“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and come in and go out and find pasture… I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:7ff
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Acts 2:44-45
The image I have in mind as I write these words are the many lines I have seen outside our church and in our community, on foot and in cars. Sadly, no one is lining up to go in and be with each other, sharing things in common. But people are lining up to receive what others have been able to give through other means. I have been blessed to be a part of this exchange at the Cecil and Grace Bean Soup Kitchen at St Johns and the Comida para la Comunidad at La Sensación inspired by the calling of Mother’s Mission. Many have been blessed, even awed, by these ministries, as they have both given and received.
The abundant life offered in John comes as a multilayered conclusion to a much larger story in John’s gospel that begins in chapter 9. Jesus has just healed a man born blind from birth. In the sprawling story, the man is healed, but can’t see that Jesus does it. The blind man is then blamed by religious leaders for having Jesus heal him on the Sabbath, then is rejected and ostracized by the community. Jesus then goes and finds the blind man, who through his voice is able to recognize that Jesus is the one who healed him. The blind man then confesses faith in him as Messiah and worships him. Jesus then proceeds to explain how this healing and revelation is meant not just to change what we believe, but to what we owe our allegiance to and to whom we belong.
The story of healing of the man born blind from birth is not over. It has consequences. Jesus then proceeds to tell him, and all within earshot, how we should relate to him. He will choose a rich international, inexhaustible, language of leadership used for thousands of years and still used today. He will tell us about how leaders are like shepherds and followers are like sheep. He will take apart every aspect of that metaphor, break it down and reconstitute it around the trajectory of his own life. He will tell us that to believe in him, is to belong to him. In a grand crescendo, he will declare, ”I am the good shepherd, because the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
But before he tells them that he is the good shepherd, he starts with a more fluid image. He is the door, or the gate, to the whole business of what shepherds are about. There is an inside game and an outside game to shepherding. There is both a protecting and a provisioning work that needs constant attention. There are thieves and bandits and wolves and other dangers both inside and outside the enclosures of our lives. The shepherd, who is also the gate – the leader, working in and through a community – what after all are the gatekeepers in the metaphor? – who is clearly able to identify when and where to go out and stay in, is the key to navigating all of it.
Leadership is a complicated business. Leadership is at least four things. 1) to Articulate Reality, 2) to Protect, 3) To Provide, 4) To Empower access and opportunity. A single man born blind has been healed. But it stands as a challenge for the leaders of his day. They have not been able to protect him, provide for him, or empower him. He is on the outside looking in. The same voice that healed him is telling him there is a gate where he can enter in and find protection, provision, and empowerment.
The way forward is his voice again. “I am the Gate.” A Gate is at the same time a Door, a Border, a Line, a Frontier. A place fo defense and protection.
A Gate is also a Threshold, a Passageway from Inside to Outside. Where we see lines going in both directions. Queues. People lining up for things. A place of exchange and provision.
Consider the leadership we have been seeing in these unprecedented times. It has not necessarily come from where we expected it. But leaders have shown up and we have heard their voices. They have more clearly outlined the boundaries of the sheepfold, and what is life on the outside and on the inside. They have more carefully detailed the true dangers about us and the provisions that we can expect. We have appreciated transparency, reality, truth. We are appreciating people who take responsibility, who give clear understanding of what they know and what they don’t know. We look for real signs of empowerment.
Here’s what it looked like in the early church: “Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2: 42-46
The gate of hospitality. worship, respect, and generosity are wide open in this picture. This picture of the early church is so attractive, so focused, it seems as if we have been trying to get back to it as a church for 2000 years. If we have lost our way, we must return to the gate. If we think we are safe and comfortable inside, we must return to the gate. As we serve in our lines, or wait in our lines to be served, I thank God for the gate. We must resolve to lead people back and forth, in and out, to find pasture. Thank you Jesus for being the Gate.
For today, I invite you to meditate on the fact that this pandemic is redefining the boundaries of the sheepfold, the enclosure where we draw the lines that define and protects community. The church will look very different going forward. Still, it will be recognizable if we go to Gate and describe to him honestly what we see. We are looking to set aside false views of life, and embrace the abundant life we have been promised.
Inside or outside, it is always right THERE.