Are we brave enough to walk through the gate?

Sermons and audio

My apologies. I’m home ill with COVID and not feeling well enough to get a sermon filmed and posted this week. God willing, we’ll get back next week.

I do have a sermon to share that I preached on Easter 4 (Good Shepherd Sunday) in 2017 in Oklahoma.


A shepherd in a cowboy hat squatting in the gateway of sheep penEaster 4A 2017 St Johns,Tulsa

This is Good Shepherd Sunday – and here we are reading one part of the 10th Chapter of John. (We read the other two thirds subsequently over the next two years of the lectionary – always on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.)

That’s good and bad. It keeps the image of Jesus as our shepherd in front of us, but it means that over the three years we lose sight of where it is placed in John’s narrative arc. And what it is that motivates Jesus to say this.

Jesus has just healed a blind man (blind from birth!) Jesus encounters him, answers a question about why he was born blind, Jesus puts mud on his eyes (!) and then sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam, all on the sabbath day. This creates a controversy with the holiness folks, who say that by doing this action, Jesus has insulted God and profaned God’s commandment. When Jesus challenges the keepers of the purity rules, they quote Moses and say that the man who was healed has no place in the community anymore, and they drive him out. (He goes to Jesus, who asks him who he (Jesus) is. The Man says believes in Jesus and worships him.) Then Jesus goes to confront the religious authorities, and this Gospel is what he says.

So, here’s one take-away already for this morning: If we read this lesson by itself, we have a confusing riff on what it is to be a gate or a shepherd. But we don’t understand the point that Jesus is trying to make. (And that point is what? That God is acting uniquely in Jesus, and that action does not depend on the religious authorities’ authorization. And that God cannot be stopped in calling to Godself those who are seeking God.

God is acting for the good of those who seek him and for those whom God seeks. There is no profit to God in what God does. This is rarely the same for religious leaders of Jesus day, or of our day. (And I speak as one of them. Don’t listen to me. Listen to Jesus. Listen for his voice. Listen to mine only in as much as you can hear Jesus speaking in my words.)

I’d like to highlight three major teachings in this passage from John’s Gospel:

Teaching number 1: There are people who hear the voice of Jesus and try to draw nearer to him – sometimes to be healed as in the story, but more often in my experience, in a desire for a relationship with the author of life – a relationship which fills a deep void in a person’s heart. They are the ones who hear the voice of the shepherd.

But, now remember who it is that Jesus is speaking to when he expounds this teaching about the shepherd, the sheep, the gate, and his voice. He’s not speaking to the disciples, he’s speaking to the religious authorities of his day, who are busy trying to protect God from the very people that Jesus is reaching out to and seeking. They believe they are doing the right thing by following the rules, but as they do that, they are, in fact, working at cross purposes to what the Savior is doing.

I don’t expect would want to ever do this, but I’d be stunned if we didn’t. Frankly, I’d be stunned if we weren’t doing that right now in some places, perhaps even in the Episcopal Church.

Teaching number 2: Jesus doesn’t describe himself as the Good Shephard in this part of the teaching – the part that we read today. Rather, he describes himself as the gate – the only way to come in and go out to the place that gives life abundantly. 

Perhaps you are hearing the voice of the shepherd calling you in your life today. Perhaps you desire to draw closer to God. Praise God for that! But if you do – or if anyone you know is having that experience – they are going to have to encounter Jesus. There’s no other way.

And that can be a terrifying thing. Jesus loves us, but when we draw near to Jesus, we are confronted with how different we are than he is – his light highlights the rough places in our souls and highlights the shadows in us that we are most ashamed of being known. I know people who have not been able to draw close to Jesus, to enter into the presence of God even though they yearn with all their heart to do so because they are too afraid of having to confront the parts of themselves of which they are terrified.

It takes a great deal of bravery to walk into the presence of the living God. Heck, it takes a great deal of bravery to walk through the doors of a church even when that church is doing everything it can think of to welcome new people. (Do some of you remember what it was like to come through those lovely doors in the back of the church for the first time? Maybe it wasn’t hard for you, but I promise you, for some folks in this room this morning, it was one of the hardest things they ever managed. We don’t give each other enough credit for just being here. We should.

Teaching number three: Jesus is contrasting the way he will ultimately die for his sheep, the ones who have drawn near to him despite their fear – AND despite the obstacles that holy and religious people often mistakenly place to keep them away from Jesus. You can tell who the real shepherds are by the way they treat the flocks they tend. Who profits from the decisions they make? Themselves? Or the sheep they are trying desperately to gather into God’s Kingdom?

More than anything else, when I remember the teaching of 10th Chapter of John’s Gospel, when I hear these words read each Fourth Sunday of the 50 days of Easter, I am reminded of who Jesus was speaking to, and what he was trying to show his followers. If you are in presence of true pastor, you will know – not perhaps by the small actions of the pastor’s daily schedule, but by the pastor’s heart for the lost and for those who we imagine are outside the Kingdom of God. The Good Pastor does not work to keep people out by locking the gate to the kingdom. The Good Pastor goes and seeks the lost and invites them to come in. 

Look for the ones who seek to serve and protect the lost, the leaders who shepherd the lost to a life-changing encounter with the source of life itself. Look to see signs of lives being transformed, and then you will know you are near the Good Pastor.

And just to make an implied point clear: when you find someone who has that sort of charism, that sort of gift, it is a sign that Holy Spirit is present and by God’s graceful gift, giving a person – priest, deacon, or lay – the Spirit will go whither the Spirit will go – the ability to – for a moment – become an image of the Lord who has saved us and brought us into the Kingdom.

What do you do when you spot someone like that? Run to walk beside them and join in the work that God’s spirit is making possible in the lives of God’s flock.

 Walk beside them and join them in doing the Master’s work.

What greater calling can any of us have?








The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Gale says

    thank you for taking the time to post this – I hope you are feeling better soon!

  2. Anna Marie Lofaro says

    Prayers for a quick recovery!

  3. Bill Hurry says

    Amen, and praying for your speedy recovery, dear bishop.

  4. elizabeth nestor says

    Rest! plenty of fluids, get paxlovid and speedy recovery.

    • Thanks. I’ve got both (and a nasty trashcan mouth to go along with the paxlovid). I’m trying to rest and be patient. Heh.

  5. jane frey says

    So sorry you are not feeling well. Get well soon.

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