Jesus: The gate to the shieling
This article is based on a sermon I gave in May 2014 on John 10, where Jesus describes himself as a door to the sheepfold, or for those of us living in Northumbria the gate to the ‘shieling’.
For the moment pretend that you are having a dream. Most dreams are rather bizarre and exotic. Most dreams are quite strange and don’t make a much sense. You might want to close your eyes but please dream with me that you are standing outside your house perhaps in the front garden or on the street.
Inside your house a party is going on. All your favourite people are there. Family, friends, neighbours, people from work 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, enjoying themselves.
But…you are outside the house. You are outside the house. It is night and it is cold, raining and starting to snow. It is very cold and getting colder, not surprisingly you are puzzled, you want to be inside the house where it is warm, there’s an open fire, and there is a warm glow from the lights. But you are outside in the dark, cold and getting wet. With no coat you are starting to now feel pretty cold and miserable.
So, in your dream, you start to look for the 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 games people are playing and the dancing. 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 joking. You say to yourself. “I want to get inside.”
And so in your dream, you walk back to the house and look for the door at the side of your house. In your dream, you walk miles and miles and miles trying to find the side door. What a weird dream. And it is getting colder and colder and colder as you are walking along and without a coat ….. and there is still no door.
In your dream, you walk around to the back of your house. You walk away from the house, further into the back yard so you can see into the house through the window into the living room and yes, the party is still going on. Everyone is having a really good time. Your family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, friends from your past and present: they are all there. Standing in the back garden, you decide to shout to get their attention inside the house. But the music is turned up loud and they can’t hear you. The night is getting darker and colder and wetter and so are you.
In your dream, you walk around the house, looking for any door, any way into the house. But there is no door, 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 of the house. You see into through the 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. 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 neighbours are there. From past and present It is a great party. 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 missed 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. He said, “I AM the door.”
It is with this modern parable that we approach the meaning of John 10. This modern parable helps us understand that Jesus is teaching us 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
At night, the shepherds would gather their sheep together and lead them into large pens, they called then sheepfolds, the Northumbria farmer we would call them shielings. They had high dry-stone walls on which they planted thorny shrubs and brambles – the very ones that would be used for the crown of thorns on Good Friday and that night after night the mountain lions and wolves from getting to the sheep.
Now, the doorway was about two feet wide. This wide. Not really wide at all. In fact it was really narrow, not really much more than a 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 made ? Was it made out of stones that the shepherd had piled up? Was it made of out poles tied together to form a makeshift gate? Was it made out of leather, perhaps a hide from the sheep?
What was the door made out of? Wood? Wool? Stones? Poles? Leather? ? What was the door made out of? That is the key to the story.
There was no door. The shepherd was the door. At night, the shepherd himself would sleep there in the small opening of the stone wall. He would sleep there, by the fire, with his rod and staff. If any mountain lion came, the shepherd would fight it off with his club or his long-pointed staff. Literally and actually, the shepherd was the door.
The meaning of this parable Jesus told in John 10 is unlocked when we start to think of Jesus himself as being the door. It is if Jesus was saying: “I am the door to the Father’s house.
I am the door to the Father’s family. the door to the Father’s safety. Tithe door to the fullness of life. the door to the banquet, the feast, the green pastures, to the greatest party ever. He is saying that he is 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.”
As you would expect 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. I seem to have been in places where all the doors are closed and have got warning signs on them, do not open, danger, radioactive, poison, dangerous, chemicals, danger of death, these doors are intimidating doors and kind of worrying, These 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 “no admittance,” sign Jesus was a living door, a talking door, a speaking door who invites us in: “Won’t you come in? Won’t you come into 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 into 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, I have been thinking about doors and the messages that the doors communicate, I have been thinking about the door to my office, or rather I should say our office as I share it my colleagues.
We’ve just moved into a new office, when the door is closed people normally don’t come in. When the door is closed, it gives a message: “Private we’re busy.” If, on the other hand, I leave the door wide open, everyone knows that they can stick their head in and say, “Hi there” or that they can feel free to walk right in and say, “Hi Allen 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 into 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, he 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 stone walls, with thorns 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
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 granddads, and aunts and uncles, and friends and neighbours are Christians. Such a life has a way of protecting you from the foolishness 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.
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 and church.
The opposite is also true. Think for a moment about the children you know, the children you have heard about that have been eaten alive by the wolves of this world? Not only the children, but mothers and fathers 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 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 within the church.
But there is protection, and that protection is very important. There is a protection from evil, 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 evil out of your and my life. I do not know how people can live without Jesus. 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 the water meadows of Somerset where I grew up, very green and very lush. Clotted cream, bird song, butterflies, croaking of frogs, mellow fruitfulness.
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 it 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 us 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 poured out on 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 birdsong. As you prepare your lunch or buy a sandwich, it is knowing that God created food you for and all humanity.
As you fall asleep at night and your head is on the soft 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 in those green pastures and one tenth of the pasture was green and nine tenths of the pasture was under dirty polluted water, I would not be happy. As Christians, we are never happy when 90% of people on earth live in fear of floods, landslides or have no fresh water. We are committed to God’s ideal that all people benefit 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 neighbourhoods and cities. Peace between nations. Where people work to solve their differences in peaceful ways without fighting each other or going to war with each other. Where huge numbers of people live in communities and nations that are at war, are in refugee camps then we are called to work for peace in those places.
Yes, Jesus calls us from the sheepfold and leads us out to green pastures which are symbolic of communities of love, justice and peace.
Jesus said: “I am the door. Won’t you come in?” Amen.