the day when God is laying his hand on your heart and begging you to make a commitment to him. Will you answer his call to be one of his children?
My friends, God loves you and so do I. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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