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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
I Am The Door

Easter 4A     John 10:1-10

John 10. I am the door. I am the door into the sheepfold.

I would like you to pretend that you are having a dream. Most dreams are rather bizarre and exotic. Most dreams are quite strange and don’t make a whole lot of sense. I would like to have you have a dream that you are now outside of your house in the front yard. Is everyone outside of your house, condo or your apartment? It is not quite your house, condo or apartment, but it is kind of like the place that you live.

Inside your house a party is going on. All your favorite people are there. Family, friends, neighbors, work associate, all your friends and relatives of the past and present are there. Everyone who is important to you is there at that party. It’s a good party and through the front window, you can see everyone laughing boisterously and carrying on at the party.

But…you are outside the house. You are outside the house. It is night and it is cold, raining and starting to sleet. It is very cold and become colder and you want to be inside the house where it is warm, the fire is blazing in the fireplace and the lights inside are cascading warmth throughout the house. But you are outside in the dark, cold, drizzling rain. All you are wearing is a shirt, shorts and sandals, and you are getting cold and colder as you stand outside the house in the freezing rain.

So, in your dream, you start to look for the door. You go to the front door but the front door is not there. There is no front door to your house. The windows are all lit up. You can see the lights on in the house through the windows. You can see the action going on inside the house. You walk out to the middle of the street in front of the house where you can see into the house more clearly. From the middle of the street in the cold drizzling rain, you can see the party going on, with people smiling, laughing and responding to each others happily. You say to yourself. “I want to get inside.”

And so in your dream, you walk back to the house and start walking around the right side of the house, looking for a side door. In your dream, you walk for blocks and blocks and blocks. Miles and miles and miles. What a weird dream. And it is getting colder and colder and colder as you are walking along and you are wearing only a shirt, shorts and sandals. And there is still no door.

In your dream, you walk around to the backside of your house. You walk away from the house, further into the back yard so you can see into the house through its windows, into the family room and sure enough, the party is still going on. Everyone is having a really good time. Your family, friends, neighbors, work associates, friends from your past and present: they are all there. Standing in the back yard, you decide to shout loudly to get their attention inside the house. But the stereo is turned way up loud and the people inside can’t hear you. As you stand in the back yard, the night is getting darker and colder and wetter and so are you.

In your dream, you walk around to the last side of the house, looking for a door into the house. And there is no door on that side of the house. By now, you are really freezing and hungry. By now, it seems like a month has passed. You feel the movement of time, the movement of the hands on the clock. Minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades. You feel panicked in your heart and you want to get inside that house because precious time is flying by.

You go again to the front door. You see into the front picture window, full of light and warmth and the party is still going on. Suddenly …there…is…the … door…the front door…wide open. You walk in and everybody shouts: “Where have you been?”

Suddenly, you wake up. You come out of your fog. Out of your trance. Out of the moment’s dream that seemed so hazy and so long ago. And…there is a party going on in your house. In your house. Your family is there. Your friends are there. Your neighbors are there. From past times and present times. It is a great party. It is a grand time. It is a surprise birthday party for you and everyone important to you is there. And you? You are finally in the middle of it all. It would have been terrible to miss out on your party.

Jesus said: “I am the door. I am the door to the Father’s house. I am the door to the Father’s family. I am the door to the Father’s happiness. I am the door to the abundant life, the door to the banquet, the door to the feast, the door to the biggest party that you ever imagined.  I AM the door.

It is with this modern parable that we approach the gospel lesson for today. This modern parable is helps us understand the teaching of Jesus that he is the door.

To understand the Biblical parable of the sheep and the door, it is helpful to trace our steps back two thousand years into the time of Christ. So we momentarily need to go back to the time of sheep and shepherds and watering holes. During the time of Jesus in the land of Palestine, during the evening, the shepherds would bring the sheep down from the hills to protect them at night when the wolves and mountain lions were hunting their prey.  At night, the shepherds would gather their sheep together and lead them into large pens. These large pens were called sheepfolds. These sheepfolds or sheep pens had large walls which were made out of rocks. The walls of the sheep pens were about five feet high. On the top of the four stone walls were briars or prickly branches. These briars or prickly branches would be used for the crown of thorns on Good Friday. The shepherds put the prickly briars along the top of the wall, so it was like our barbed wire today on the top of walls. The result of all of this is that the mountain lions and wolves couldn’t get inside the sheep pen.

Now, the door way was about two feet wide. This wide. Not wide at all. It was a small entry. It was like one small gap in the wall. So I ask you: what was the door made out of? This is crucial. Was the door made out of wood that a carpenter had constructed? Was it made out of wool, a wool blanket that a weaver had woven? Was it made out of stones that the shepherd had piled up? Was it made of out sticks, all laced together to form a barrier? Was it made out of leather, a hide from the sheep? Was it made out of linen, like a linen cloth hanging there in the gap in the wall? What was the door made out of? Wood? Wool? Stones? Sticks? Leather? Linen? What was the door made out of? That is the key to the story.

