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February 18, 2018

“Breaking Barriers: The One Who Calls Us”

Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Genesis 9.8-17

John 10.1-18

February 18, 2018

            There is a saying that history is written by the winners. Sometimes history is accurate, but sometimes it merely reflects how the winner, or those in power, perceived the events. Perhaps the same could be said about the rules – that those who are in power are the ones who write the rules – for right or for wrong. Rules are boundaries that can keep us safe – and are generally meant for the good of the whole. Yet, sometimes rules or laws exclude people or don’t take into account specific situations. Sometimes boundaries are put into place with the assumption that it is for the good of all, but without realizing how it might affect the whole. Through Lent we will explore various boundaries and gates – seeing who is kept in and who is kept out. Who sets up the rules or boundaries? God? Us? Or someone else?

            As I mentioned, boundaries are meant to be good – they can help us to know what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable. Our laws are generally meant to keep people safe. The Law of God was meant for the same purpose. God put Law in place to keep people safe and to remind us of how to care for one another. Yet, sometimes the Law of God and human law is misused or misconstrued. For example, the second amendment was originally created after the Revolution as a means to defend one’s rights. When the thirteen colonies combined to create the United States they did not have police or a strong military at the time of this amendment and the rationale was that people could create militias to protect the country. Essentially, the protection of the colonies was through volunteers. Since that time we have created police and armies, and whatever your opinion of the second amendment, I think we can agree that it has been misused. After the massacre at Sandy Hook and the tragedy this past Wednesday at the Parkland High School we can see how the right to bear arms has killed innocent children. The original intent of the law was for protection, but now those who were meant to be protected have been harmed.

            If boundaries and laws keep people safe, then those laws are deemed good. If they don’t, then they are bad. Who determines these boundaries? When it comes to law, we look at lawmakers and politicians. Who is correct? I think this goes beyond Democrats and Republicans – it is a question of who is looking at the whole of humanity, and not just the voters in the party.

            In the Gospel of John we may have a difficult time keeping up with the metaphor. Who are the sheep? Who are the shepherds? We know that Jesus is the gate – because that is stated clearly. Are the sheep God’s children? Are the shepherds pastors? Leaders in the community? At one point in John Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd – so that shepherd imagery is present. We can clearly see that we do not want to be a thief or a hired hand, as those people do not care for the sheep or have any positive connection to the sheep. They are outside the gate and are not welcomed.

            Jesus tells the disciples that the sheep must come in the gate – there is no other way. Or, perhaps there is another way, but Jesus is telling them not to sneak in through the back like teenagers at the movie theater. Perhaps this is how we have come upon the heaven’s gates imagery in the world. Many people express heaven to be a place with golden streets in clouds with a giant pearly gate where people “check in.” Jesus is not saying this is the gate to heaven. Many of Jesus’ parables were about the realm of God – but Jesus also stated that the realm of God was here and now – not something to just attain in a far away future time and place. We are to live out God’s call now. We are to love one another now. When we use the gifts God has given us we see glimpses of God’s realm in our daily lives. We are able to celebrate the gifts we have been given. So, we do not know where this gate is or in what timeframe – but we can guess that it is the realm of God.

            Before we go drawing lines about who is inside the gate and who is outside, we must know that there are other sheep. Jesus tells us that he has other sheep that are not known to the previously mentioned sheep. That means we don’t decide who is in and who is out. This is a boundary we cannot draw. We want to identify who – perhaps because we want to know that we are one of the ones inside the gate – but we cannot.

            Famous theologian John Calvin created the concept of predestination, in that God is the One who deems us elect. What this means is that God chooses those who will be “inside the gate.” Later, after Calvin’s death, people began to ponder about the idea of double predestination. This assumed that if there were people who were elect, there must be people who were reprobate – people who were not predestined to be inside the gate – but instead “outside the gate.” This was not Calvin’s original intention. He was attempting to reassure the people he preached to that they were one of the elect – that they did not have to worry. People were panicked after the Reformation about whether or not they were chosen by God, and Calvin attempted to tell them that their election was not a worry – we must live our lives rather than worry about heaven or hell and the afterlife. This takes trust in God.

