They say you preach the sermon you most need to hear, and today I’m definitely writing from a place where I need to hear a good word.
Every week I talk with two colleagues about the lectionary texts and we brainstorm sermon ideas together. We had a good conversation and came away with a solid direction on how to work with John’s gospel this week.
My week turned out to be busier and crazier than I anticipated, and it’s only now, on Friday afternoon, that I’m getting to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be.
And by today, rather than the confident theologian I was a few days ago, I’m finding that I’m the one who needs to receive a message of grace and hope.
A former parish of mine had some tough news this week, and along with being very sad for them, it brought up all my emotional unfinished business around my time there.
I honestly thought I had laid a great deal of that to rest, but life has a sneaky way of reminding you of your feet of clay any time you start to really get comfortable and secure.
So let’s go to the text together and ask to be taught, to be healed, to be loved.
What we notice first is that of all the Good Shepherd Sunday texts (years A, B, and C) this gospel is by far the most abstract.
Jesus clearly has something he wants to communicate to us, but his layers of symbolism are so dense that it’s difficult to understand what he means beyond the obvious.
In fact, John even tells us outright that this one is going to take some drilling down: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Traditionally this text has often been used as a means of exclusion.
Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.”
People have used this saying to enforce false boundaries to shore up their own power, labeling as the proverbial “thieves and bandits” anyone who is “unorthodox,” whether that means you have the “wrong” gender, sexuality, race, doctrine, belief, politics, liturgy, etc.
“Not everyone is going to get saved,” is the message the powerful have sometimes taken out of this text.
“Jesus doesn’t love everyone,” is the subliminal but far more honest attitude underlying the pious concern for being “correct.”
Today I find myself reflecting on a time when I was enforcing boundaries in the way I thought was right, and some other people were challenging those boundaries in a way they thought was right.
We ended up calling each other “un-Christian” and our relationship broke apart.
We each insisted we were the rightful gatekeeper and the other was the enemy, the thief and bandit.
The result was disastrous, and I know we all carry our wounds from those days even yet.
What I think I realize more consciously now is that the farther we are driven into anger, fear and woundedness, the harder it is to see any shades of subtlety. Continue reading