Fourth Sunday in Easter

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TitleSermon DateLiturgicalScripture
Pentecost 22, Year CNovember 10, 2019Pentecost 22, Proper 27, Year CJob 19:23-27a, Luke 20:38
All Saints, Year CNovember 3, 2019All Saints’ Sunday, Year C 2019Luke 6:20-31
Pentecost 20, Year COctober 27, 2019Pentecost 2, Proper 25, Year C2 Timothy 4:6-8
Pentecost 19, Year COctober 20, 2019Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24Luke 18:1-8
Pentecost 18, Year COctober 13, 2019Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year CPsalm 111, Luke 17:11-19
Pentecost 17, Year C – Rev. Deacon Carey ConnorsOctober 6, 2019Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C2 Timothy 1:1-14,Luke 17:5-10
Season of Creation 5, Year CSeptember 29, 2019Season of Creation 5, Year BProverbs 8:22-31, Ephesians 1:3-10, Luke 24:13-35
Season of Creation 4, Year CSeptember 22, 2019Season of Creation, Year C, Week 4Luke 16:19-31, Amos 8:4-8
Season of Creation 3, Year CSeptember 15, 2019Season of Creation, Week 3, Year CDeuteronomy 11:10-17, Luke 15:1-10
Season of Creation 2, Year CSeptember 8, 2019Season of Creation, Week 2, Year CGenesis 1:26-2:3, I Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 12:22-31
Season of Creation 1, Year CSeptember 1, 2019Season of Creation 1, Year CGenesis 1:1-25, Revelation 22:1-5, John 1:1-5, 14
Pentecost 11, Year CAugust 25, 2019Pentecost 11, Proper 16, Year CHebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13: 10-17
Pentecost 10, Year CAugust 18, 2019Proper 15, Year C 2019Luke 12:49-56
Pentecost 9, Year CAugust 11, 20199th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 14, Year CLuke 12:35-38
Pentecost 8, Year CAugust 4, 2019Pentecost 8, Proper 13, Year CEcclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

 

Fourth Sunday in Easter

Sermon Date:May 15, 2011

Scripture: John 10:1-10

Liturgy Calendar: Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year A


A minister dies and, resplendent in his clerical collar and colorful vestments, waits in line at the Pearly Gates.

Just ahead of him is a guy dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter addresses this guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?"

The guy replies, "I’m Joe Green, taxi-driver, of Noo Yawk City."

Saint Peter consults his list, smiles and says to the taxi-driver, "Take this silken robe and golden staff, and enter into the Kingdom."

So the taxi-driver enters Heaven with his robe and staff, and the minister is next in line.

Without being asked, he proclaims, "I am The Rev.  Michael O’Connor, head pastor of Saint Mary’s for the last forty-three years."

Saint Peter consults his list and says, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

"Just a minute," says the preacher, "that man was a taxi-driver, and you issued him a silken robe and golden staff. But I get wood and cotton. How can this be?"

"Up here, we go by results," says Saint Peter. "While you preached, people slept — while he drove, people prayed."

Through my lifetime, I’ve heard many jokes and seen many comic strips based on St Peter at the Pearly Gates.  Where does this tradition come from?

In the book of Revelation, the heavenly city, New Jerusalem, comes down from heaven into the midst of us here on earth at the end of time, and the earth and all that is in it is redeemed.

That city has a wall around it, with twelve gates.  Each gate is made of a single gigantic pearl, and listen to this!

The gates of the city will never be shut by day—AND there will be no night.  That means that these gates, the gates into New Jerusalem, are never shut.

Always open.  Then why would a wall be necessary at all?

In Revelation, John tells us that nothing unclean will enter into this city, no one who practices abomination or falsehood—but only those who are written in the book of life. 

There’s a tension here—some will be in and some will be out—and it’s that tension that creates our ongoing fascination with Pearly Gates jokes.  

And so we come to our passage today—another scriptural passage about walls and gates—but a much simpler, earthy passage than the one we find in the Book of Revelation. 

Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, uses the metaphor of a sheepfold to describe the kingdom of heaven right here on earth—and yes, this kingdom too has a fence around it—the simple wooden  fences made of branches that the Palestinians built around their sheepfolds. 

And all the sheep start out in the sheepfold. 

This story lacks the pearly gates, but it has a gate and a gatekeeper—and that gatekeeper is not St Peter, but God.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the sheep hear his voice.  The point is –not who is in, and who is out, but whose voice the sheep listen to and follow. The voice of Jesus, the good shepherd.

The voice of Jesus is the voice that Bishop Channing Moore and others heard in the early eighteen hundreds.  In 1811, at General Convention, a committee on the state of the Church reported that “the Episcopal Church in Virginia was so hopelessly depressed that there seemed humanly speaking to be no possibility of its survival…”

In 1814, Channing Moore became the Bishop of Virginia and he was, we are told, “an earnest and powerful preacher, able leader, loving and beloved, who was followed as a man sent from God.  He awoke this diocese out of its lethargy and started it upon a career of growth and influence that has continued to the present day.” 

