Giving Up – I am the Gate

March 29, 2020 – Pastor Marissa Jadrich Ortiz

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you radiate exactly where you are. We’re gathered to worship today because liberating presence of God has invited us to cultivate joy, hope & belonging as Jesus keeps getting us more free. In the confidence of things unseen I can say that I’m truly glad you’re with us this morning.

We’re continuing in our Giving Up sermon series today. Last week Pastor Sam brought the word here about giving up control and experiencing true freedom through staying connected to the vine, Jesus. A few of you took me up on my creative challenge to draw something that needs to stay connected to grow or be strong: We have here a pumpkin from Henry. I’m also happy to share a drawing of a brick wall and a tree from Ethan. In addition, I feel the need to share this video of baby Ben. Now I want the babies here every time I’m leading worship. Thanks so much to those of you who contributed your creative response. You’ll have another invitation to partake in a creative challenge later this morning.

Today Jesus tells a story called “I Am the Gate.” Or sometimes “I Am the Shepherd.”  I’ve started to think of this story as “I Am Mixing Metaphors.” Because it takes Jesus a LOT of tries for people to understand this story. Does this every happen to you? Do you ever tell a story about something you’re excited about, and somebody just looks at you like “what?” and you try again to say it a little differently, and eventually they say “oohhhhh…” It was like that for Jesus except at the end half of the people he talked to said “ooohhhh” and the other half said “Jesus you are literally out of your mind there is no way.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Actually I should start with a Bible verse. I’m changing our Bible verse this week because you’re already really good at the last one. And this verse is important in our story so I want your help with it. It goes like this.

The thief enters only to STEAL KILL AND DESTROY,

but I have come so they may have LIFE TO THE FULLEST!

If you only remember one thing today it should be that. So we’re going to say this together, it’s not a song, I think this is like chants at school rallies? So I’m going to say “the thief enters only to…” and that’s your cue to yell “STEAL KILL DESTROY”

and then if I say “but I have come so they may have… and you can yell “LIFE TO THE FULLEST.” Some things are really exciting and you just have to yell them. Okay are you ready?

The thief enters only to STEAL KILL AND DESTROY,

but I have come so that they may have LIFE TO THE FULLEST!

Sounds like you’re ready. Don’t forget that part, we’re going to come back to it.

Like all our I Am stories, this story is from the book of John. We’re jumping in to chapter 10. But there’s been a lot going on so I need to do one of those recaps like they do when a new season of a TV show comes out and they catch everybody up on the last season. So

PREVIOUSLY IN THE BOOK OF JOHN….

A man blind from birth—

Jesus’ disciples ask him who to blame for this condition—

Jesus shuts down that conversation and says the whole point of being the light of the world is to SHINE, not blame people

Jesus uses his spit to make some mud out of the dirt. He smears it on the man’s eyes and tells him that when he washes it off he’ll be able to see.

That’s exactly what happened.

Jesus went away but you’d never guess what happened next.

Everyone is AMAZED!

But some of them are amazed and horrified!

Because it was the sabbath day, and good rabbi’s don’t heal on the sabbath. The Sabbath is one of the TEN COMMANDMENTS. You don’t play fast and loose with rules like that! It would be like saying “murder is sometimes okay” or “not ALL idols are bad…”

So is Jesus a bad person for doing unnecessary work on the Sabbath?

Or is  he a good person for healing someone?

Does Jesus have an extra-special relationship with God, because he has God’s power to heal?

Or does Jesus have an extra BAD relationship with God, because he’s breaking the rules?

Well let me tell you who was NOT confused at all about this—the man who used to be blind!

He told everyone, sure there’s a lot we don’t know about Jesus. But here’s what I do know—I used to be blind, and now I can see. There’s no way Jesus could do this if he wasn’t from God.”

Well some of the teachers in their synagogue were VERY upset that this ordinary beggar was trying to teach THEM about who Jesus was. So they kicked him out of their place of worship.

He kept looking for Jesus. And when he found Jesus, he decided to worship him, even though it lost him some community.

So Jesus says, “it seems like whenever I’m around, blind people start seeing, and sighted people get blind.”

Hmmmm…that’s a lot of confusing stuff and our story hasn’t even started yet!

Okay now we’re ready for today’s feature presentation.

Jesus notices that people are confused about who Jesus is! So he tries to help by telling a story. You can follow along in John 10:1-5.

[PICTURE: thief breaks into sheepfold]

Jesus says, if someone gets into the sheepfold by climbing the wall (or the fence) instead of coming through the gate, that person is up to NO GOOD. They’re probably a THIEF! And a THIEF comes only to…[steal kill destroy]

That’s right, they want to steal the sheep, and the sheep are running away from that person!

[PICTURE: shepherd comes through gate into sheepfold]

The SHEPHERD though, he comes through the gate. The guard at the gate sees him and knows to ket him in. The sheep hear his voice and they know him. They’ll follow him when he leads them out because they know him, and he calls them by name.

Do you think that helped people understand who Jesus is? NO! It says in John 10:6 that they didn’t understand what he was saying.

So Jesus tried again.   We’re in verse 7-10 now.

Jesus said I Am the Gate for the sheep! When robbers come in to steal sheep, the sheep are scared of them. They know that the thief enters only to…[STEAL KILL AND DESTROY]. But they know when the Gate opens, that’s good news! The sheep know that the gate only opens for a real shepherd! When they go through the gate that means they’re safe, they’re going to go out to a comfy green meadow and eat something delicious where they are loved and protected and known by name. Jesus says,

The thief enters only to STEAL KILL AND DESTROY,

but I have come so that they may have LIFE TO THE FULLEST!

