Text: John 10:1-10
Throughout St. John’s Gospel, every time Jesus begins a statement with “I Am,” He’s saying something significant about Himself. In John, every time He says, “I AM…this, that or the other…” Jesus is saying that He is the Lord God who revealed His name to Moses in the burning bush. “I AM WHO I AM.”
And of all the “I Am” statements in the Gospel according to St. John…and there is a whole flock of ‘em…of all the “I am” statements of Jesus, “I am the door of the sheep” from chapter ten, is usually overlooked. The others…like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” or the biggie here in John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd”…they’re all immortalized in hymns and stained glass windows. But…there just aren’t many great hymns of the church about doors.
Although, coincidently, one of the two stained glass windows from our old church building, mounted in the chapel, happens to be a rare example of Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep.” And in that window, there He stands, in the empty doorframe…because He is the door…and the sheep come out by Him…with one of the little lambs, of course, tucked in His arm. “I am the door of the sheep.”
Now, in these opening verses of John 10, Jesus is talking about a door, a shepherd, a gatekeeper, sheep, and thieves and robbers. Now that’s all well and good, but Jesus explicitly claims to be the Door. And then He explicitly claims to be the Shepherd. And then…considering the way He tells this little parable…He seems to claim to be the Gatekeeper at the same time. Whoa!
So Jesus-the-shepherd enters Jesus-the-door because Jesus-perhaps-the-gatekeeper opens it for Him…so that Jesus can get to the sheep. OK…no wonder the disciples are confused. We get a little confused too. Either Jesus is having some sort of identity crisis or He’s mixing His metaphors…or…He’s trying to make a larger point. Which, in St. John’s Gospel, is always a safe bet!
There’s a little detail in this story that is often overlooked. The sheep aren’t entering—Jesus is entering by the door. The sheep hear His voice. He calls His sheep by name and…He leads them out. He leads us out. Not in. He enters and leads us…out.
Which, of course, begs the question: if Jesus is leading us out, where is He leading us out from? And, more importantly, where is He leading us out to? Well now, we’ve spent a lot of time just getting Jesus’ foot in the door. But it’s an important Door.
When we open our eyes as babies we see the world stretching out around us, and we are in the middle of it. “I am the center of the world I see,” says baby to himself. “Where the horizon is depends on where I sit.” And as a baby we discover that some things hurt us. We hope they never happen again. We call them bad. Some things please us, a lot. We hope they happen again. We call them good. Our standard of good and bad is based on us. We are the center of our own world. And, unless something happens to change it, we stay that way all through our life.
Now…if you’ve ever been handed the little tract “The Four Spiritual Laws” (a dreadful title)…well then you know that the finale to that particular tract is that God comes along and kicks us self-centered babies off the throne of our little worlds. To become a Christian you have to pray something like, “Dear Jesus, come kick me off my chair and take over. Amen.”
Well, thanks to tracts like that there is a tendency among some Christians, and certainly among non-Christians, to think of life in the Church as an oppressive sort of obedience, and certainly devoid of much fun. (Why, I’ve lost count of the events I’ve attended in which the host offers me only a soda…as if a pastor isn’t supposed to drink what the big boys are having.) It’s as if the Church is all about rules and laws and control.
As if…as if the flock is led by a little Austria corporal with funny mustache— “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer!” “One people, one nation, one leader! Sieg Heil!” And in the church everyone has to belong to a group; everyone has attend worship X-number of times; everyone must give X-percent dollars. And the Elders become a squad of black-shirted Gestapo, enforcing the rules: “You vill obey…und you vill like it!”
No…Jesus does not lead His flock into the pen, into the bondage of the Law, into the death camp of the soul. Nor does He kick us off the chair so He can take over. It’s not about control. The Shepherd enters by the Door, calls us, and leads us out!
Ah…but “out” is not out from a world of rules into the paradise of “do-your-own-thing,” as folks who have drunk too deeply of the Baby Boomer Kool-aid tend to think. In the words of Ayn Rand, the patron saint of so much Boomer thinking: “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another [person], nor ask another [person] to live for mine…. If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that must be rejected…. Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness…is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.” Have it your way…and do you want fries with that?
And whole church bodies have drunk the Kool-aid, and now pander to the fleeting fads of popular culture. Whole church bodies have drunk the Kool-aid and with a simple show of hands have overturned two thousand years of Christian teaching about marriage and sexual morality. Whole church bodies have drunk the Kool-aid, and can no longer bring themselves to say that Jesus is The Door of the sheep. They only allow Him to be A door. “Well…we want to affirm everyone! We don’t want anyone to feel left out. The Gospel means never having to say, ‘No.’” And the fat little baby sits in the center of his little world, with a horizon no bigger than his own chubby little likes and dislikes. It’s a slavery, a death camp of the soul as much as the other.
This is what Jesus does…He sets us free. He breaks us out of the pen…out of the pen where we are assaulted by thieves with their legalistic, rule-bound religion that snuffs out the individual spirit; assailed by robbers with their reckless, lawlessness of selfish individualism, loosing their anarchy upon the world…these thieves and robbers that break in to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus, the Shepherd, enters to get us out of that pen. In fact, the Greek text is rather forceful. He throws us out. Because the situation in the pen is so deadly, He hurls us out into what He calls abundant life.
Jesus does not come marching into the pen with His jackbooted strut to kick us off the throne, so that He can issue new orders to obey. Nor does Jesus enter the pen indulgently to pander to our selfish, infantile horizons. He enters this place of thieves and robbers, the place of death, to call us by the Gospel, and to lead us out into His gift of life…life in all of its unfathomable abundance.
And now, perhaps we begin to see John’s point! “I am the Door,” Jesus says. It is the Lord God, the great I AM, who first spoke His promise of abundant life to the world through the singular door of Abraham. It is the God of Abraham, the great I AM, who multiplied His promise of abundant life to world through the singular Door of Abraham’s seed, the nation of Israel. And in the fullness of time, again it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the great I AM, who Himself becomes the Door of life in abundance by means of Abraham’s singular Seed, Jesus.
So that now…having become His own Door, it is the Lord God Himself who entered our prison camp of stunted horizons, where our lives are hammered to death by religious thieves and robbers. It is the Lord God Himself who, having entered by His self-created Door, is robbed of His own life by the hammering of the cross; God Himself, now clothed in resurrection life, by the water and the blood of the crucified Shepherd, makes us His own. He calls us by name.
And…it is the Lord God Himself, the great I AM, who opens the final door, and brings us out of the tomb of our infantile world, to stand with His Christ, our Good Shepherd, and marvel at the boundless horizons of His abundant, resurrection life.
“I AM,” He says. So, we are…one flock with one Shepherd. Not by law. Not by lawlessness. But by Him who calls us each by name…and leads us out…from bondage to freedom, from death to life.