Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Gate

Of the Seven Metaphors of Jesus in John's Gospel, I think I like "the gate" least ( John 10:1-10). It's the gospel for this morning, the fourth Sunday in Eastertide.

I'm fine with the others - well, "the Way, the Truth and the Life" always presents a problem of exclusion for me, but I understand the situation John was in at the time.

The 'People of the Way' were taking off on their own, beginning the 'Jesus Movement' that would later become 'the church'. He was trying to get as many people 'on The Way' - the Right Way - as he could.

Actually, I'm not so fine with the whole 'Shepherd/Sheep' thing either. That's mostly because while I'm fine with Jesus as Shepherd, I'm not so comfortable being a sheep. 

Maybe it's my classism. I am an Anglican, after all. It's our 'original sin'.

I get Jesus as Bread of Life (John 6:47-51), and the Light of the World (John 8:12).

The Gate (John 10:9) and the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-12) - not so much.

Jesus as 'the Resurrection and the Life' (John 10:11-12) is wonderful. "The Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:5-7), well, not so much, but the image of "The True Vine" (John 15:1,4) has provided me and countless others with a measure of comfort during times of separation and loneliness or grief and bereavement.

I suspect John may have been throwing out a bunch of metaphors, hoping one of the seven might stick with someone of the flock.

'The Gate' sort of leaves me cold, you know?  I really have a hard time imagining Jesus not letting anyone in through The Gate.  Not if, as he says, they confess and truly repent.

Indeed, I think the church - The Body of Christ - functions more as 'The Gate' than does Jesus.  And, I think that makes Jesus stand at the gate and weep.  I mean, it just doesn't go with some of the other things Jesus reportedly said.

Like, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). Not some. All.

That's not to say that gates aren't necessary in this life - on this side of Paradise. They are.

One of my early teachers in Pastoral Care once used the image of a gate as something I would need, as a Pastor, in order to set good, healthy relational boundaries.

"Think of the pastoral relationship as an open field," he said. "Sometimes, it's really important to allow yourself or your flock to wander freely, to find their own nourishment. Your role is to keep watch, making sure no harm comes into the field. Because, if there's no gate, harm can come in and out as freely as they can."

"It's also important," he reminded me, "to remind yourself that you can't do it all. You have to set boundaries around the areas you know that your skills and talents can best serve."

Seemed like wise counsel to me.

He continued, "Other times, it's really important to put up a wall. A firm wall. Stone or brick. Sometimes, you need very firm, very clear boundaries between you and some of your flock, lest they begin to eat your grass and drink your water, leaving you with absolutely no nourishment, depleting your ability to tend to the others."

"A wall," he said, "can also serve to protect the flock when there's a sense of danger - whether real or perceived."

"The best pastoral relationship," he said, "is one where I imagine a large, open field with a picket fence around it. It defines the area clearly, and yet, it gives a sense of openness. The important thing is to have a gate on that fence. With a latch. The latch should face you, so you have some sense of control over who comes in and who goes out and how many come to you at a time."

Those who are familiar with Ed Friedman's Family System's concept of the 'self differentiated self' will recognize it as a visual model of that idea.

I like that metaphor very much. It has, in fact, been the model I use for pastoral relationships in community. It allows the pastoral leader to have some sense of control over the defined area of ministry and how many of the flock come in at a time for specific tending or specialized care.

Not that I've always done it well, mind you. Nevertheless, it stands as the model that has been very helpful to me over the years.

I suspect John was more describing himself and, perhaps, the pastoral relationship Jesus had with his 'flock', than portraying an image of The Realm of God.

At least, that's how I've come to understand this gospel.

I'll be heading off to church in a few minutes, followed by a presentation at the Vestry Meeting concerning their ongoing development as leaders.

I'm looking forward to my rector's sermon to see how it is that she reads this passage from John and to feed on the Word she breaks open for us before I am nourished by the Sacrament.

So, "G'wan, as my friend Margaret says, "go to church".

Jesus is waiting for you.

That's Him, right there.

