Sermon for Easter 4
“I am the gate”
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Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
Well today, the Fourth Sunday of this season of The Resurrection is as you may know often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and our gospel reading certainly seems to point us in that direction at least so why begin with these verses?? Well it is all to do with context. If I say ‘Good Shepherd’ we may perhaps have an unhelpful image in our minds, for the words of Jesus in today’s gospel leading towards himself declaring that He is the good shepherd follow on immediately from the healing of the man born blind, and find Jesus in the midst of a dispute with the Pharisees, a dispute which leads in due course to some of them suggesting that Jesus is possessed by a demon. As always, context counts for a great deal – and the context helps us to discern a little more clearly what is going on here – what it means for Jesus to be The Good Shepherd, but also the ‘I AM’ saying in our gospel – perhaps the most obscure of these sayings for us – ‘I Am The Gate’?
Jesus seven times uses ‘I AM’ sayings in John – or 8 if we include his crying out ‘before Abraham was, I Am’
Each of them we have some sense of – each embodies something Life giving
I am the Bread of Life – The Eucharist of course
I am the True Vine – an allusion to being the True Israel
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
I am the Resurrection and the life
I am the Light of the World
I am the Good Shepherd
but ‘I am the Gate’? The focus of this passage seems not so much to be the Shepherd as the Gate. When Jesus is justifying his claim to be The Good Shepherd, he says, ‘The one who enters by the Gate is the Shepherd of the Sheep’ – but to call himself ‘The Gate’ – In what sense is that an image of Life, indeed Life in all its fulness?? Why would Jesus use this Sacred phrase, I AM . . . The Gate??
Well if we study the scriptures, we discover that the ‘Gate’ is not so much an inanimate object as a Place, a Place of Great Significance. And of course when we think of Jesus, we might also think of him also in terms of Place – He is the Temple. ‘Destroy this Temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.’ ‘he was speaking to them of the Temple of his body’ Jesus occupies space, He is a place, The place of encounter with the Living God or Life in all its fullness.
Well I think that two different illustrations of the significance of the Gate as a place will begin to open this up for us, and how it applies to us as Christians, how we encounter Jesus as ‘The Gate’
So first a line from Samuel –
‘Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.’ (19:8)
There is our Behold word, again, Behold the King, David, the Shepherd King, sitting in ‘the gate’. – and often as here it represents the Gate of the City. This was a most significant place in the Life of the people of God. For it was here that the King along with the nobles would sit and hear cases. It is a symbol of the place of judging disputes – a place of discerning – the King as the Judge – a place of discerning in a sense, who sill enter and who will not enter. The King seated in the Gate was a powerful symbol of the security of the city – as the psalmist says ‘I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there the thrones for judgement were set up, the thrones of the house of David. ‘
In the brief text from Samuel, it is precisely the Security of the people of God which is at stake. Absalom, David’s son, has usurped the throne precisely by taking David’s place at the gate and suggesting people come for him to hear their disputes. A dark story follows of the flight of David and the treachery of Joab – and Absalom is slain, and David goes into a deep mourning for his son, and disappears from the sight of the people. He has to be persuaded by Joab to show himself for otherwise all the soldiers of the army will desert him. It is a deeply ambiguous and anxiety ridden reading, and of course the resonances with the story of Jesus where his brothers are constantly it seems telling him to ‘show’ himself before the people, and indeed ‘an army’ so to speak who deserts him . . . but Beholding The King sat in the Gate is a sign of the Stability – indeed the deep peace and prosperity of Jerusalem . . . of things being as they should be
And that symbol of the Gate as the entrance to the place of prosperity and peace finds another echo, again with strong resonances for us who seek Jesus in the familiar story of Jacob, fleeing from his brother Esau
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
The Good Shepherd, The Gate – we don’t think ‘what though is the sheepfold?’ This place of security, and abundant life – is it not the place of the presence of God? Jacob realising himself to be ‘in the house of God, the gate of heaven’ I Am the Gate
Nathanael asked [Jesus], ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
He is the Gate to the place of God’s Peace – the doorway to Heaven – the earthly Jerusalem called to be the city of peace, but not knowing what makes for its peace – Jesus, comes for judgement into the world and Is the Gate – the place – the place of Entrance into the very life of God – He is the Temple – and he is the Temple Gate – perhaps the allusion is stronger here than to the City of Jerusalem – In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . no one comes to the Father except they come through me.’ The man born blind has been thrown out, but her hears the voice of the Good Shepherd ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. ‘The sheep follow him because they know his voice’ . . . but the pharisees did not understand what he was saying to them, he did not hear them
Jesus the Good Shepherd, The King (Messiah), The Way into the presence of the fullness of Life in God . . .
And us? Isn’t this after all just my ‘talking about Jesus’? Something which I have suggested we should’t do – how do we find ourselves within the Gate?
We turn briefly to our reading from Acts – a scene set within the sheepfold . . . 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.
People – responding to the Good News of Jesus, responding by entering into his Life through Baptism, and finding Life in all its fullness. The fullness of Shalom, God’s Peace, Salvation as Life is shared amongst them – having all things in common, eating together . . . and all the while the Good Shepherd calling others into the fold.
We the Church, the household of God, the flock of the Good Shepherd, come into the church by baptism, we walk in via the font – we come into the fellowship of Salvation and Life – in and through The Gate. We are baptised into his death, and thus into his life. ‘Whoever enters by me, will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . Jesus is the Gate, the Gate of Heaven, The Gate into the very presence of the Living God in whose presence there is life forevermore.
Acts 2 – City of peace – shalom, wholeness, the Church – Baptism
Psalm – lift high the gates
King of Glory king of Peace