Doors and Gates

Have you ever noticed that there is a one big difference in the front door of a commercial building like a bank or office building and the front door of a residence. The commercial front door opens outward to the street. Our sanctuary has two large doors that open outward. But go home this afternoon and you will probably notice that your front door opens inward.

Why is this? Why does your front door open inward? It goes back to a Biblical idea as far back as Abraham. Our homes are architecturally designed to welcome people. And those who are Christ’s disciples are commanded in the 1st Peter to “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” And Paul tells both Timothy and Titus that one of the key qualifications for an elder is that they are known for being hospitable.

In this way they reflect Jesus character, because no one was more hospitable than Jesus. Even though he had no place to lay his head, when people came into his presence, no matter who they were or what their status or class they felt welcome.

The image of an open door is also found in the opening letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. It is from the letter of the risen Christ to the church in Sardis: Look I have set before you an open door, which no one will be able to shut.  So with that background, what does Jesus mean: I am the door or the gate for the sheep.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

When I first watched this video I was deeply moved. What Jesus is saying here is that he himself is the gate. He knows each of his sheep by name, he knows when to shut the door to wolves and when to open the door. Not a wooden door, but a human door. Jesus says: I am the gate; I am the door.

He really is the human door. Unlike our homes or offices, the sheepfold has no physical door, The Shepherd is the door.

When it is time to leave the sheepfold go out to the pasture, the sheep follow the voice of the shepherd and they follow him because they recognize his voice and know that he will lead them to pasture. Sheep aren’t very smart, but they are stubborn, if they don’t recognize the voice or call of the person who is trying to take them out of the sheepfold, they simply won’t go.

Gary Burge tells the story of the power of the voice of the Shepherd. A Palestinian woman who had lost her husband in a recent conflict with Israel was not only in mourning but her sheep, her only source of a livelihood had been confiscated and put in a large pen with hundreds s of other sheep. She was one tough lady. She found the place where her sheep were being held and she asked the Israeli army officer if she could simply call out her sheep. He decided to make fun of her and pointed to the pen and said it would be impossible to find just her small flock of sheep. She asked that if she could, in fact, identify just her sheep, could she take them home. The officer agreed. A soldier opened the gate and the woman’s son produced a small reed flute. He played a simple tune again and again—soon sheep head began popping up across the pen. The young boy continued playing his music and walked home with his mother. They were followed by their flock of 25 sheep.

Now the point is clear.  Jesus is both shepherd and gate; his is the true voice, through him comes salvation and life.

Jesus is both the shepherd and the gate; the way to safety, the way to salvation and abundance of life.  The thief comes only to kill and to destroy, Jesus comes to bring life and wholeness.

In many ways this teaching is similar to other great sayings in John: I am the light of the world - the true light that lights the way to salvation; I am the way, the truth and the life - Jesus as the true means of access to God.

When the apostle John finally gets around to writing down his gospel, remember he had been preaching orally for decades, but when he finally decides it is time to write it all down for the generations to come, he is writing to people who live in a very different context than rural Palestine. They are scattered around the Roman Empire. It was an intensely pluralistic world. The Christian faith was one option in the midst of many ways of salvation, many faiths, many ideologies. In that sense it was a world very much like ours. John uses this pastoral image of a sheep gate to explain that there is only one way for sheep, to follow their Shepherd’s voice. In John’s Gospel there are strong contrasts: like

            blindness and sight

            the thief and the shepherd

            death and life

It’s very black and white.  So the apostle John, near the end of his life, a missionary living in Greece, is saying with utter clarity and in a particularly uncompromising way, yes, there are many leaders and messiahs, many cults and philosophies, but none of them enter by the gate, but they are like thieves and robbers, for there is but one gate, one way to abundant life, one flock to be gathered out of the nations of the world.

Strong stuff.  In some way, when we think of our own context, there are similarities, we too live in an age of competing faiths and ideologies, sort of like a supermarket of choices. So how do we hear the words of John 10 this morning?  Well, I hope we hear them with great humility. A humility that on the one hand witnesses to the fact that in Jesus Christ we have found the ‘yes’ to all God’s promises; that in him we have discovered abundance of life; that he indeed is the gate. But on the other hand, that Christ is not the kind of gate that we wish to slam in other peoples’ faces’. Look at John 10:16 to see this: I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Jesus loves to explain that the gate is open, that he desires than no one should perish, but that everyone should come to a knowledge of eternal life. In our broken and tragic world where people face their own death or that of a loved one far too often, Jesus is saying, come to the safety of the sheepfold, come the door is open, you just come. And you will find rest for your soul, and eternal, abundant life in my sheepfold.

My first job was delivering the Sunday SF Examiner. Every Sunday I would get up at 4:30 am and fold the papers and then get on my bike in the early morning. As I went on my route, I would observe all the different houses. I still remember vividly the different kinds of gates and front doors. Some doors and some gates shouted ‘keep out’.  Some gates were wired up so that you couldn’t even get into the front garden.  Some doors had no letter boxes or the letter boxes were wired up, presumably on the grounds of – no letter box, no bills.  Some had large signs – ‘enter at your own risk’, ‘beware of the dog’, with a picture of a snarling dog, with teeth bared. Some gates and doors were in ruins. I was so glad that I didn’t have to go inside the gate, my job was to throw the newspaper in the front yard.

In Nairobi Kenya we stayed with a Kenyan family during a summer mission trip. In this neighborhood all the houses had 12 foot high walls and electronically operated gates with spikes on them; the mailbox was integrated into the gates, sometimes with closed circuit television cameras poised to observe anyone who dared to draw near; veritable fortresses against the outside world – the people in Nairobi clearly took very seriously Jesus’ words that ‘thieves break through and steal’

On the other hand, other gates and doors send a very clear message of welcome. You sense that as you approach them, the people inside will welcome you inside and serve you tea.  These are the gates and doors that lead to homes with wonderful hospitality. Jesus is that kind of gate. This is the real Jesus, the gate for the sheep. This is the Son of God that we follow; the one who is the gate, the door; Jesus is not a night-club bouncer, he is the one who welcomes us inside.

If we follow this Jesus, the open door, the open gate. What should our houses look like? What should our lives look like? How can we reflect our Savior and Lord and extend radical welcome to those who are searching, who are hungering for meaning, for hope, for wholeness? Let’s find out together. May God so fill us with his Holy Spirit of welcome, of love, that we might reflect the real Jesus to a watching world.