There was no door. The shepherd himself was the door. At night, the shepherd himself would sleep there in the small opening of the rock wall. He would sleep there, by the fire, with his rod and staff. If any mountain lion would come, the shepherd would fight it off with his weapons, his short stocky club or his long pointed staff. Literally and actually, the shepherd himself was the door.

Therefore, this meaning of this parable of Jesus in John 10 is unlocked when we start to think of Jesus himself as being the door. It was as if Jesus was saying: “I am the door to the Father’s house. I am the door to the Father’s family. I am the door to the Father’s safety. I am the door to the fullness of life. I am the door to the banquet, the feast, the green pastures, to the greatest party ever. I am literally the door into the safety and security of the sheep pen and the door out to the green pastures and the abundant life and feasting that goes on in those pastures. I am the door.”

Like good Socratic-method sermons, there are three points to this sermon. The first is this: Jesus is the living, speaking, talking door who invites us.

This past week I have been thinking about doors. Please imagine some doors in your mind. The doors that I thought of were some doors at Hastings State Mental Hospital where I worked years ago. These were large, yellow, steel doors, down in the tunnels between buildings in that old mental hospital. As I recall, these doors were intimidating fearsome doors and kind of spooky, especially their loud, cold clank in the lonely tunnels. Also, when I think of doors, I think of the doors at the King County Jail where I have been to visit some folks. When you go to visit the inner rooms in the King County Jail, several doors are made out of solid steel, except for a small window. A jailer would pull back a steel plate from that small window and grumble, “Yes?” I would reply, “I am here to see so and so. Can I come in?” Or, when I think of doors, I think of old castles in Europe and of those giant wooden doors with iron hinges. Recently, when my wife and I visited Spain, we saw an old iron door on a castle that was one thousand years old and still working and keeping people out. In these three examples of doors that I have shared with you, those closed doors all symbolically said, “KEEP OUT. STOP. NO ADMITTANCE.”

Jesus wasn’t and isn’t that kind of door. Jesus was not like any of these doors. Jesus was just the opposite. Rather than a barrier and a persistent “no admittance,” Jesus was a living door, a talking door, a speaking door who invites us in: “Won’t you come in? Won’t you come in to my Father’s house? Won’t you come into my Father’s love? Won’t you come into my Father’s family? Won’t you come in to the banquet, the feast, the biggest party you have ever seen?” As in the exotic dream in the introduction to the sermon, where you wanted to come into the home and into the party and into the feast where all your family and friends are; so also, you and I want to come into the feast of God’s eternal love, eternal happiness, and eternal heaven which begins here on earth. Jesus is a living door, a living door who speaks and invites us to come into the Father’s house and into the Father’s family and into the Father’s eternity which begins now. 

This past week, as I have been thinking about doors and the messages that the doors communicate, I have been thinking about the door to my office. Would you please imagine the door to my office here at church? When I have the door to my office closed, people normally don’t come in very easily. When the door is closed, it gives a message: “Stay away. I am busy.” If, on the other hand, I leave the door wide open, everyone knows that they can stick their head in my office and say, “Hi there” or that they can feel free to walk right in and say, “Hi Ed. Got a moment to chat.”

But let’s take it a step further and say that I personally am the door and I am personally standing there in the doorway and I am personally addressing you and everybody that comes along by saying: “Good morning. Won’t you come in to chat? What’s going on in your life right now? Won’t you come in?” Almost all of you would come in and chat.

And that is the way it is with Jesus. Jesus is the living door, the talking door, the speaking door and he invites us: “Won’t you come into my Father’s house? Into the party. Into the feast. Into the banquet. Into the family and friends. For this day and for all eternity. Won’t you please come in?”  And Jesus is asking you and me, this day, to come into the Father’s house and family and eternal love.

  The first point of the sermon is that Jesus himself is the door; that Jesus is a living door, the talking door, the speaking door who extends an invitation to us this day: “Won’t you come in?

The second point of the sermon is this: It is through the door that you come into the sheepfold where you are protected from the wolves of life. It is through the living door that you come into the sheep pen and within the sheep pen, you are protected from the predators of life. Do you have this mental image of a sheep pen, with five foot high rock walls, with briars on the top of those rock walls, briars that act like barbed wire? Within the sheepfold, we are protected from the evils of life.

For us, our homes are places of protection. They are places of safety and security. Most of us have deep feelings of safety when we finally are into our homes. For most children, their homes are symbols of the safest place they can be on earth.  In the children’ sermon today, I asked them what was the safest place they could be. All the children said, “Home.” I asked them why their home was the safest place they could imagine. They said, “It is secure. The door keeps mean people out.” 

Now, it is absolutely true that Jesus protects people and gives us safety. It makes all the difference in the world if you come into the family of Jesus. There is a kind of protection in being part of the family of Jesus, in being part of the household of faith, of being in the sheep pen. Where your mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and grandmas and grandpas, and aunts and uncles, and friends and neighbors are Christians. Such a life has a way of protecting you from the foolish of life. There is safety and security in being a Christian, in being part of the household of faith, in living within the sheepfold of Jesus. When your best friends are Christians, it has a way of protecting you from the craziness and insanity of life that you find all around you in the world.

