May 3, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Acts 2:42-47 and John 10:1-10
If you were to drive along Page Road near Damascus—Windsor—you would find yourself surrounded by a beautiful forest, much like we see across the northeast. A lovely creek flows along the road, with houses dotted here and there, some across the creek with lovely bridges as driveways. Suddenly, in the forest, appears an entrance, a gateway—two stone pillars rising among the trees, and a sign, complete with cross and flame, welcoming you to Sky Lake Camp and Retreat Center. When I drive through that gateway, I feel like I have entered another world, another reality. My breathing changes and I swear my heartbeat slows down. It feels like a weight has been lifted from me, my heart opens and I find myself smiling. For me, that gateway marks the entrance to a holy place—salvation space. The veil between our world and God is extraordinarily thin and the touch of the holy is palpable.
Many Christians have had similar encounters a church camps and retreat centers. I know that many from St. Paul’s have had just such as experience at Camp Casowasco, the United Methodist retreat center just 40 minutes down the road. When they turn from Lake Drive onto Casowasco Drive and follow that winding road down to the camp, glimpsing Lake Owasco through the trees, they know they have entered a holy and thin place.
Where are those gateways, those thresholds, in your life, literal or figurative? Where do you enter into a deeper awareness and connection with the divine? Is it a place? Is it spending time in nature? Your church sanctuary? Do you not need to travel to find your threshold, discovering the gateway through prayer, meditation and contemplation? Are you still seeking those threshold encounters in your life? Are you struggling to find that doorway to the divine in this time of limited movement and limited access to our previous routines and travels? Very normal in this trying time.
This is the name that Jesus claims for himself in our reading today. I am the Gate…the Door…the Entrance. Throughout John’s gospel, the author records these powerful “I Am” statements of Jesus: “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the world,” “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” I am the Gate,” or more literally, the Door. “I Am”…in Greek it is “ego emi,” and in Hebrew, “Yahweh.” In these powerful proclamations of Jesus, he declares to all God’s people that he is of God, one with God, or as John, chapter 1 states, the Word of God made flesh. “I am…” In Exodus 3, Moses asks God for God’s name, “When the people ask me, who should I say sent me?” God responds, “I Am That I Am. Tell the people that I Am sent you.” Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus proclaims himself as “I Am” and adds beautiful descriptors to guide God’s people into deeper relationship—Bread of Life, Light of the World, Gateway for the people into the presence of the divine.
Too many times this beautiful declaration—I Am the Gate—has been sued to exclude and control access to salvation—a closed door, a regulated gate. Dogma and doctrine have acted as zealous gatekeepers, determining who is allowed in and who is kept out and all the requirements for entrance. The irony is, exclusion and the desire to control access is exactly what Jesus is speaking against in this passage! This reading today is the end of a long narrative recounting one of the seven miracle stories—seven sign stories—in John’s gospel. The story begins back in chapter 9, verse 1, when Jesus encounters a man blind from birth. Jesus makes a mud pack from his spit, slathers it on the man’s eyes, and sends him off to wash. The man is gifted with sight. We spent time with this beautiful sign story on the fourth Sunday of Lent, March 22nd, if you want to check it out on our website or worship archives. Jesus’ act of healing, which happened on a Sabbath, violated rules, upset the status quo, and changed reality for this small community. The religious leaders are shaken and begin an interrogation, a crime scene investigation. They question the man, the community, his parents, the man again, and finally come face-to-face with Jesus himself. That is the setting for our reading today. Jesus and the Pharisees are in the midst of a confrontation, with the man, his community, and maybe even his parents, all listening in. The Pharisees have just thrown the man born blind out of the synagogue, excluding him from the worshiping community. Jesus is confronting the rigidness of the current interpretation of God’s Law-God’s way of living—practices by some of the Pharisaic leaders. Jesus is opening the understanding of salvation and access to it. No closed doors here! No guarded gates! The gatekeepers are Jesus’ followers, servant leaders, call to throw open the gate, to open the door wide, and wider still, so that Jesus may call and lead any and all across the threshold into deeper relationship with God.
Salvation is embracing the life abundant Jesus proclaims at the close of our reading—”I came that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Life abundant is found in crossing the gate threshold into deeper relationship and life abundant is contextual, with unique attributes for the unique children of God and communities of Christ.
For the man born blind, crossing the threshold, the gateway, entailed obeying the command to go and wash off Jesus’ mudpack, opening him to a whole new world—literally and figuratively. Salvation for this man was the gift of sight, the gift of a new place in his community, and especially, the gift of new insight into the identity of Jesus. The man goes from proclaiming Jesus as his healer, to naming him a prophet, and finally to worshiping Jesus as Lord. The man crossed the gateway into life abundant, into salvation life, discovered the identity of Jesus, and took his place as a disciple. Now, he is one of the gatekeepers, charged with flinging open all doors so all God’s beautiful children may enter the gateway into life abundant.
How might each of us cross thresholds this week into life abundant? What does life abundant look like for you in this time of isolation and virus? Is it that walk in nature? Is it a time of meditation? Time of play? Time of rest? Is it a phone call or zoom with family and/or friends? Is it time alone? Might we follow the example from our children’s time and create simple blessings for our daily activities? Creating holiness within the ordinary?
And upon finding our way across those thresholds, those gateways, and encountering the thin places between our daily lives and the divine, how might we, as servant leaders-as disciples, be good gate caretakers? How might we fling open the gates and doors of this world, open access completely, for Jesus to call and lead all God’s children into a deeper relationship with God?
Thanks be to God!