Meanwhile, the people of Port Royal had resolved to build a church, and so St Peter’s was raised up on this city lot, and was dedicated 175 years ago to the day.  Bishop Moore came here, on May 15, 1836, and consecrated this space, set it aside as a sheepfold in which the people of Port Royal could “come in and go out and find pasture,” following the voice and the teachings of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. 

And for the past 175 years, many dedicated people have kept this church alive, frequently against terrible odds –and if you can stay for the afternoon program, you will hear more about our history.

This church has made it for the past 175 years, and for that reason, we come to celebrate and to give thanks today. 

But today,  we Episcopalians, with many other mainline denominations face another time that could be described as “hopelessly depressed.” The churches that had such an influence on culture in our country during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, have lost their voice.  Membership and giving continue to shrink. 

We are an aging congregation.  This rural part of Caroline County has little population growth.  Who will come after us to continue the work of this particular church?

Will this church’s doors still be open 175 years from now? 

The answer to that question is up to us.

And the answer lies in what we believe about fences, gates, and gatekeepers. 

For the first one hundred years of our history, we have no record of a fence around St Peter’s and the exact date of the building of the first fence around this church has been lost. 

However, in 1937, the Vestry minutes show that the Robb family provided the money to erect a fence to replace a fence  that must have been installed at an earlier time.  And then in 1985, the fence was extended along the cemetery side of the church. 

And so we know that for many years, we have had a gate through which people must pass in order to enter this church.

Who is the gatekeeper of this gate?  Our answer to this question will determine whether we will still exist as a church another 175 years from now. 

So our parable today is of huge importance to us as we look into the mystery of the future, not only our future here at St Peter’s, but the future of our denomination itself.

If we claim that our gatekeeper here at St Peter’s is God, then God has opened the gate for the shepherd of the sheep, Jesus himself.

But  the thieves and bandits that constantly try to enter into the sheepfold. 

Those thieves and bandits call out to us with voices that divide us—into those who are in and those who are out based on how much money we have, or what color our skin is, or what our political viewpoints are, or even what religion we are—whether Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, or Buddhists or Hindus—remember, all of humanity is in this sheepfold at the beginning of the parable–

These thieves come  in and whisper in our ears and tell us that we must brand one another with labels and in doing so, to discount and to ignore one another—

And the biggest thief climbing into our sheepfold in this country in this day and age asks us to label each other as conservatives or as liberals—that voice is a thief, people—because that voice divides us!

And we have listened  to the voice of that thief. 

And we have ended up firing God as the gatekeeper.

We have replaced God with our own particular “right theologies  whether those theologies are liberal or conservative—and we have made ourselves the gatekeepers. 

Unfortunately,  the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us each of us by name, who loves each of us on the face of this earth as children of God,  gets lost in the noise of the battles that result when we appoint ourselves as the gatekeepers– 

And here, remember again that the point of this parable is not who is in and who is out , but whose voice we choose to follow. 

The Pharisees didn’t get this parable, any more than we do.

So at the end of this story, Jesus explains to them that not only is he the Good Shepherd, but he is also the Gate itself.

“I am the gate,” Jesus said. 

“Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and out and find pasture.  I came that you might have life, and might have it more abundantly.” 

Jesus longs to give us abundant life, not life squeezed into the little tight little religious boxes of our own making, but abundant life.

A life in which we come into this sheepfold to hear, in the words of that old familiar hymn, the old, old story—and the third verse goes like this

“I love to tell the story; for those who know it best

Seem hungering and thirsting,

To hear it like the rest

And when in scenes of glory

I sing the new, new, song

Twill be the old, old story

That I have loved so long.”

“I love to tell the story,

Twill be my theme in glory

To tell the old old story of Jesus and his love.” 

The story of Jesus and his all-encompassing, powerful, life-giving love. 

If God is our gatekeeper, and we enter into this place, week after week, if we come back over and over to tell one another in our own voices, what we have heard  Jesus speaking to each one of us—telling us over and over again the old, old story of his love,

Then we will truly be free to come in and go out and find pasture.

We will know, here and now, with one another, what Jesus meant when he said “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly—

As Christians, our abundant life  is to share the love that we have received from Jesus with the world outside our gates—to have that old, old story become our new, new song, not in some distant far off heaven, but here and now—on this earth, the earth to which the New Jerusalem will someday come down out of heaven from God to us. 

But until that day—if  God is our gatekeeper here at St Peter’s,  and if we listen to and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us into a life of abundant love for one another and for those outside our fence, because we are all children of God–

Then our gate and the doors to this church, this 175 year old church, St Peter’s Episcopal Church, here in this little village of Port Royal, will be like the gates of that heavenly city-

Always open.

Amen.

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