My hometown, the city of St. Louis, Missouri, is known as the “Gateway to the West.” During the 1800s it was starting point for the westward movement of settlers in the United States and served as a travel stop for many pioneers, settlers, hunters and others who were ‘westward ho’.
Explorers Lewis and Clark started out from St. Louis in 1804 to explore and chart the Louisiana Territory that had been purchased from France. Many followed the trail of Lewis and Clark from St. Louis to the new frontier. St. Louis was the last big city that these pioneers encountered before they took to the west. Here they could pick up supplies before headin’ out. Many a merchant and entrepreneur made a fine living, even their fortune on the commerce and trade to these adventurers.
A page from the journal of Lewis and Clark
So it’s no surprise, to me at least, a child of the great state of Missouri, when in the 1960’s they began construction on the St. Louis Gateway Arch. We took rides downtown to the Mississippi riverfront to see how it was coming together; if the two legs would meet up at the top was the question of the day. It was a grand day when the Arch was finished because truly now our history was validated and we really did become the “Gateway to the West”.
In St. Louis you are neither east nor west, you are in a liminal place. I’ve always been fascinated with liminal places, thresholds if you will and in today’s passage we find Jesus at a gate, and in fact he is the gate.
From the Contemporary English Version….
Jesus said: I tell you for certain that only thieves and robbers climb over the fence instead of going in through the gate to the sheep pen. But the gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and he goes in through it. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. He calls each of them by name and leads them out.
When he has led out all of his sheep, he walks in front of them, and they follow, because they know his voice. The sheep will not follow strangers. They don’t recognize a stranger’s voice, and they run away.
Jesus told the people this story. But they did not understand what he was talking about.
[So] Jesus said: I tell you for certain that I am the gate for the sheep. Everyone who came before me was a thief or a robber, and the sheep did not listen to any of them. I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved. Through me they will come and go and find pasture.
A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.
Shepherd, gatekeeper, gate! Geesh it’s hard to tell just who Jesus is trying to portray himself as on first read of this passage. And if it’s not confusing enough to us we see that the people were confused also, which is why there is repetition or sort of a retelling of the story. Well to understand this passage we need to understand the tension in chapter 9 because this gives us some context with which to get a grip on what Jesus (or the author of John) is trying to tell us.
If you remember from a couple of weeks ago we heard the story of the man born blind that Jesus healed with mud. The man was brought to the Pharisees and they refused to believe that he had been healed by Jesus. On both sides, questions of exclusion and inclusion began to rage; who was in and who was out on all levels was topic of discussion and disagreement.
So by the time we get to chapter 10 Jesus’ discourse really targets at his opponents and his is pulling no punches with this metaphoric story. And, if you remember the Christology in John is high and what that means is that Jesus already knows he is the Son of God and speaks of himself as the fully imbedded word incarnate. He knows people by name, he ensures their safety, and he lays down his life so that their salvation is affected.
There are many ways to look at this passage with the different roles Jesus ascribes to himself in this pastoral setting but I want to stay with the image of gate because it is a provocative image for us to think about.
Certainly gates are those liminal places where you cross from one place to the next.
Liminal places are those places where worlds come together, where you are betwixt and between. The confirmation kids are now preparing to affirm the baptismal vows that their parents made for them long ago. We look at them now as children of the church when in a few weeks, when they stand at the gate of confirmation we will look at them as full adult members of this church. They are in a liminal place right now.
A gate gives us access to what is on the other side. Sometimes we just have to walk through a gate, or doorway, or archway to get relief, find true happiness and acceptance, or feel protected and secure.
A gate provides a way through a barrier and we all have certain barriers in life, don’t we? Writers block, financial woes, threatening illness…haven’t you ever prayed for God to help you over or through the thickness of life’s blockades? That’s where a gate comes in handy.
It is true that a closed gate provides for us protection from the ‘bad guys’, the wolves and coyotes that are out to hunt us down. But it is also true that a closed gate can be a mechanism for exclusivity and we must be ever vigilant that we practice inclusivity and not exclusivity because heaven knows that the church of the ages and still today has not been as open as they could have been to each person who walks this earth. They have not affirmed each person as a beloved and adored child of God, which I believe we all are. We probably never should use Jesus as ‘the gate’ to hide behind our own prejudice and hatred, not a good idea. The gate should swing far and wide for anyone who wants to walk through it because we know what is on the other side.
Jesus shows us how to pass from a normal existence to a life of abundance by walking through the gate. The key to unlocking the Johannine puzzle is verse 10. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The gate is about abundance. Jesus is about abundant living.
Abundant living in Jesus doesn’t mean that we will have jewels like King Tut or wealth like Warren Buffet. Abundant living in Jesus means that we will find grace in our living, fortitude to walk through the darkest valleys, peace in our humble circumstances, joy even in the leaner times of life.
Abundant living means nurturing your gifts and using them so that you can be happy and in turn make the world a happier place and isn’t that what we really all want? Christ’s resurrection has given us a way to understand all of this. The gates of righteousness, shaare zedek in Hebrew, gates of mercy, gates of abundance are open for you to walk through; so what are you waiting for? You are not alone!