We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, April 21, 2024 – “The Gate and the Good Shepherd”

What a joy to be here on this day together with these incredible lessons. Honestly there’s so much here you could preach all day but I promise I’ll keep it under an hour.

The right first thing I want to say is when Jesus says there are sheep not of the fold he’s talking about us because we’re not Jews and so the people outside of Judaism are the ones to whom he’s referring there and that of course would be all of us.

We’ve talked about the whole idea of symbols for a couple of weeks now and how important symbols are when you’re referring to things that you can’t explain clearly in a common language and that’s hard to understand and really hard to talk about. That’s why we have symbols. The cross is probably the greatest symbol in all of history. Last week we talk about the road of life and the road being the symbol for the way that that we move through this world.

There are two more beautiful symbols today that I’d like to unpack what Jesus revealed to us as the gate and as the Good Shepherd . The idea of the gate and the shepherd are symbols of Jesus how he explains himself to us, how he relates himself to us.

These reference references were very pertinent in the day on which they were spoken. Tending sheep is not something that’s commonplace now, some people do it, but it was very common in those days and so Jesus is using those reference points. I want to talk about the gate first. I’ve had people say that it sounds like this is a way that Jesus is excluding people that is part of the exclusivity of this religion.

That’s missing the whole point altogether.  Jesus as the gatekeeper, Jesus as the gate itself is saying this is the way. It’s not to keep somebody out. It’s to make sure everybody knows where you can start. This is the starting point for the religious life. This is the starting point for understanding the meaning and power of what it means to be in Christ. Here’s the place you can begin.

I’m the gate. If you’ll accept me, you’re on the way and it will begin to unfold little by little after that because just like God made us. We don’t start out as grownups (well actually some of us never grow up) but we don’t start out as fully developed people. We start out as little babies and we grow up little by little it’s the same way with the Christian walk it comes little by little. You don’t just suddenly become everything that you might want to be and be able to stand next to the Father in Heaven.

The place you start is the gate and Jesus is the gate. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a center. It doesn’t mean that we all don’t have some sort of spiritual nature but if you want to grow into the likeness of God if you want to be a servant then this is where you start so that’s the gate.  It’s important to understand that as we go through life sometimes we have to go back to the gate and start over.

The other image for us to consider together is the image of Jesus as the shepherd. He is the shepherd because he cares for the sheep. He loves the Sheep. He lays down his life for the Sheep but what does that mean exactly as far as our lives are concerned?

The shepherd is not necessarily complimentary. If you’ve ever had any dealings with sheep you know they’re not really very bright and they’re hard to deal with. Christians are not the Sheep. The sheep are something else. The sheep are our predilections about things. The sheep are the way our ego drives us. The sheep are our sometimes good intentions about things. If I look down inside myself  I can tell the difference between right and wrong. I don’t have to have anybody tell me that. I’m sure you feel the same way but those kinds of things are not always dependable because our egos get in the way. The ego doesn’t want us to pay any attention to any of this because it means it’s taking a second seat to the presence of the shepherd. That’s why there’s so many people who resist this because if your ego is the dominant factor in your life you haven’t got room for this kind of stuff. If your ego is what motivates you and makes your life unfold as you would have it, then that self-centeredness will preclude your understanding any of these things until you come to the gate and that’s where you can start

When Jesus talks about the sheep he’s not comparing us to sheep. He’s comparing our insides to that part of us that drives us, that ego strength. You can even call it intuitions about things that sometimes turn out to be right, they’re not all wrong, but they have to be corralled. They have to have some kind of control on them or we can be misled. The imagery of the sheep there has to be corralled – it has got to be told exactly from time to time the difference between right and wrong, what to do, where to go from here and so forth.

We’re the children of God almighty. We’re not sheep. It is those things inside us that would derail us. It is those things inside us that would lead us astray. Those have to be cornered and brought to heal.

That’s the good news of what this lesson is all about. It’s all about God’s love for us. Both the idea of Jesus as the gate and Jesus as the shepherd are about God’s relationship with us, not leaving us hanging out there somewhere or stranded somewhere on this life in this body wondering what in the world comes next. It’s about our relationship with God, the relationship at least into which we going to which we are called. Jesus didn’t die for our egos. That’s not what he laid down his life for. What he laid down his life for was our eternal souls, not something as temporary as these bodies, even or certainly not our ego-driven lives. He laid his down his life down so that we could separate ourselves from the sheep that run around inside us that would derail us and have us be less than what God created us to be. That’s what the meaning all of this.

We are in the kingdom of God.  Christ laid down his life for us.  God cares so much that God wants to make sure that we have opportunities in life to catch a glimpse of the gate. It happens all the time if we have our eyes open, if you have your antenna out. If you’re watching, you will find opportunities to enter at the gate frequently but mostly we don’t pay attention to it. It can take the form of an illness that might bring us down. It becomes an opportunity to  see and experience the presence of God; it could be a financial disaster over which we might have great anguish only to turn out that it was the way to wholeness in our life.

If you don’t mind a personal reference when I was a lad we had two occasions our house burned to the ground. It changed my parents one, for the good and one for the less than good. Both of them had the opportunity to experience the gate in a different way. As I look back on that, across the opportunities of my life how many times have I had right before me an opportunity to move along the road of my life towards a deeper meaning of existence and understanding of what God is calling me to and I’ve been too busy. All the things that happen and that we think of. Our egos don’t want us to see. We’ve got this power operating inside of us all the time that does not want us to believe any of this, that does not want us to find the gate.

We are reminded of once again is the love of God, the great shepherd of the sheep.  I don’t know how you improve on that. This is the good news in the gospel. So as we are still today and everyday Easter people. We are Easter people because  Jesus laid down his life for us and for what did he lay down his life that we might grow along the road of this life towards the kingdom of God, that we might move more and more in the ways of the Good Shepherd and follow and follow him rather than all of the things in our lives that lead us astray. We all have a long list.

We offer all those things up. That’s what we do when we confess our sins. We’re offering up all those things that distract us from God. We’re offering up all those things that would keep us from either finding the gate or moving along the road after that toward a deeper and richer life. I want to make sure that what you take away is that Christ did not die for our egos, Christ died for our eternal souls and that’s what this is all about the name of the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.