Jesus the Shepherd, Jesus the Gate

Listen here.

Emmanuel@Home Morning Prayer
Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020
The Rev. Charles C. McCoart, Jr.

Hi everyone, welcome to our eighth Sunday of celebrating Emmanuel At Home.  Thanks again for joining us.  

As many of you know the first weekend in May is when our parish ordinarily goes on a retreat to Shrine Mont in beautiful Orkney Springs, Virginia.  A parish retreat is no small undertaking and volunteer Joe Scott does a fantastic job getting us to Shrine Mont and helping us navigate through an itinerary which is heavy on outdoor time enjoying Mother Nature, promoting building relationships among parishioners, a safe and wonderful environment where kids can literally run free, some faith building opportunities for folks of all ages, time spent enjoying the talents of our wonderful guitar circle, all capped off with three hot meals a day of Country Cooking at it’s best.  

As we know, this is no ordinary year.  During these days of navigating through the coronavirus, coupled with social distancing, no one is at Shrine Mont these days, including us.  We’re all at home.  Wishing we could be at Shrine Mont.  If you feel so called to reach out to the good folks at Shrine Mont please send them a little bit of financial support in the form of a contribution, I know first hand that they’d all really appreciate it.  Thank you.

You’ll also notice that embedded in the service today Joani made every attempt to have the music reflect the kind of music we might hear while at Shrine Mont.  While we’re bummed we can’t be with our beloved Guitar Circle, we hope you enjoy the music from today’s service none the less.

Thinking about today’s homily I wanted to find a really neat real-life example of a Mom or Dad who goes over and above each and every day … to use as a stellar example for my homily.  I was hoping to identify parents of all shapes and kinds who live what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.  While trying to narrow down my options I came to the happy realization that I know far too many great parents who are wonderful examples of what Jesus will teach us today – to narrow my list down to one or two.  So in that same spirit, as I help us work our way through this scripture from John’s Gospel I invite you to keep in mind all parents you know as being awesome examples of what it means to be a great parent.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I am the sheep’s door.”  When Jesus said “sheep,” He was talking about people.  What does it mean to be the people’s door? 

Jesus also says, “I am the good shepherd.” That’s easier to understand.  We’re the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd.  He is not only the shepherd, but is also the “GOOD shepherd”––a shepherd who protects the sheep, even at the risk of His life. 

We like the shepherd.  Most of us feel vulnerable at some points in our life, and it’s comforting to know that we have a Good Shepherd watching over us––keeping us from running into the ditch––protecting us from wolves that would devour us. 

Personally, I like the idea of Jesus as my shepherd––that He is watching over me––keeping me on the right path.  I like the idea that Jesus will come to find me when I wander off––prepared to carry me back to the fold when I can’t make it back under my own power.

Being a shepherd isn’t a sometime-job.  Shepherds don’t work forty-hour weeks.  They work 18 hour days, and sleep with a rifle to guard the sheep against coyotes and bears.  I wouldn’t find most aspects of their job attractive; but I sure would love the being outdoors part.

So Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” and we appreciate that.  But then He says, “I am the sheep’s door.”  And we have to wonder what on earth does He mean? 

In Jesus’ day, a village sheepfold would have a gate to protect the sheep.  But shepherds had to stay in the countryside for days at a time.  Out in the countryside, a shepherd would have to gather the sheep together in a safe secluded place.  At night, the shepherd would lay down his bedroll in the entrance so that a predator would have to get by him before it could get to the sheep.  In the most literal sense the shepherd was the door; there was no access to the sheepfold except through him.

So the shepherd walked with the sheep during the day, leading them to green pastures and protecting them from danger.  

At night, the shepherd became the gate, using his body––his presence––to block animals that might harm the sheep.

So when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” He means, “I put my life on the line EVERY DAY to protect the sheep.”  And when Jesus says, “I am the sheep’s door,” He means, “I put my life on the line EVERY NIGHT to protect the sheep.”  Is this starting to sound like every good parent you have ever known?  That’s what good parents do all day long, 24/7 – and folks, WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN!

Whether Jesus is the shepherd or the gate, He is there to protect the sheep––and we are His sheep.  We are the ones whom Jesus loves.  We are the ones for whom Jesus gave His life.  We are the ones in Jesus’ care now––day and night.

So – like all sheep – like all children – we need a shepherd.  We need a shepherd to guide us along the right paths––to help us to make good decisions. We live in a complicated world where there are few standards––few guideposts––to guide us.  We make decisions every day––and some of those decisions have the potential to make or break us. 

Important decisions seldom announce themselves as such.  More often, we make what seems like a small decision––that leads to another small decision––and then another––and another.  Pretty soon, we find ourselves in a place that we hadn’t expected to be.  Sometimes that’s good––but accidental journeys often lead downward rather than upward.  That’s certainly how the tempter plans it.  

Walter Farrell puts it this way:

“The devil does not shock a saint into alertness

by suggesting outrageous crimes. 

The devil starts off with little, almost inoffensive things

to which even the heart of a saint

would make only mild protests.”

So how does Jesus prepare us for the small temptations that have the potential to unravel our lives?  We might take note of the way that Jesus prepared His disciples for their work. 

• One of the ways that Jesus prepared the disciples was His TEACHING ministry.  Jesus taught His disciples many things––some of which they understood right way, but many of which they understood only after the resurrection. 

• Another way Jesus prepared His disciples was His HEALING ministry.  Jesus did great and wonderful things for people in need.  Jesus’ disciples had the opportunity to see His power at work––God’s power at work.

• But one of the most important ways that Jesus prepared His disciples was simply by SPENDING TIME with them––walking the dusty roads of Palestine with them––sharing meals with them––telling them stories––showing them by example what it means to walk a Godly walk. 

In this, Jesus operated much like a shepherd.  Shepherds walked the roads and the pathways with their sheep––leading them––keeping them from danger––talking to them––calling them by name. 

Jesus was a shepherd to His disciples, and His shepherding skills prepared His disciples for their great mission once Jesus ascended back into His heavenly glory.

That should be instructive for us. The time that we spend with Jesus prepares us for life–– for the challenges that we will face.  The time that we spend with Jesus prepares us for the decisions we have to make.  That’s one reason we come here to worship – even online – each week.  This is time that we spend with Jesus, learning from His example––from His teachings.   

But we need more than an hour a week with Jesus.  We need to spend time with Jesus in PRAYER.  Prayer is simply: conversation.  Prayer doesn’t have to be big and fancy church-y words!  Prayer and conversation with God count as time spent with Jesus the shepherd.  They prepare us for the decisions that will set us on an upward or downward road.

When temptations come––when critical decisions are to be made––the time that we have spent walking and talking with – and listening to – Jesus the shepherd – can make all the difference.  What we have learned by walking with Him can save us.  It’s then that Jesus the shepherd becomes Jesus the door––Jesus the gate––Jesus the one who stands between us and the evil one who would devour us. 

Spend some time with Jesus the shepherd: 

• Let Jesus teach you how to live. 

• Let Jesus direct you to a safe haven where you can sleep soundly. 

• Let Jesus lie down across the entrance to be the gate––the one through whom intruders will have to pass to get to you. 

• Let Jesus lead you into green pastures. 

• Let Jesus guide and protect you. 

• Let Jesus deliver you from evil. 

If you will do that, Jesus will lead you off the downward road onto the upward road.  He will restore your soul. Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life––if you – if WE – will let Jesus be our shepherd and gate.

Peace friends, Chuck