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The Resurrection Life: Welcome

The Resurrection Life  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  19:52
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Jesus, the Gate, the Shepherd, the one who calls us, welcomes us as his sheep into his family. That welcome is extended to all who hear his voice, who listen, and follow it. As people of the Resurrection Life, we extend that radical, loving welcome to others.

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The New Revised Standard Version Jesus the Good Shepherd

Jesus the Good Shepherd

10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Intro: The Resurrection Life

Good morning!

Gatekeepers

If you could all just hold up your name badge and enter your security code, we can keep going with the service. You know, there are qualifications for being here and you need to abide by them. You found the super-secret link to click on to join in online, but that was just one gate in a series of gates to make sure you are supposed to be here.
So, do you have your credentials? Do you have your permit? Do you have your certificate of baptism and membership handy? I’d like to see it, please.
Just kidding...
We have a lot of gatekeepers in our world, don’t we? And we don’t necessarily have a great regard for them, do we? Lawmakers, law protectors, admissions representatives, security guards, hiring boards, traffic control towers, password collectors. How about those little “are you a robot” image games we have to click through to get to our favorite website? Gatekeepers are everywhere.

Gate-crashers

Gatekeepers abound because there are gate-crashers everywhere, too. Those who would seek to disrupt, steal, harm, kill, destroy. In our current era, we have “Zoom-bombers”, people who try to pop into our online gatherings to cause a ruckus and disturb meetings and gatherings. I had my first experience with these attempts this week during our Daily Prayer that I’ve been hosting at 9am each morning. I saw some folks attempt to join our Zoom meeting from the “waiting room.” Nothing came of it, I didn’t let them in (because I’m a good gatekeeper), but I was so curious at what would have happened if I did...
We have gatekeepers in place because the gate-crashers are gonna mess things up, right? Rightly so — we don’t need that. So we follow procedures and stay orderly so things don’t go off the rails.
I’m not trying to be ironic here — I understand the need for gates and keepers and protocols. It keeps us safe and keeps us on track.
But…I’m also so intrigued at what Jesus is saying here about his part in being the gate.
What does it look like, in this age of pandemic and social distancing, to see Jesus as the gate, the good shepherd who calls in those who know his voice? And what do we do with the gate-crashers?

Radical Welcome

As we move through this series of weeks following Easter, we are looking at ways Jesus shows us the Resurrection Life — the Good Life found as people redeemed, restored, and called into loving service in response.
A marker of the Resurrection Life we hear in this passage is the Radical Welcome of God. For all who hear the voice, who enter by the gate, there is loving reception and welcome. No worries about what kind of sheep you are, what color your wool, how healthy or old you are, whether you’re in the front of the herd or you’re straggling behind. Just come through the gate, follow the shepherd’s voice.
This is what we aspire to as a church, as well…to be welcoming of all who enter. All who come in to our doors, all who seek God’s call to worship and serve along side us. That’s deep within our Reformed theology: we believe that God calls a particular, specific people together to worship and serve, each and every time we gather. You, who are here and watching on Zoom or Facebook or the website, in this moment live or later today or this week…you have been called by God to this place. We firmly believe that you have, somehow, heard the still small or mighty voice of the shepherd that brought you here.
And it is because of this understanding that we are able to offer Radical, Loving Welcome to all who enter in.
But what of the gate then? And what of the gate-crashers? Aren’t we worried about the Zoom-bombers and the thieves who would pillage and destroy?
Yes. Absolutely. We are concerned about these things.

Following the Shepherd’s Voice

And this is why we need the Shepherd. And this is why we need the Gate. We are not the shepherd, we are not the gate.
St. Augustine called the church “a hospital for sinners.” I wonder…what if someone is trying to climb the gate to get the help they need? What if they’re stealing from the shepherd because they are in desperation? What if they’re climbing over the other sheep because they’re starving? What does the gatekeeper do then?
There is a difference here between a malicious, destructive attacker who would seek to kill and destroy and the desperate sheep in need of shelter. For the church, we have to identify and protect from the former: we cannot abide the destroyer. But for the latter, while their entrance may strike us as unbecoming, they may smell wrong or act the part in an unfamiliar way…we have the opportunity to offer the welcome of the Loving, Good Shepherd.
This differentiation takes wisdom. It takes gates…to pay attention to who is coming and what they need. One of the reasons that sheep farmers use gates in the way they do, to bring sheep into the fold, is to count and check the herd as it comes into safety. If a sheep is missing, this is where they’ll find out. If a sheep is hurt, by them passing through the gate, the shepherd can notice and assist them.
I think about this in the time of pandemic: We must be wise as shepherds — we need gates and checks and procedures. Not because we don’t want to offer radical welcome and hospitality to all who would seek it. But because we are a hospital that must offer care and healing before we allow the sick to infect the rest of us.
When we gather again together, in person, we will take strict precautions to make sure we don’t participate in a resurgence of the outbreak. This gatekeeping practice is not to turn away sinners or through people to the side as outcasts. Rather, it is a practice of triage, a practice of saving love to all. So if you’re sick, we’ll ask you to worship with us online still. When we gather, we’ll probably want you to bring a Protective Mask, just to be on the safe side. We won’t be shaking hands to pass the peace…not because the peace is not extended, but because we’re using the gate as a chance to offer greater care and welcome.
Is this not how the Resurrection Life works? How the saving love of Christ, the Good Shepherd acts among us? As a gate, as a threshold, as an invitation, as a site of healing and restoration? It is radical welcome…to come through the gate. Jumping the fence isn’t good for anyone. And the desperation of such an act…what is it telling us about the gate-crasher? What do they need? And how do we have an opportunity to redirect that need, that longing, that hunger, into ways of compassionate care and restoration, through the Gate of Christ? This is our challenge as a church.

Practical Example: A Welcoming Table

As we close, let’s consider a very practical example for today: In a moment, we will partake in the practice of communion. It is a practice in our worship to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of the month and regardless of where we are, we break bread together today to remember our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection.
The Table of Communion has a rich history of gatekeeping, gatecrashing, and the sound of the Shepherd’s voice. Within our Reformed tradition, there is much thought that explores who is allowed to partake in communion and with what restrictions or qualifications. A big part of the Protestant Reformation grew out of the ways the Church had mishandled the service of communion. Whole books of the New Testament are formed around a critique of social practices around hospitality and welcome at the Table. Who gets to come first? Do some people practice the Lord’s Supper in a special room while others wait outside?
Within our Presbyterian tradition, we have sought to be open and receptive of all at the Table. Our book of order states that “The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding.” And yet, we also have reminders about a person’s baptismal status and a the charge to come as one who has sought repentance (as Jesus advised his followers to settle disagreements before coming to worship).
What I want to remark on today is this: there will always be parts of us that want to set up barriers, feeling that some do not belong or are not worthy. There we find the curse of our broken world, the curse of believing in scarcity, of there never being enough. It is in us, is it not? And what I want us to hear today is the beautiful blessing and welcome: At the Table of our Lord, if you sense that you are being called to partake, to eat and practice and come before God to receive Body and Blood, the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation — do it! Lean in to this calling. Because, regardless of all the ways we as humans want to set up barriers or definition or rules…regardless of all the systems and the qualifications…if you are hearing that call to take and eat…then do it: you are hearing the voice of the good shepherd.
You are partaking in the Resurrection Life. It is not far off, you are not wandering far away in a field somewhere like a lost sheep. When you hear that call to take and eat, you are hearing the call from the shepherd into participation and belonging with that Resurrection Life. The gate is open, the welcome is here. Do you hear it?
Let us pray.
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