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"Jesus Has an ‘Open-Door Policy’”

April 30, 2023 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: John 10:1–10


[Jesus said:] 1“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. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Easter is always “Good Shepherd Sunday” in the Lutheran church, and a portion of chapter 10 of John’s gospel is read in each of the three years of the lectionary.  We are in Year A of the rotation and that means that verses 1-10 are the reading for this morning.  And, in case you didn’t notice the irony of this selection, the term “Good Shepherd” doesn’t appear in this passage.  In fact, the reference to Jesus as the shepherd won’t show up until this time next year; then it may accurately referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday”.  Rather, Jesus in these early verses refers to himself as the “gatekeeper” and the “gate”.

We can come back to the significance of this “I AM” statement of Jesus in a bit; but first, perhaps we ought to examine what it meant to be a shepherd in Jesus’ time.  Shepherds looked after their sheep in pastures that were often quite far from the the town.  And as darkness fell, they would lead them into a safe place to bed down for the night; they would prefer the use of a cave if one was available nearby.  The shepherds would block the mouth of the cave with stones, branches, or brush, and they would sleep just outside this “gate”, as Jesus references.

If they were no caves in the vicinity, the shepherds would build a “sheepfold”, like the one Jesus preaches about this morning.  Not offering the degree of protection that a cave naturally would, this temporary sheep pen would be constructed by the shepherds to form an enclosure made with stones and branches; whatever materials they found nearby.  They would spread additional brush or thorns over the top to help deter predatory animals or sheep thieves.  This enclosure would be a nearly complete perimeter, but would have a small opening through which the shepherds would coax their sheep to enter and leave.  The shepherd would spend the night lying on the ground in front of this opening, serving as its “gate”; thus, the flocks would have some measure of safety within the fold.  With the sheep huddled within, and the shepherd lying in front of the small opening, the only way the flock could be attacked by predators or spirited away by thieves would be if they climbed in over the top. 

And in order to gain the most security for their sheep, several flocks would be kept together for safety in the sheepfold overnight.  In the morning when it was time to release the flock to take them to pasture, each shepherd would call his individual sheep by name.  Hearing their shepherd, they would recognize his voice, leave the fold, and follow the shepherd to grassy areas to graze.  Since shepherds spent night and day with their flocks, the sheep would be very familiar with the sound of their own shepherd’s voice.  Thus, each flock would willingly follow the voice of the shepherd that provides for all their needs; the one who leads them to green pastures during the day and ensures their safety at night.  They follow the shepherd who cares for them but will not be led by one whose voice they do not recognize.

In fact, Jesus tells us that sheep will run away from voices that they do not know.  Only the shepherd that the sheep recognize and acknowledge as the one to lead them, only this voice will they follow. 

This morning Jesus speaks to the importance of the sheepfold and the willingness of the sheep to follow the voice of the one in charge of the flock, but as we noted earlier, he doesn’t yet refer to himself as the “Good Shepherd”.  In these first verses he calls himself the gatekeeper and the gate.  In this way, he shows that he is responsible for the coming and the going, into the fold and out again, of the sheep; that is, all those who follow him. 

While preparing for this morning’s sermon, my initial plan was to make the case that the Bible’s use of the word, “gate” could rather easily be considered to mean, “door”.  And with this definition, it opens up the opportunity for me to more efficiently take my thoughts in the direction I planned to go.  But it turns out that I didn’t need to rely on taking literary license to convince the congregation that “gate” and “door” are closely enough related that they may be interchangeable.  Although the NRSV, the bible translation that we Lutherans use, translated the Greek word this morning as “gate”, it turns out that that’s not entirely accurate.  In fact, in older translations, the King James Version, for example, the word is rendered “door”.  The Greek word is “thuras”, and nearly every time it is encountered, it is translated as, “door”.  It would appear that the scholars responsible for editing the NRSV translation of the bible felt that “gate” was more appropriate in this mornings’ passage, since it was used to describe an opening in a sheepfold and not the entrance to a building.  The good news for me, and all of you, is that now I don’t have to struggle to convince you that Jesus was referring to himself as the “doorkeeper” and the “door”.  The original Greek word has done that for me; Jesus is the One who oversees the “door”.

He tells us, “The doorkeeper opens the door 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”.  The people who follow Jesus know his voice, and it is he who calls us in and out of the door; into and out of the fold; into and out beyond the doors of the church.

Jesus opens the door to all who hear his voice and all who trust in God’s promises.  He leads into the family of God, all who believe that he is the “Good Shepherd” who has come to provide abundant life for those who follow him.  By welcoming us through the door that leads us into his church, Jesus provides the abundant life that is God’s desire for all people.

And Jesus’ church isn’t defined by the building or the doors that lead into, and out of it.  The “church” is the wider expanse, the sheepfold that encircles all of God’s children, gathered together under the provisioning care of Jesus the doorkeeper.  Jesus opens the door to salvation; to life abundant in this world, and to life eternal in the next.  The shepherd provides security for the sheep within the fold and an abundance of life’s necessities beyond it.  He keeps them safe behind the gate and he calls his flock out through the door and leads them to lush pastures.  In the same way Jesus ensures that we are kept secure within God’s family, reminding us of the promise of our salvation and the sacrifice he has made for our deliverance.  And he also calls us to venture out from our place of familiarity, comfort, and security to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to the world.  The difference between the gate of the shepherd and the door of Jesus is that Christ’s door never closes; it remains open for all to pass through; into the fold, and out from it.

Jesus calls all people to follow him into the life abundant that he promises; at the same time, he calls all those who are his followers, those who know and answer to his voice, to leave the fold to share their abundance with those who have not yet recognized Jesus’ voice.  In the verses that follow this morning’s passage, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”.  We know that Jesus no longer has hands and feet in this world, and it has always been our responsibility to act on is behalf.  To paraphrase St. Teresa of Avila, “Ours are the feet with which Jesus walks to do good,
Ours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world”
.  Perhaps we should add to this; Jesus no longer has a voice in this world; it’s up to us to lift our voices to call out to those he must also bring into the fold, to create one flock.

We do this by speaking Christ’s Word to them and by offering others the lush pastures the shepherd provides; food, clothing, and shelter.  And often, the most effective speech is actually not vocal at all; sometimes, actions do speak louder than words.  St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”  We speak the Words of Jesus when we invite others to enter the door; often by what we say, but always more effectively by what we do.  Let our actions speak to the saving voice of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd.  

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, we have been called to life abundant in you, for we have heard the saving voice of your Son.  Help us to bring others into the fold so that the whole flock may be one.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who calls us to be his hands, and feet,…and voice.     

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.