The little guy. The sort of scruffy one in the sandals and the long hair. Standing by the gate.

The latch is on His side, but He'll let you in.

No promises about the shepherds He's left to tend the flock, though.

Some of them are right onery.

Not to worry. There are lots of other fields and lots of other shepherds.

Just get yourself up out of bed or off that couch, finish that last mouthful of coffee, and get yourself to church.

There are six other metaphors you can feast on while you're waiting at the gate.


Ashley Cosslett Neal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirkepiscatoid said...

I think of "The Gate" in the text like this:

In ancient times, shepherds made pens out of rock or brush and put a very narrow opening in them--just big enough for a sheep to go through.

Since there wasn't a lot of wood or stuff to make a gate, the shepherd slept in the gate. It made the sheep think twice about getting out, and the predatory critters and bandits think twice about getting IN.

I like the idea of someone having to step over Jesus to get to me when I'm vulnerable...and I can also handle the idea to be mindful I have to step over Jesus to get "out" and cause mischief!

Ashley Cosslett Neal said...

About the gate: It's like the "eye of the needle;" it's some "thing," (not such a great word) that has to be passed through and yet is always open, after all.

About the sheep: This image from our desert religion is not so helpful for us now. Still, some act like sheep.
We are not sheep, so better not to act like sheep. At the same time, we do need teaching, so as not to march off a cliff....Maybe student/disciple is better than sheep...

Carol Horton said...

The explanation for the gate of the sheep that works best for me came from my Greek professor in seminary who said the enclosures were rather crude affairs, usually without what we would consider gates. The job of the shepherd was to place himself across the opening at night, thus becoming the gate, protecting the sheep from would-be intruders, and also from the temptation to wander out of the enclosure on their own into possible harm. Hirelings might run away when danger arose, but the 'good shepherd' would be the one who was willing to put himself literally between the sheep and potential danger.

Elisa said...

Hey Elizabeth!
It is indeed a strange metaphor but I made sure to make the distinction that Jesus was the gate and not the gatekeeper or a divine bouncer and then referenced this UCC ad. Seemed to get the point across.

Hope you had a good Sunday morning.


it's margaret said...

Yeah --this Gate stuff got me too... but late in the main service this morning (I only preached at the Spanish-language service) I realized that it was the calling --the voice of the Shepherd to which the sheep respond... and Jesus --definitely in this Gate business, implies he is not the Shepherd per se --he is not the one doing the calling....

--until a couple of verses later when he says that he IS the Good Shepherd --after all... . I think it may be that the evangelist is setting us up for the Philip business (which comes next week I think) and Jesus says that if one sees him, one sees the Father....

...or something like that!

I am looking forward to what your rector said about the "Gate" man!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Ashley - so good to connect with you after more years than I care to remember (or say out loud).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - I like that imagery, too.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Carol. Something tells me that I you and Kirke have had this conversation before.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elisa - I think that's an important distinction

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - she didn't touch the Gate stuff. Went straight for the Shepherd as Leader stuff. It was just what the congregation/vestry/wardens needed to hear. Good Shepherd, eh?

Watson said...

Years ago, a young man high on drugs kicked in my door in order to use my phone. I thought of that and the difference between such an intrusion and someone who has a key and is welcome in the house. I can feel the difference in my gut! And relate it to people who enter my life today.

The sheep image always bothers me! I want to protest! Then I took a break from writing and went outside with my dog. At that moment, at the door, I realized I was shepherding her - protecting and guiding and caring in a way someone hired might not do it. I have to stay with that image for awhile longer. I still don't like being referred to as "sheep", or "dog" for that matter. And what does the image say about my relationship with God?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Daisy - here's my favorite sermon about sheep. I hope it helps.

it's margaret said...

Ahhhh, yes. Leadership.

WV: pshtes

Anonymous said...

John 10 has always been one of my favorite passages. I had a flock of suffolk sheep while growing up. I really do think that all people desirous of becoming a priest or a minister should be required to tend sheep for at least three years. I believe this would help them understand the Hebrew Bible and many passages in the new testament.

