Jesus assures his followers, “I AM the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be made whole – will come in and go out and find pasture I came that they have life and have it abundantly. But there are others who come only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jesus came that we have life and have it abundantly, and Jesus, himself being both the gate and the gatekeeper to that pasture where all will be well.
OK. If Jesus came that we have life abundant, then why is Christianity more and more a turn-off for people? What we hear from various surveys, myriad studies, and mass media and scholarly articles alike is that while we, the church-in-general, talk about abundant life, many see us who are a part of the church to be more like the thieves and bandits of today’s text – robbing people of the fullness of life. Furthermore, “millenials” and generally-turned-off others observe that not even the thieves sitting together in the pews can get along. And we’re noisy thieves and bandits at that, say those who want nothing to do with the church. We are so noisy that we drown out the voice of Gentle Jesus the Gatekeeper – and all that can be heard are voices that offer up an angry god who discriminates against women and children in favor of zygotes, fetuses, and a state that controls women’s bodies but could care less about prenatal or postnatal care of unborn and born alike. The church, a bunch of thieves and bandits drowning out the voice of the abundant-life-giving gatekeeper with shrieks of partisan fear and loathing directed against those who don’t fit some mid-20th Century notion of marriage and family – you know the mom who is subservient to the husband, who home-schools the kids and then greets hubby at the door, chipper, charming, and bearing her spouse’s beverage of choice – the mom who never was and never shall be except in the imaginations of those espousing so-called “family values” – you know, the mom who has perfectly decorated the home, keeps it immaculate, and is white, upper-middle-class, speaks perfect English and English only, never yells at the kids, and never ever utters any sort of four-letter word because she is cucumber cool and forever together, amen. No, the values espoused by the church, we hear – especially from those who deem themselves spiritual but not religious – the stuff that goes on in church communities – well it simply makes us far less than credible – and many, if not most people of the younger generations want nothing of it. Thieves and bandits are whom they hear; thieves and bandits, pro-life as they say but also pro-capital punishment, pro-war, pro-white, pro-USA first and only, pro-male, pro-heterosexual, pro-fetus, pro-discrimination, and anti-anything that smacks of difference or diversity. Doesn’t sound like life and life abundant to me. Sounds more like a noisy rabble drowning out the voice of Jesus at the welcome gate.
In this morning’s first Reading we hear that the baptized of the early church, among other things, “devoted themselves to the apostolic teaching.” Inscribed upon the lintel – the piece of stone or wood at the top of an opening in the wall, the window or door of a building – inscribed upon the lintel of an early Christian community house is this saying: “The most Apostolic duty of all is to encourage one another in the faith.” Encouragement – Apostolic teaching, in the understanding of the ancient Church, is all about encouragement – not about sowing fear, trepidation, and anxiety. Our Christian duty is to pass on the witness of the Apostles – namely, that Jesus has revealed, and for all time, the loving heart of God – that God’s will for us in Jesus is fullness of life – not condemnation, discrimination, and days of tribulations. The duty of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is solely to foster trust in the God whose resurrected glory it is to have died upon a cross rather than condemn the world. And anything and everything to the contrary is not the teaching of the Church founded by the crucified Christ who upon rising speaks peace to the world that killed him, speaks peace to the followers who deserted and denied him.
Now I know that I am speaking to the converted, right? I know that here is a safe place for those who listen to the voice of Jesus the gate and gatekeeper. Won’t you please tell others about this place where we speak, sing, live our trust in the God who loves the world – the whole world – and who wills life abundant for you and for all? And you yourselves, have no fear, little flock. Those who spread judgment and fear, those who sow doubt and terror – they are as thieves who come to take away your trust in the Christ who reveals the loving heart of God. But those thieves shall one day and for ever lose their power over you.
Again, apostolic duty is to encourage one another in the faith, in trusting that Christ has come to bring life abundant – and as we heard in the First Reading, in order that the early community – and remember this was a community violently persecuted and terrorized on every side – in order that the early community have this trust, they devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. So too this day here in this place: bread and body broken wine and life’s blood poured out with prayer – in order that already this day, the Shepherd, the Gate of the Good Pasture, the Gate Keeper who calls you by name come down and dwell with and in you – that your faith and trust be encouraged, that you go out and be not alone but go out from here overshadowed by the God who wills abundant life for you and for all, this day and for ever. So have no fear dear little flock; have no fear.