Homily prepared for Red Door Healing Service, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Jesus said, “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. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
This week’s set of readings, which include this passage from the Gospel according to John as well as the 23rd Psalm which we also just read, are the reasons why we sometimes call this “Good Shepherd Sunday.” But, it just so happens that about a month ago, we had another week featuring the same psalm where I talked about the way that Jesus shepherds us. So, I’m not going to repeat that today! Instead, I’m opening up the gate (something else Jesus refers to himself as in today’s Gospel) to do something very different. I would like to invite us to do what Jesus has done in this passage: to use the situations common to our lives to help describe what God is for us, so that together we might come to more deeply understand and appreciate God’s presence in our lives.
In this passage, Jesus offers two images and metaphors for God: a shepherd, who calls the sheep and keeps watch, who knows his sheep so well that they recognize his voice and follow him. I know that we don’t all do a lot of sheep-herding today…or at least, I don’t…but I do completely relate that that feeling of hearing a familiar voice, knowing that I can have trust in the depth of that relationship. That voice tells me I am known, and I am loved. Following that voice is an act of trust, devotion, and a response to love.
Then, Jesus says: “I am the gate.” This is a switch…from the Good Shepherd who enters the gate, to the gate itself. Gates may be to keep out, or to let in. They are a central entry into a particular space which could either protect, or control. But Jesus is not trying to contain us. Jesus is specific, “I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus, who knows and loves us…the sheep…Jesus aligns with us. He is our guardian, the one who knows us. Always, whether Shepherd or gatekeeper, Jesus has his eye on his sheep.
This scripture gives us an invitation to think about we experience that same loving, trusting, present God even in right here as we go about our everyday lives. I’m going to run with that, and trust the Holy Spirit in what will emerge. Today, I’ve been asking our Red Door volunteers and guests…including many of you as you came in…to tell me about where you see and how you experience God. I’ve been writing as people have shared, and your own images of God have created the poetry that I am about to read. I’ll conclude with some stanzas from a poem that is one of my personal favorites, written by Jane Kenyon, “Briefly It Enters and Briefly Speaks.” This is an invitation for us to hear where God is in our midst:
I see God…
…in the faces of the people we serve on Fridays.
…in moments of serendipity, in small coincidences.
…in the face of the person that I love.
…in the mountains at Shrine Mont.
…in the renewal of spring, the budding of the plants.
…in the simple trust of nature to supply us what we need.
I see God, and I feel God in the wind brushing against my face.
I see God in my heart, and I know with my heart it is God who sees me.
I see Jesus when I am sick. I can see the kingdom of God, and righteousness..
I hear God saying, “I am a blessing God, an understanding God.”
I want people to know, and see, and recognize God.
I see God at 3 a.m., in my peaceful and quiet house,
when everyone is asleep and all is safe and calm.
[the next stanzas from Briefly It Enters and Briefly Speaks, by Jane Kenyon]
“I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years…
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper…
When the young girl who starves
sites down to a table
she will sit beside me…
I am food on the prisoner’s plate…
I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills…
I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden…
I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge…
I am the heart contracted by joy…
the longest hair, white
before the rest…
I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow…
I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit…
I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name…”
These are holy images of our daily ordinary, in which God meets us. God meets you today…in this space, in the steps that you take as you leave. The Good Shepherd knows you by name, and calls you. Know that the Lord is your shepherd; the gate for the sheep who is present for us in all these images, in the midst of our everyday lives, and in so many more ways remaining for us to see.