In my work, I see it all the time. Christian family. Christian friends. Christian connections. There is a protection when one lives within these communities. When you join a church and Christian church people become your family, you find a greater safety and security than outside the Christian family/church.

The opposite is also true. Do you know all the kids that I have seen eaten alive by the wolves of this world? Not only the kids, but moms and dads who have somehow strayed away from the protection of the Christian community and the good shepherd.

There is protection from the foolishness and craziness of life within the good shepherd and the Christian community. Of course, there is not protection from cancer, from heart attacks, from car accidents, from tornadoes, from economic recession, from unemployment, and similar kinds of things that are part and parcel of being human. You and I are not protected from such disaster when we live within our homes or when we live with the church.

But there is protection and that protection is very important. There is a protection from evil, from the evil one, from the power of evil that wants to ruin your values and ruin the goodness of your life. There is a spiritual, emotional and psychological security and safety within Jesus and his community, within the protectiveness of Christ and Christian friends and Christian family.

Jesus stands at the gate, trying to keep the evil rapacities of life away. My heart and mind shake with fear and uneasiness when I see people who do not think that they need the protection of Christ and the Christian community for themselves and their loved ones.

But Christ is not only the gate into the sheepfold. (That was point two of the sermon.) Christ is also the gate out to green pastures. One side of the metaphor is this: Christ is the gate into the sheepfold where we will find protection from the wolves of life. The other side of the metaphor is this: Jesus is the gate by which we go out to green pastures and experience the fullness of life and the abundant life.    

Literally, what scenes do you imagine when you imagine green pastures? When I think of green pastures, I think of Wisconsin and my in-laws lake cabin there near Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. There is a gorgeous green pasture near their lake cabin. The pasture is very grassy and very green and very lush. There are all kinds of Holstein milk cows in that lush green pasture with its tall fresh grasses. If I were a milk cow, I would like to live there. I have a feeling that it would be a great life to live as a milk cow on that farm, chewing grass, giving milk, talking to all the other cows, and experiencing the fullness of a cow’s life. It would be like a banquet, a heavenly cow’s banquet here on earth.

Jesus said, “I am the gate into the green pastures of life. I am the gate into the fullness of life, into the abundant life, into the banquet of life, the feast of life.

What is the fullness of life? What is the abundant life? What are these green pastures that Jesus talks about. In Psalm 23, King David tells us that the good shepherd will make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters and thereby restore our soul. What does that mean that Jesus leads us out to green pastures and beside still waters and thereby restores our soul?

Jesus is the gate into the green pastures. I would like to suggest to you that green pastures are communities of love, communities of justice and communities of peace.

The green pastures are communities of people who give and receive love. God created all human beings with a capacity to love. There is no greater joy than this: than giving love, receiving love, and being part of communities of love.

A community of love. Loving God and one another and loving life. Loving the goodness that God has showered upon you. Yes, loving God. As you wake up in the morning and listen to the birds outside the window, it is knowing and appreciating that God created all the melodies of the birds. As you live the day at noontime and see the food placed before you at the table, it is knowing and appreciating that God in his infinite wisdom created food you for and all humanity. As you fall asleep at night and your head is nestling into the pillow, it is knowing and appreciating that God is watching your every breath in and out through the night. The green pastures? It is knowing and loving God. It is knowing and loving each other in the families of the earth. Jesus said, “There is no greater joy than giving and receiving love.”

A community of justice. The green pastures is living in communities of justice. If I were a cow in Wisconsin and one tenth of the pasture was green and nine tenths of the pasture was brown grass stubble, I would not be happy. As Christians, we are never happy when 90% of people on earth live with brown stubble of grass and rocks. We are committed to God’s ideal that all people eat from the lushness of the pastures of God’s creation. The abundant life, the full life, the banquet life is when everyone is part of God’s fullness and we as Christians work for that.

A community of peace. To find the green pastures means to find peace. Peace within families. Peace within churches. Peace within schools and neighborhoods and cities. Peace between nations. Where people work to solve their differences in peaceful ways without killing each other or going to war with each other. When huge numbers of people live in communities and nations that are experiencing war, we work for peace for those communities and nations.

Yes, Jesus calls us from the sheepfold and leads us out to green pastures which are symbolic of communities of love, justice and peace.

It is Mother’s Day today. May God bless all those mothers this day, especially those mothers who have created homes that give safety and security for their families.  May God bless all those mothers this day, especially those mothers who have found their way to green pastures and led their children to green pastures. We thank God for mothers who are good shepherds and know what it means to be part of communities of love, justice and peace.

Jesus said: “I am the door. Won’t you come in?” Amen.

(As a footnote, I preached this same sermon but evolving sermon in 1978, 1984, 1992, 1998, and 2004 to the same congregation. I have copies of all five manuscripts and can see the development and maturation of the same sermon through the years. It is a fundamental thesis of this website that sermons evolve, grow and can become stronger through the years.)

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