Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2005
The Gospel: John 10:1-10
Sermon: "Jesus is the Shepherd and the Gate"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
Jesus is the Shepherd and the Gate
Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 17, 2005
The imagery of shepherding is found throughout scripture. It is a comforting picture for us. We often see Jesus holding a lamb or with a lamb lying at his feet. In fact, the central stained glass window over our altar is entitled Jesus the Good Shepherd. We love this imagery because it is so serene and so wonderful.
We see this picture of the lamb being held in Jesus' arms and we see ourselves as that lamb. We see ourselves being held closely by Jesus, being comforted in his arms, being loved by the Good Shepherd. Indeed it is a wonderful image comforting and soothing.
This morning we hear comforting words from Jesus concerning being both a shepherd and a gate. Jesus describes himself as the shepherd who enters by the gate. The sheep know him by the sound of his voice. The shepherd knows each sheep so well that he can call them by name. Furthermore, as they hear their name the sheep respond by following him. What is described is a very intimate relationship. The sheep and the shepherd know each other so well that the sheep will not follow anybody else. They will not turn away from the shepherd they trust.
However, that doesn't mean there are not other voices. Actually, it implies there are other voices calling to the sheep. These are the voices of strangers who try to lead the sheep away. Jesus describes these people as thieves and bandits. They come to steal the sheep. But Jesus is also the gate. These thieves and bandits can not get into the sheep, because Jesus stands guard. The sheep move in and out from the sheepfold to pasture as Jesus allows them. They are protected from the thieves and bandits. Those who pass through the gate, through Jesus, are saved. They are offered the abundant life Jesus brings. Therefore, in this imagery we see Jesus as the shepherd who calls us and the gate who offers eternal life. We also see there are those who are dangerous in this world. They call to us constantly and they try to confuse us continually. As long as we respond to Jesus' call we are safe.
This imagery can be a little difficult for us to comprehend. After all, most of us are not shepherds and we don't understand the imagery fully. Therefore, I would like to tell you a story that I believe describes a shepherd and a gate. This story is true. It is about a Roman Catholic priest. His life exemplifies the role of a caring shepherd for his flock. His life is also a gate or perhaps a gateway through which we can see the effect of the incredible love of God.
The priest's name was Maximilian Kolbe. He was born in 1894 in Poland. His parents were poor. His father was a weaver. At an early age he had a vision. He had prayed to Mary and asked what was to become of him. In response Mary came to him in this vision holding two crowns. One was red and the other was white. The white one symbolized perseverance in purity and the red one meant martyrdom. She asked which one he would choose. He said he would accept them both. This decision shaped his future actions and would one day come true.
In 1910, he entered the Franciscan order and he was ordained a priest in 1919 in Rome. On his return to Poland he was a teacher of church history and he built a friary outside of Warsaw. The friary grew until it housed 762 Franciscans. He went to Japan and India and started friaries there as well. In 1936, he returned to supervise the friary in Warsaw. When Germany invaded he sent the friars home to protect them. He was a good shepherd to his flock. He was imprisoned for a while. But when he was released he went back to the friary where he took in three thousand refugees. 2,000 of these refugees were Jewish. Those friars who worked with him shared all they had with the refugees. They shared their clothing, the little food that they had, and anything else that was useful.
As you can imagine the Germans became suspicious and in 1941 they closed the friary arresting Maximilian and four other brothers. They were all transported to Auschwitz. At the camp Maximilian endured many hardships. No one had enough food. Clothing was inadequate for the cold. Shelter was not much help from the cold either. Maximilian was known to move among the prisoners with gentleness. At night he did not rest. He moved from bunk to bunk identifying himself as a priest and asking if they needed anything from him. He listened to confessions and heard their pleas for consolation. He continued to be a shepherd to his flock.
Father Kolbe also endured personal pain. An SS officer saw him one day. He chose the heaviest boards he could find. He loaded them on Father Kolbe's back and made him run with the load. When he fell the officer kicked him in the stomach and face. He ordered the soldiers to give him fifty lashes. Father Kolbe lost consciousness and the soldiers left him in the mud for dead. Some prisoners snuck him into the infirmary.
Here is where we see the gateway begin to open. Even though Father Kolbe was beaten horribly, he endured all of the hardship. He pleaded with the other prisoners to forgive the persecutors, to pray for them, and to overcome their evil with good. Whenever he was beaten, he did not cry out. He prayed for them. He was always the last to seek help for his injuries. Everyone else had to go first. Do we begin to see the gateway? Can we see where Jesus has called this man? Do we see how Jesus is with this man? Even in the pain, even in the heart of this incredible darkness, Jesus' light shines out as a beacon of love. This man lives the faith he believes. Yet, this story is not over.
One day someone escaped from the camp. The punishment for escape was death, not for the ones who escaped, but for ten others in the camp for each one who tried to escape. If ten men tried to escape one hundred others would be put to death. One man escaped. Ten men were chosen to die by being placed in a bunker without food or water. One man of the ten cried out about his wife and family. Father Kolbe stepped forward. He asked to take the place of the young man who cried out. The commandant agreed.
The ten men were thrown into a bunker and left to starve. Father Kolbe tried to encourage them with prayers, psalms and meditations on the Passion of the Christ. After two weeks there were only four left alive. Father Kolbe was the only one conscious. Since the camp needed the cell for more victims, the camp executioner injected carbolic acid into the arms of the men. Father Kolbe was the last to be injected and raised his arm while praying.
I am not implying that Father Kolbe was the Good Shepherd or the gate as Jesus calls himself. What I am saying is that father Kolbe exemplifies to us the meaning behind these words. There are other voices calling to us in this world. Father Kolbe heard them along with every other prisoner at every concentration camp. We see people hear them today. These voices have names; addiction, sex, greed, power, corruption, pain, and many others. Some people follow these voices and hurt themselves or hurt others. Some people will hear these voices after they themselves are hurt. They will cry out for vengeance that isn't theirs. They will not forgive. They will hold onto the hurt and pray for others to suffer as they have suffered.
Yet, there are those who will listen to Jesus' voice. They will follow Jesus' way. Following Jesus means putting one's own needs as last. Following Jesus means praying for those who hurt us. Following Jesus means forgiving, caring and loving. Hearing Jesus' voice is exemplified by these characteristics. Father Kolbe heard this voice.
He also recognized Jesus as the gate. He knew no one could really hurt him. Oh, they could beat him and punish him. They could and they did put him to death. But he knew that Jesus was the gate and through the gate his salvation was secure. For the life abundant life Jesus promises is not limited this world, but an eternal promise of life with God who is the source of love.
Yes, Jesus is the good shepherd and He is the gate for the sheep. We are his sheep and he knows us by name. He opens the gate for us the gateway to heaven. I am thankful for the ministry of Father Kolbe for through his life these scriptures have come alive.