Homily, Going Out by the Gate
Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was growing up I used to love looking out the windows in the car. I loved watching pedestrians and their dogs. I loved looking at the kinds of cars people drove and what bumper stickers they had. I loved looking at the stores and shops we passed. And I especially loved looking at the houses.
I would imagine the families that lived there. Sometimes I’d catch glimpses of them going in and out of the house, or I might see them through the window at the dinner table. I would imagine how their family might be different than my own, or how we might be the same.
I was always especially curious then, when we drove past the neighborhoods that had walls and a gate at the entrance. Because of the walls, I could only see the tops of the houses and it made me wonder even more what those houses and families might be like.
I imagined they must be nice. I figured that building a wall around something meant that whatever was inside must be really valuable or important, and as a kid from a working class family, it seemed to me that to live in a neighborhood with walls and gates was to have made it in life. And while my family was comfortable and had all our needs met, I knew that I didn’t belong in those neighborhoods. But I dreamed of what it might be like some day to live in a neighborhood with walls and a gate.
It’d be easy to think that that’s what our gospel passage is about this morning. That its about living on the inside of Christ’s exclusive community. That its about the privilege and protection that Christ gives us as his sheep within the gate. That its about moving from being outsiders to insiders in God’s kingdom. It’d be easy to think this passage is about spiritual upward mobility.
And to a certain extent it is. In it Jesus says very clearly, “I am the gate…Whoever enters by me will be saved.” That sure sounds like a description of heaven as a gated community.
But this is a complex passage. One in which Jesus is continually shifting metaphors so that at one moment he is the gate and the next he is the shepherd. In one moment the shepherd enters the gate, in the next it is the sheep. It’s a passage with many angles and perspectives, and if we take the story and hold it up to the light in a certain way we may just see another interpretation.
What if this passage is just as much about exiting the gate as it is entering? What if this passage is just as much about going out as it is coming in? Think about it. Read again this line from the middle of the passage: “[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” In this small passage going out through the gate is mentioned three times.
And when we read the passage in this way, we connect it to a long tradition of exodus stories throughout Scripture. Not only do we hear a shepherd calling his sheep out from the gate, we hear God calling Abraham out from the privilege and comfort of his father’s land. We hear Moses calling the people of Israel out of bondage from the land of Egypt. We hear Jonah being called out of the belly of a fish.
Here in John 10 it says the shepherd calls his sheep out by name, and in the very next chapter Jesus is standing at the grave of his friend when he speaks his friend’s name, “Lazarus, come out.” What if this passage is just as much about coming out of something as it is going in?
Because sometimes it is the inside that keeps us from the abundant life to which God is calling us. Sometimes it is the rigid barriers that surround us which keep us from finding the green pastures. Perhaps this passage presents Jesus as the shepherd who leads us out of our circumstances to something new and the gate that frees us from our containers for something more.
If that is the case, what do you think God might be calling you out of? What circumstances and context do you think God could be inviting you to leave behind as you pass through that gate? Could it be a comfort zone? A destructive ideology? A habit? Could it be an abusive relationship? A grudge? A place of ignorance? What walls have been built up around us that at times make us feel safe but at other times keep us from growing to the potential of God’s call in our lives?
Everyone wants to enter, but going out is another story. Leaving something behind can be so scary, even when you know its for the best. But notice this passage doesn’t describe Jesus as the wall that shelters, but as the shepherd that goes ahead and leads you by name. When you walk through that gate, you are not alone. And though for a moment you may tremble in the valley of shadows, your shepherd’s rod and staff will comfort you. You will be guided step by step to still waters, where you will find treasures you never would have found if you had simply remained on the inside.
This passage is just as much about going out as it is coming in, and Jesus, the Good Shepherd—the open gate—is calling us out by name into new pastures. Amen.