Dear beloved of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

Today is the Sunday set aside in the church year to recognize, commemorate or celebrate the dawn of the Reformation. The Reformation, a movement within the church, now 502 years old. A movement which some might suggest is simply running on inertia. 502 years ago Martin Luther, a catholic monk, drafted a series of critiques of the church. There were 95 theses, statements, propositions that challenged the status quo and demanded that the church take a hard look at itself and its faithfulness to the gospel.

Luther didn’t want to start a new church, he certainly didn’t want to have a new church body named after him. He simply wanted things to be different. He believed that all people should be able to encounter the beauty and the offense of the gospel of Jesus anew, for themselves. He wanted to convict people with the law that couldn’t save them, a law could only show people who they truly were, a law that could only show them how much they needed God’s mercy and drive them into the arms of a loving and gracious savior.

Luther was a once in a generation mind. He was a gifted preacher. He also wrote incredibly problematic things about our Jewish brothers and sisters toward the end of his life. Luther was a complex person. He was racked by guilt, he never felt as though he could measure up. He had a very low view of human beings. Which is one of the reasons why I find that I identify with Luther.

We as human beings are capable of so much good. Yet so often we choose the things that hurt us and those we love the most. Luther knew this. He emphasized this in his teaching, writing and preaching. A keen example of this would be from his sermon in 1523 on the text before us today from John’s gospel. Not too far into his sermon for that day he said, 

“Sheep, you know, are most foolish and stupid animals. When we want to speak of anybody’s stupidity we say, ‘He is a sheep.’

“Nevertheless, it has this trait above all other animals, that it soon learns to heed its shepherd’s voice and will follow no one but its shepherd, and though it cannot help and keep and heal itself, nor guard itself against the wolf, but is dependent upon others, yet it always knows enough to keep close to its shepherd and look to him for help. 

“Now, Christ uses this trait or nature of the animal as an illustration in explaining that he is the good shepherd. In this manner he plainly shows what his kingdom is, and wherein it consists, and [Christ] would say: My kingdom is only to rule the sheep; that is poor, needy wretched men, who well see and realize that there is no other help or counsel for them.” [1]

Poor, needy wretched men, who well see and realize that there is no other help or counsel for them. I told you Luther loved people. But he’s right and it’s a critical insight and one that’s worth clinging to. Because this is not just Luther’s insight, it’s the gospel. Jesus comes for those who need him most. Jesus comes for those whom the world has forgotten. Jesus comes for those who can’t make it on their own. Jesus comes for you.

In today’s reading from John’s gospel, we get two “I am” statements from Jesus. There is “I am the good shepherd.” It’s the more familiar of the two. It’s the one most commonly depicted in art and music. We have two stained-glass depictions of Jesus as the Good Shepherd here at Bethlehem, one towards the back of the sanctuary on the north side. The other is in the chapel. 

The other “I am” statement that Jesus makes is I am the gate, or I am the door. It’s no surprise that most artists picked the good shepherd image to work with. 

Even if you have zero familiarity with sheep and shepherds, you at least have a baseline understanding of what Jesus means when he says, I’m the good shepherd. What does he mean when he says, I’m the gate or the door?

Doors function as barriers. We lock the doors of our homes at night to keep people out. We lock our car doors when we go into the store to keep people from stealing them. Typically we view doors and gates as restrictive. I’m on one side and you’re on the other. So it’s troubling to imagine Jesus as the door or the gate, letting some people into the sheep pen and keeping others out.

But doors and gates also allow for welcome and recovery and comfort. We fling our doors wide open to usher in family and friends. We take refuge behind doors after a particularly grueling day. We find rest and healing at home knowing that we are safe inside our doors.

Doors allow safe passage to and from the world with all its challenges and opportunities. This is what Jesus is offering to his hearers. This is what he is extending to his sheep. This is what Jesus gives to you and to me. Jesus the good shepherd, Christ the gate and door gives us safe passage into the sheep pen where we are loved without condition or qualification. We are welcomed into a place, community, a body of believers not on the basis of our merit or our striving but because Jesus opens himself up to all who hear his call and seek refuge in him. 

This is what we get to be together, as the church. We get to be the sheep pen, the place and people that are the recipients of Jesus’ gracious and radical welcome. We get to be a place and people of refuge and restoration. When we’re at our best we love recklessly and extravagantly and generously. 

Then, once we’ve been renewed and refreshed. Once we’ve participated in the renewal of one another. We get to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd back out of the sheep pen. We get to follow Jesus back into the world that he desperately loves. We get to follow the lead of the good shepherd and give of ourselves so that this world can have life and have it abundantly.  


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