Column – I Am the Gate

Published 5:40 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

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Most ministers have stories of unusual encounters on airplanes. One pastor tells about boarding a plane to head to a preaching festival out of state. He would be teaching there. A beautiful family boarded and sat down next to him. 

The wife asked finally, “What do you do for a living?” He replied, “I’m a seminary professor.” She had no idea what one of those was. She had a strange, almost disappointed look on her face. Like he hadn’t really done anything with his life. 

She volunteered that her husband was a dentist. He thought to himself, “Well, there are some similarities. Sometimes a seminary professor has to basically pull teeth without the benefit of anesthesia.”

She added, “My family and I are headed to Disney World. Where are you going?” He told her that he was headed to Birmingham where someone would pick him up in a car, and take him to a retreat center so that he could spend the weekend with a bunch of ministers.

The conversation pretty much ended, as this did nothing to connect for her what he did, nor the value of it all. Her “so what” had not been satisfied, based on the look on her face. 

We can tell you that this past Sunday was the fourth Sunday after Easter. I can tell you that I preached from a related passage and that I consulted a few commentaries. As I do every week, for every sermon. Like this young woman, you might be pretty unimpressed. 

Why does this story matter in your life? A lot of us in seminary were taught about the “what.” What does the OldTestament say? What does the NewTestament say? What is theology? But as we consider John 10: 1-10, it’s the “so what” that’s where you and I live. We want all the answers. 

Jesus has died. Jesus has come back to life on the third day. These are the “what” of Easter. But on this fourth Sunday of Easter, I am back to my life. My family member is still sick. I have distractions in my life. You do, too. You still have the questions about your life you had before Easter. 

So what difference does Jesus being alive make? Jesus’ teachings shed the best light on this question. “Very truly, I am the gate for the sheep,” he said in verse seven. I don’t know if that cleared up what the original listeners hadn’t understood so far. This is profound for us, though. You and I are the sheep to the Good Shepherd. We go in and we go out. In other words, we go about living our lives. It’s all so daily. 

But the Shepherd has a place prepared for us to rest and to replenish safely. This is where we are tended. We are comforted or even challenged to be better people. The Shepherd or this gate, whichever you prefer, is our means to enter into fellowship with God and into our eternity.

How important that is, in a world that is so divided. Where we are having all our differences pointed out for us all the time. Where many are being taught to hate. 

The Shepherd knows us. All of us and just what we need. All who choose are gathered together. Jesus will tend our wounds. Don’t kid yourself. Life inside the pen can be messy occasionally. 

The great Baptist pastor, Jack Causey, once said to a group of young ministerial students, “Don’t become a Shepherd if you don’t like the smell of sheep.” I’m not so sure that only applies to ministers. 

I’m pretty sure that part of being believers who gather, and who understand the value of gathering when the Shepherd calls, is that there will be other sheep around.

It’s not a clean place, this human life. The sheep pen is never ours exclusively. But Jesus, the ultimate and Good Shepherd understands that what happens here is important and well worth the mess. 

In this passage, Jesus did two other important things. First, he identified those who took shortcuts into the sheepfold as bandits and thieves. He longs to protect us from them. However, we consider that we sheep sometimes wish to skip the gate and jump over the fence ourselves. We want to hold onto those our prejudices, attitudes and sins that Jesus might refine. 

But he also promised us life more abundantly. When we abide with the Shepherd, we will be more alive than ever. 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.