Church that sure sounds like good news to me! To hear the voice of someone who knows you by name, to be loved and protected, to know that the path opening in front of you is safe and there are green pastures ahead? To trust that you’re going to spend your days eating in abundance and your nights sleeping in safety?

Don’t you want that so much sometimes it hurts even to think about it? Life to the FULLEST?

Do you get it? Well apparently we don’t because Jesus keeps going with a THIRD TRY at telling this story.

In verses 11-16 he says, I AM the Good Shepherd. Well what’s a good shepherd? It means 2 things. Good means true, genuine, legit. He’s not faking it, he’s REALLY the Shepherd. He’s not a thief here to…steal kill destroy, he has come that they may have LIFE TO THE FULLEST. Good also means high-quality. Top-shelf. Super. Excellent. So Jesus is saying two things, he’s saying “I really am the shepherd,” and also “I’m AMAZING at being a shepherd.” And here’s his proof for both of them.

“The good shepherd lays downs his life for the sheep.” He’s willing to risk anything for his flock. Imagine the shepherd isn’t there. Let’s say he’s on vacation, he hired his neighbor to watch the sheep for him for a week. And a wolf comes to try to snatch a sheep snack. What’s going to happen?

[Picture of hired hand with sheep]

The hired hand is going to run away. Because is isn’t really the shepherd. The sheep don’t really matter to him. The wolf is going to attack the sheep and the whole flock will run away scared. No bueno. The wolf is just like the thief, he’s only here to…steal kill and destroy. But Jesus said I’m here that they may have… LIFE TO THE FULLEST.

Jesus says, I Am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me, just like God the Father knows me and I know God. I would even give up my life for my sheep. And not just these sheep. ANY sheep that listens to my voice can join my flock. ANY sheep can belong here, can sleep safely in my sheep pen or eat yummy grass in my pastures. I have come that they may have… LIFE TO THE FULLEST.

In fact, here’s how good of a shepherd Jesus is. He would even die to take care of his sheep. Now that doesn’t sound very safe for the sheep does it, to have a dead shepherd? But Jesus says that even if he dies he can pick up his life again. Nothing, not even death, can keep Jesus from being the best-ever shepherd.

So here’s our invitation for today:

Listen to your Shepherd’s voice.

Church, this story ends in a kind of strange way. Here’s my concern. Doesn’t EVERYTHING Jesus told us sound AMAZING? This is straight up good news here. I was reading this story and honestly I was struggling with what Jesus is asking us to give up. Like are the sheep supposed to give up being stolen by the thief? Are they supposed to mutiny against the hired hand and follow the shepherd along on his one vacation? It really sounds like Jesus is painting a picture of how much he loves us and how thoroughly he can care for us. This just sounds great to me, like when I get a recorded phone call telling me I’ve won a free week-long vacation in a condo in Orlando…

Well it turns out that’s EXACTLY what it sounded like to some of Jesus’ listeners.

You are CRAZY! They told him. This is in verse 20, “He has a demon and has lost his mind. Why listen to him?” Nobody can protect us like that! Nobody can be that close to God! Nobody can be serious about offering us life to the FULLEST!  Why listen to him. Why listen. But if you’re not listening—you can’t hear the voice of the one who  knows you by name and is leading you into green pastures by still waters. If you’re not listening, how do you know if it’s a shepherd, a hired hand, or a thief? If you’re not paying attention, how will you know the gate is open for you?

But other people had a different perspective. He’s not out of his mind, no way. “Can a demon heal the eyes of people who are blind?”

So we’re really right back where we were at the end of the last episode, where Jesus healed the blind man and then they were arguing about whether that means Jesus is sent from God to help us or if it means Jesus is breaking the rules and dishonoring God. Either Jesus really is the shepherd we’ve been longing for: the good shepherd, the legit shepherd, the excellent shepherd. Or Jesus is a real fraud. Worse than a thief or a wolf or a hired hand. We get to decide what we believe about Jesus. We get to decide if we’ll listen.

Here’s how John, the writer here, suggests that we make our decision. Do we see Jesus, in the Bible and in our own lives, do we see him steal, kill, and destroy? Or do we see him bringing more life and more life and fuller life?

It’s like at the beginning of that story about the blind man, when the disciples asked Jesus if this man deserved to be blind. And Jesus says, am I here to condemn? No, I am here that they may have LIFE TO THE FULLEST. Like when the blind man got kicked out of his synagogue and Jesus found him to say “there’s always room in my flock for anyone to belong.” The one thing we don’t see Jesus doing any of is violence. Jesus is always making things new, healing, providing. Jesus knows that the way of God’s justice and peace is so much stronger than violence, that he can even die, and he’ll still overcome death to continue caring for and protecting his flock.

(The big obstacle for Jesus’ listeners, and for us, is that Jesus isn’t doing all the things they think he should be doing. )

You were made for following Jesus into Life to the Fullest. Jesus knows you by name. You matter to him. He has already opened the way into safety, provision, abundance, and healing. He has already laid down his life for us, and taken it back up again.

What are we giving up?

Creative challenge: Fold your paper in half on one side draw what life to the fullest looks like for a sheep? What does a sheep living its best life look like? On the other side, think about what it looks like for you to have life to the fullest. What do you think Jesus wants to give you?

Listening Prayer?

We’re going to take just a minute in silence and I’m offering two prayers for you to consider:

The first is “Jesus you are my good shepherd. I want that full life with you. I want to hear your voice.”

The second is if you’re not so sure that Jesus is a good shepherd, or it’s hard for you to believe Jesus is able to take care of you. You can pray, “I believe, help my unbelief.”