Vicar Mollie Hamre
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Do you feel safe in our world?
This question might leave an uneasy feeling among our readings today that we often relate with comfort and protection. We hear Psalm 23, a familiar Psalm, the reading from Acts describing a peaceful community, and the voice of Jesus calling to his sheep in the Gospel. Yet, amidst all this comfort, I cannot help but be skeptical of these words. The words telling us that Jesus, our gate and shepherd protects us, finds us green pastures, and gives life abundantly.
Because the world we see is anything but that. It’s full of shootings, violence, hate, and destruction of our Earth. You name it. For my assumptions of what a world that is safe and protected looks like, this is not it. And while I do my best to trust in our Triune God, I am not sure how to connect these words with the world I see.
We hear a metaphor from Jesus about a shepherd and his flock.
About how the shepherd calls his sheep and opens the gate wide for them. How the sheep know the shepherd’s voice when the gate is opened and the shepherd walks ahead of them. And a warning about thieves and bandits that might try to enter elsewhere. Jesus then ends the Gospel saying: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Where does your focus go when reflecting on the Gospel?
Because mine goes to the gate. My focus was not on the role of the shepherd, but the wall that holds the image of safety. It was not the loving care of the Shepard’s voice. It was the fence that is supposed to keep out all those things that we deem to be thieves and bandits. The wall that leads us to believe that there is a way to determine who is in or out. Where safety is and where it is not.
And even in what we perceive as a safety bubble is not always true because we still experience suffering. We experience illness that impacts ourselves and our loved ones. And we experience violence that enters our neighborhoods and the loss of lives.
This wall that gives us a feeling of safety is not the promise of our Triune God.
It is Jesus, the shepherd, the gate and guide of the flock.
See, in ancient times the shepherd literally was the gate.
The shepherd would lie down in front of the entrance and if anything wanted to harm the flock, it had to go through the shepherd first. This shepherd guarding the entrance is not a question about who is allowed to enter, it is more personal than that. We are talking about our relationship with our Triune God and what those promises are. We are talking about the love and community that takes place as our Shepherd embraces the flock. When Jesus tells us today that he is the shepherd, the gate, the one that saves and helps us find pasture, this is not for someone else that needs to hear it. It is for you. Jesus is calling to you. Calling you to abundance and life.
Except it might not be the kind of abundance that our society values today.
So much of the way we think about safety is from the idea of keeping others out. The thieves and bandits that climb over the wall are the ideas trying to convince us that greed, selfishness, and rejection are our only options. That the only way we can find safety is to close ourselves off and create walls. The ideas that try to convince us everything can be handled all by ourselves.
But our Triune God calls us to so much more.
Safety looks like community, vulnerability, and embracing one another. It means leaving the perceived safety of the walls to go out into the pasture and welcome people home. Where you are welcomed home. Safety means approaching all with open arms so that they may live abundantly, have their needs met, and live with dignity. A place where all people are a part of the flock, and come as they are.
It is not the definition of safety we expect. It is not predictable, or controllable, or sometimes even all that comforting when we are asked to expose ourselves to care for one another.
But it does give hope to us lost people.
It gives a loving reminder that we are not alone. It gives us relationship with one another. This community, a part of the flock, gathers together for worship each week caring for each other and goes out to care for our neighbors in the pasture too. Listening to God’s voice that calls us to leave our bias, our assumptions, our judgment of others and asks us to see each other as we truly are: beloved.
Safety is not found in the number of obstacles we build, but in the way we care for one another. The love that takes place as God’s reign and our reality combine.
That’s God, our Shepherd’s promise. That each of God’s sheep are cared for, in community, and loved.
In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.