May 11, 2014 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 10:1–10:10
Fourth Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Take a moment and see if you can picture your front door. What does that portal to your home look like? Now before you get too fixated on the first thing that came to mind, is the front door of your home really the front door of your home? If you live someplace like my family does, that’s an easy question to answer: there’s only one door into our home! But you might have a garage door, a back door, or a side door that sees a lot more traffic than the door that happens to be up front. Which door do you use most of the time? What about your guests? When you have people over to your place – assuming that you have more than one way to enter – they might be the ones you bring in through the door out front, while friends come in through the side. Some front doors are just a part of a façade; they’re just there mostly for decoration and don’t really get used. So picture your primary door. What’s it made from? What color is it? What does that portal through which you go in and come out look like? That “front” door gives access to your home.
I’ve seen a lot of signs that say “Home is where the heart is,” and in some ways that’s true. Your home isn’t just the place where you keep all your stuff. You might have multiple homes: the place where you grew up, the place where you live now, the place where you go on vacation. It might be a house, an apartment, a castle, or a cabin, but it’s not the type of structure that makes a place into a home. You might share your home with other people, or maybe you’ve got it all to yourself; what you call “home” can and does change when family figures in to the picture. Those things aside, though, home is where you can go when you’re looking for a place to rest and recharge, a sanctuary that’s distinct from the world outside. When it’s what it’s meant to be, home is an environment where you can grow and be strengthened for your journey in the world.
In order to better understand Jesus’ sayings in today’s Gospel text, consider how first-century sheep farming took place. If a family had a small flock of sheep and enough space, they might keep their sheep next to their home in a pen; however, that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is describing in his illustration. The sheep fold here is more like what you’d see when several families in the same village worked together to build a large enclosure for all their flocks, where they could stay together under the care of a watchman. In their pen, the sheep would be secure and protected from the predators that roam the wilds and, generally speaking, safe from thieves that might come and try to steal or harm the sheep out of greed or malice. There’d be one gate or door through which all the sheep would have to go in and out. Anyone who wasn’t authorized to get to the sheep would have to sneak in over a fence wall. Another important point to understand about shepherding in the ancient Near-East has to do with how the shepherd moved his flock. Western shepherds drive their sheep from behind, maybe using a sheepdog to keep them all together and moving in the desired direction. But both now and in Jesus’ day, the shepherd would lead their flock, their voice calling the sheep to follow. In a large sheep fold, then, different shepherds could stand beyond the gate and call their own sheep out to feed in the pastures.
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are likened to sheep – and that’s what Jesus is doing here as he speaks to his disciples and the Pharisees. If you’ve grown up in Christianity, at some point along the way you probably sang the hymn “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” It puts our relationship with God in pretty simple terms, reflecting those of Psalm 23: we are His, and He leads us and cares for us. God sent His Son, Jesus, to be the shepherd of his flock. It’s a mighty large flock, and yet Jesus knows each of his sheep by name. You – yes, you! – have been called to know God’s care and provision in Jesus. You are under his care. He’s the only one who has responsibility for and authority over his sheep. Jesus is the door.
There have been and continue to be people out there who come as thieves and robbers, looking to lay claim to flock out of greed or do them harm out of malice. You and I live in a time and world where there seem to be an endless supply of people who promote their own sheep fold as the place to be, either saying that theirs is better than others or that it doesn’t really matter which one you’re in. What’s a sheep to do? Follow the voice of the shepherd. Come home.
Like sheep, you and I can be pretty dense. We stray off, looking for those greener pastures. That’s the selfish nature to which we were born. Going out on your own, you can get pretty far from home, winding up in deserts and wilderness where there’s nothing for you but hopelessness and hunger. Sometimes that happens in small ways, but those small “strayings” can leave you pretty lost and alone, distant from the rest of your flock and the goodness of the fold.
Jesus is the front door – the only door – to life with God. When Jesus says that he came to bring life for his sheep, life to the full, he’s speaking of that life which comes from a restored relationship with God. That’s what he wants for you and for all of his flock. That life to the full with God is something that we can only begin to imagine in the present age, but it’s still a reality for us. This is the life that follows in God’s design for humanity, receiving and giving the love that He has for each sheep his flock, life that flourishes and knows contentment in any circumstances under the care of the shepherd. That’s what he came to bring. In this season of Easter, we get to sing “Alleluia!” because Jesus has brought us life which he has shown can’t be beaten by death, life that can’t be stolen away by thieves and robbers. Jesus is the door, and through him we sheep can know both the safety of the pen and the abundance of the pasture. With Jesus as the door, you and I can know what it means to be at home with God.
Being at home with God isn’t about a place. But we have “houses of God” as places where the flock can come together to be fed and nurtured to live together in the abundant life that Christ came to bring. Our congregation, for example, is a place where you can gather with your fellow Christians, people who are Jesus’ little lambs, too, to grow and be strengthened for your journey in the world. Our community of faith is meant to be a place where we know God’s forgiveness as a shelter from the power of sin and death. Here, God gives you Himself as you hear His word of promise proclaimed and receive the means of grace that He offers you, to bring you life to the full. Here, you have a flock of friends and family who, like you, come in and go out through Jesus. Here, you are home.
As God’s flock on this weekend when our nation celebrates Mother’s Day, remember and pray for families and homes here and around our world. Celebrate with those who gave birth to their first child. Mourn with those who lost a child or experienced miscarriage. Rejoice with those who are pregnant and waiting with anticipation for the future. Stand with those who have known failed adoptions or the hardships of infertility. Encourage those who are raising children –their own or those entrusted to their care – that they may continue to point these lambs to their shepherd, Jesus. Comfort those who have lost mothers or who have had broken relationships with their mother that they know the healing that Christ brings his flock. Ask for God’s mercy and care for those who are separated from their children that they may be reunited, especially for those parents of the two-hundred-plus daughters kidnapped in Nigeria by thieves and robbers. No matter how many people live there, every home needs that abundant life that Jesus came to give.
Jesus, our living Lord, is the door to life with God. His voice has called you in, just as he has called others from every nation. He knows your name and he knows your needs. He knows you, and he wants you to know him and the life to the full that he brings.
In Jesus’ name, welcome home.