John 10: 3-6: I Peter 2:25
Finding the pepper in a stale text
A Frontline program (PBS May, 2017) follows a researcher who tracks where fish is caught in the pacific and where it goes. He also commits to eating only fish and no land meat up to three times a day for one year. All the Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to improve his brain strength. After a year he does feel slightly healthier and more energetic, but according to a physician the brain-boosting power of the fish is offset pretty much by the mercury they find in his hair follicles. Omega-3’s are good for the brain and mercury is very bad. So he tells the audience what fish to eat. The other good affects of fish on heart and blood pressure show no detectable change.
Friends, how would you like to eat fish twice a day? I wouldn’t like it. I like sashimi and had it the other day, but if I would have to eat it four days in a row I probably wouldn’t touch it for four months after that. The experience gets old. Now sashimi doesn’t taste good if you do not mix the wasabi into the soy sauce to mix it in. I didn’t realize the other day that I had mixed in too much wasabi, but it didn’t hit me until the piece of tuna had half disappeared. That’s when the kick came. Rice and water to the rescue!
The text today is a little bit like fish. First, if we hear too often, like eating fish too often, it goes stale to us. Its taste is diminished. Second, the tuna may have great texture but it is nothing without the mild kick of wasabi.
Friends, there is nothing wrong really with the text the way it is written, other than perhaps that Jesus is both shepherd and gate (which may be a result of his quotes being merged). The way Jesus tells it, it’s good. The problem with it is what the Church has done with it over the centuries. The Church has turned it into something bland, Jesus as the protector, the one Whose voice we the sheep all know. It’s like sashimi without any wasabi. We have to remember that Jesus spoke this to a larger audience who felt oppresses and marginalized and hopeless in the midst of corruption under Roman rule, but also to a minority of his followers who did not feel secure as a new movement. As the Church flourished between the third and twentieth centuries, most people in majority Christian countries felt included in the sheepfold. It was comforting to hear this message, but not particularly earthshaking. The centuries turned it bland. Now Christianity is in crisis in the west and in Europe on the wane. It is till powerful in this country but it has been hitching its wagon to ideologies that exclude rather than include. One of those ideologies has just pushed for a health care bill that passed the house, a bill that allows for insurance of many but leaves one group vulnerable outside the gate: really sick people. As if being really ill is not horrible and frightening enough.
Jeffrey Gallagher, a pastor in Tolland CT, has found the kick in this passage as we reexamine it in this new time Gallagher talks about how the gate could be something that keeps people out. Many people feel left out or alienated by the church. He says that a young woman who has just come out to her family may listen to this text and hear something else. “She too is fixated on the sheepfold. ‘There are many sheep inside,’ she thinks, ‘and I’m not one of them.’ And there’s a barrier to getting in-the church wants to keep me out. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough: I haven’t been faithful enough. God doesn’t love me for who I am. The sheepfold will never be for me, because I’m the one the gate the gate in intended to keep out. So she slips out before the benediction, as quickly as she entered, realizing, once again, that the church is not the place for her.” (Christian Century, April 12, 2017, p.21).
Friends, in the world of His time on earth Jesus needed to tell people they were safe with Him. The sheepfold, the corral, needed to be secure. Our question with this text as a Church as a nation with so many churches is to ask:”who are we keeping out and how can we be welcoming to people who want to come in?” Being inclusive does not just mean: everyone is welcome, we also have to ask:”who are we keeping out? That is the spice, the pepper, the kick in this text. This passage is not about being nice and comfortable within the walls of our church, it is about expanding the sheepfold and opening the gate to all Who fish to come in. When we examine Jesus’ words, you will find He talks about that more than once. Children, the poor, the lame, the sick, the mentally ill, the oppressed, the possessed, even the dead are included in His sheepfold. May we never forget that. Thanks be to God.