This passage is about the shepherd. The difference between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand. It is not about the sheep. The Good Shepherd protects his sheep by placing them in a safe place at night like an enclosure or canyon with a small opening. The shepherd stays at the front. Thereby, keeping the wolves, stray dogs, lions, cougars, other predators away from the sheep. The sheep are protected by the presence of the shepherd. They can rest at night knowing that the shepherd is keeping the evil ones (predators) away from them and their young.

My sheep knew my voice and they would followed me. They knew that when I called them they would be feed.

I saw some sheherds use dogs (border collies mostly). The shepherd did not call the sheep instead he sent the dog. The dog used intimidation to get the sheep to move. It would bite the sheep if they failed to move. If the sheep stood up to the dog and tried to ram the dog then the dog would bite the sheep on the nose. This shepherd did not seem to realize how he diminished his flock. You see sometimes the dog would bite the sheep and pull wool. When wool is pulled out it comes back in black not white. Black wool cannot be dyed and therefore worth less at the market. Further, sheep have very thin skin. If the dog accidentally bites the sheep's skin it can rip open. Thereby, making the sheep vulnerable to infection. (Many people have thin skin too. Words are like bites) Additionally, sheep have weak hearts. I have seen some sheep become so frightened from the dog that it just lies down and dies from a heart attack (much like people that let their anxieties get a hold of them and actually die from a heart attack.) The hired hand does not care about the true value of the sheep or he/she would not use the dog (intimidation) to control the flock.

Rather, the good shepherd cares for the sheep. Feeds the lambs, tends the sheep, and feeds the sheep.

Here is another bit of insight, a shepherd always has soft hands because of the lanolin in the sheeps wool. The Good Shepherd tends his/her sheep and his/her hands are soft from the constant interaction and his/her voice is sweet because it means food and safety for the sheep.

The Good shepherd recognizes that his/her whole livilihood depends upon the survival of the flock. The sheep provide wool (clothing), milk, and meat.

The person that told you that there are some sheep that will eat the grass out from under you obviously has never been around sheep and does not understand this passage.

As for me, I will wait and listen quitely for my shepherd knowing that Jesus will protect me, feed my lambs,tend to my needs, and feed me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - thanks for all this wonderful information. Great stuff.

Watson said...

Great insight Elizabeth. What has bothered me in the imagery is the difference between "status" - helpless sheep and dominant shepherd. Your "lanolin under the skin" makes more sense for me. In my reflection for the Sunday I went with the idea of "who do we follow?".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I love the lanolin under the skin. Makes total sense to me.

jw said...

Indeed, I think the church - The Body of Christ - functions more as 'The Gate' than does Jesus.--- the difference [between Jesus and the Body of Christ the Church] being ['xcuse the pun]....???

bless you...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's a hard but an important lesson to learn - the Institutional Church vs The Body of Christ.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

In terms of "whether sheep will eat a place to death," what I will say is this: It depends on the forage where you are.

Sheep are browsers, as opposed to cattle, who pretty much stick to grass unless they're hungry. Sheep and goats (and donkeys!) need a certain amount of "shrub" (roughage) in their diet. If the sheep are in a place where there are other choices, they will pick and choose between the shrub and the grass depending on their mood and dietary needs, and spare the grass.

However, in the history of the American West, in the prairie, sheep ranchers would have huge flocks--100,000 head or more--on land that was pretty much only grass, and they WOULD take it out like a swarm of locusts. Hence all the gunfights between cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers.

So it's not so much about the "sheep," per se, "damaging" things, it's about the shepherd being a good steward of the land or not. Too many sheep on land devoid of the "other things" sheep eat, etc.

Oh, and as a person who had a few head of sheep off and on over the years, I can tell you something else--much to my amusement and my mother's consternation, sheep LOVE flowering bushes. Tying one up in the yard in lieu of mowing the yard CAN have consequences. LOL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think your rector should put you on the calendar NOW to preach next Good Shepherd Sunday.