Psalm 23 & John 10:1-10
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
Access denied. Frustrating words when you’re trying to get into a website or maneuver in the mysterious world of the web. Access denied. Many countries around the world serve as Internet gatekeepers, blocking or filtering content. Access is denied if material about politics, sexuality, or religion is seen as too sensitive for ordinary citizens.
At its worst religion is seen as a gatekeeper. Most people out in the world today look at religion especially Christianity, with a tainted view. They see Christians as being: Intolerant, Bitter, Judgmental, Homophobic. They believe religion’s chief aim is to declare who’s in and who’s out. Defining who gets access to God, to communion, or to the afterlife.
For example, in the so-called Pearly Gates vignettes. St. Peter is the gatekeeper. So three men die and meet him at those well- known gates. To the first man St. Peter says: “You’ve lived an outstanding life. No problems with the law. Faithful in marriage. No major sins. Go right in.”
To the second man he says: “You’ve been basically lived a good life. But there was some mischief in your youth. You’ll need some time in purgatory, then heaven is yours.”
To the third man St. Peter says: “A troubling life you’ve lived . . . . you stole a car, got into a fistfight with your neighbor, and you’re having an affair with your best friend’s wife. You will have to go to purgatory for a long time to repent.” As the man departs for his sentence St. Peter says, “You’re wearing a royal blue and golden yellow jacket. Are you a Golden State Warrior’s fan?” “Yes, I am,” the man answers. “Just go right into heaven, “says St. Peter. “You’ve been through enough already.”
So many gatekeepers give religion a bad name.
Despite all those sermons about grace it is still our human nature to think of God as the stern gatekeeper who will determine our eternal destiny based on the cumulative score of how we’ve lived our life.
What if that wasn’t the point? What if the gate is about something different altogether?
It’s not one of the most quoted, used or painted metaphors for Jesus: a gate. “I am the gate for the sheep. “Words right out of today’s gospel. When one takes a look at gates. You will notice that some are always open. Some are perpetually closed. Some are closed only when something needs to be kept inside temporarily – a dog, a horse, a child.
So, this image would have been understood in its time. Because in the Middle East, it was common for a one shepherd out of a group to be the appointed one who would literally lie across the entrance of a sheep pen. Thus, creating a human barricade. A living shield.
When Jesus talks about being a gate, he mentioned thieves and bandits who come to destroy. What are the things in our world and in our lives that block access to the abundant life that God desires for us?
As gates go, Jesus is rather unconventional.
If he keeps any out it’s those that everyone thought were locked in – the religious ones who think they are so righteous and have all of the answers.
If he keeps any in, it’s those everyone thought couldn’t get in the gate – the outsider, the sinner, the marginalized.
That’s the message and thrust of this community.
In the midst of an uncertain and unprecedented moment in history when many are getting frustrated with each other. We celebrate the Easter message of resurrection that proclaims all people may experience the welcome and hospitality of God.
When, because of the coronavirus, our lives have been turned upside down and everything has changed in the blink of an eye. We hope that in this place all will find open access to the grace and mercy of God.
In a time when we feel the stress of multiple zoom meetings, family responsibilities, and the burnout of our fast – paced world. We pray that through worship, preaching, music and an inclusive community you will experience this place to be a “gate of grace.”
Yes, it is the hope that this place will be a “path of and to peace.”
Now, more so than ever, some of us are connected to e-mail, cell phones, televisions and iPods 24/7. This constant access can take its toll on us. Our circuits get overloaded, if you know what I mean. In such a world, Jesus becomes a gate to something else. Access to the presence of God that calms our hearts and gives us peace in the midst of life’s craziness.
The Risen Christ comes to grant abundant life.
Access granted. That is the good news this day.
~Fr. Joseph Alsay
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.