            Jesus is the gate. Gates are meant to keep certain things or people in and others out. We would assume that if Jesus is the gate, this is a boundary that is good; but why have a gate at all? Why would Jesus choose this imagery specifically? Perhaps Jesus is like the base of a gate. Imagine you are outside and you are in a field with nothing for miles. You walk for days, coming across nothing but trees and fields and water. Eventually, you hit a fence. Are you on the inside or the outside? You stick close to the fence, because eventually, you assume you will find the gate – the base – that will tell you where you are and where the gate leads.

            Except, if I can stretch this metaphor just a little bit more, Jesus never says anything about a fence. Jesus only mentions the gate. As I pictured this passage, I thought of Louisville Seminary – my old alma mater. The seminary is surrounded by a brick wall – a boundary that actually doesn’t do much because anyone can drive in the gates, and anyone can leave – no one cards you on your way into the seminary grounds. Perhaps it serves more as a visual boundary so you know where the seminary ends and the rest of Louisville begins. Toward the end of my time there the ivy had eaten through the bricks of one of the walls. It would have cost too much to rebuild or repair the wall so it was torn down – but the gate remains. Now the gate is superfluous because anyone can walk around the gate or through it.

            So, is Jesus a gate with a fence, or a gate without a fence? What does that imply in our faith? If Jesus has a fence – who is kept inside? If Jesus doesn’t have a fence, what purpose does the gate serve? As a base point for people to come and go freely? A sturdy foundation for us? A way to look at our own boundaries and ways we have ordered the world, and recognize that Jesus sees the world differently?

            Our minds work best when we can straighten out the chaos. We love life to be orderly because it helps us categorize and organize facts in our minds. If the sky wasn’t blue and the grass green, how would we know where one began and the other ended? If we didn’t have roads, how would we know where to drive the cars? Even God creates boundaries – they can be positive. In Genesis we see God creating a boundary on God’s self.

            Earlier in Genesis the world had become out of hand. There was violence and hatred and God is angry at such chaos. God mourns at the pain humans cause other humans and other creatures. We can assume that God likes order – perhaps that is proof God is Presbyterian – because God likes creation decent and in order. In the first creation story God orders the world – separating the sky and the ground, the waters. Whether this was for God’s purpose or for ours, knowing we could not handle the chaos that existed before, God orders the day and night and creates with voice. In order to comprehend the world, we try to calm the chaos, too.[1] We call these coping mechanisms. Sometimes we order the world by prayer or meditation. Sometimes we try to create order by talking to a friend or counselor and processing. Others try to create order by drugs or alcohol or destructive addictions. We all try to find order in our lives, but it is manifest in different ways.

            Even the author of the Genesis passage we read today is seeking some kind of order. Genesis was written by multiple authors and this passage is attributed to the author called the “Priestly Writer.” This was someone who was a priest, or even a group of priests, who had a specific writing style. The Priestly authors are known for writing genealogy and lists.[2] They literally wanted to put certain ideas or concepts or people in order.

            So, in the Genesis passage we read today, God tries to create order with a flood. God told Noah and his sons to craft an ark, put animals on it, and start over – because God was going to flood the earth. God wiped out the rest of humanity and other animals with this flood. Afterward, God was saddened by this radical means of solving the problem, and promises to never flood the earth again. God places a limitation – a boundary – on God’s self.

            Boundaries are good – when they are for the good of all. When boundaries exclude people and tell them they aren’t welcome, we have to reexamine. When children are being killed in their schools, we have to look at those boundaries again and make a change. I pray that you will spend some time these forty days considering which side of the gate you are on – and how fluid that gate is for yourself and others. How is God calling you to create order in a world full of chaos? Amen.

 

[1] Jane Anne Ferguson, “Genesis 9.8-17” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 28.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993),137.