Archive for inclusive

Stop Sulking Already!

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

1.

With whom are we supposed to identify in this very familiar parable?

Are we supposed to be the prodigal?

How many of you have ever gone against your father’s wishes?

Well, maybe not to the extent that this young man went; maybe you’ve never journeyed so far from home.

There, in that distant country, after living riotously until he had nothing left, and after a famine swept over the land so that most everyone was in need, what’d he do but hire himself out to feed pigs?

Pigs! Swine! Unclean beasts! Not kosher!

Effectively, the prodigal son became no longer a son of Israel or even of his own father.

Maybe you’ve never journeyed this far from home.

Literally, anyway.

But what about figuratively? Have you ever journeyed so far from your heavenly Father that you effectively cut yourself off from him?

So, is this the character with whom we are supposed to identify most closely in today’s parable, the prodigal son?

2.

Or, maybe, are we supposed to identify with the merciful, benevolent, gracious father?

Yeah, this guy, the prodigal’s father, breaks with all convention.

He’s a Palestinian Jewish man. Convention says ancestral land is something you must hold on to with all tenacity, like a bulldog with a lamb shank bone.

When your son whines and wheedles his share of the ancestral lands out of you and then goes off and sells it in order to live selfishly, against all you’ve ever taught him—well, that’s got to be the end of it! Convention, not to mention common sense, demands that you disown such a profligate, rebellious, riotous son!

Besides, have you heard what the neighbors are saying?

But what does this father do instead? He watches for his son, keeps vigil, like Aegeus straining day after day to see Theseus’s white sails crossing the sea.

And when finally he does see his prodigal son still far off—who cares what the neighbors are saying!—he runs to greet him, embraces him, and weeps for joy over him.

Faugh on convention! His son was dead but is alive again; he was lost but now is found.

So, are we supposed to be like the father—merciful, benevolent, and gracious beyond all convention?

3.

But there’s a third character, an often overlooked, or maybe ignored character, in this parable: the older brother.

He’s the one, remember, that has obeyed all the rules. He’s the one who did not ask for his share of the inheritance, but instead kept to convention. He’s the one who remained faithful and loyal to his father throughout his younger brother’s selfish time of foolishness.

And yet what thanks does he get?

Has his dad ever thrown him a feast for all his years of fidelity? Has he ever gotten so much as a barbequed chicken dinner for him and a few friends?

Yet when his profligate partier of a younger brother returns home without a penny to his name—all the inheritance, for crying out loud!—he receives no punishment at all but a full prime-rib feast! What the heck!

So, I wonder, are we supposed to identify most closely with him, the older brother?

4.

Prodigal, Father, Older Brother: with which character are we supposed to identify?

We find our answer at the beginning of today’s Gospel. We might not like it, but the answer is there nonetheless; at the beginning of the passage, in the first few sentences, which frame the context.

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable.

Two distinct categories of people are gathered around Jesus, his supporters and his opposers.

Who are the supporters? Tax collectors and sinners.

Well, here are the people, surely, who represent the prodigal son.

And I’m a sinner too. I have no problem wearing that label. And so I identify with the prodigal son. How about you?

But, really, am I a social outcast?

Tax collectors, in Jesus’ day, were nothing short of extortionists. Normal John-and-Jane taxpayers hated them. Tax collectors, plain and simple, were social outcasts.

For that matter, so were the demon-possessed, the lepers, the blind, the prostitutes, and the other sinners Jesus welcomed and ate with.

So, to be honest, this really isn’t me. Is it you?

For most of us, the answer is no. We’re not social outcasts in the sense that sinners is meant here. And so, as much as we might like to think so, we’re actually not all that much like the prodigal son.

And, in case you’re wondering, as for the father—the kind, watchful, benevolent, merciful, gracious father who breaks with all convention? That’s a picture of Jesus, not us.

That leaves only the opposers. By default, for most of us anyway, we are the older brother.

5.

But we don’t want to identify with the older brother! We don’t want to identify with the opposers, the grumblers, the scribes and Pharisees.

Well, like it or not, that’s us. After all, the Pharisees and scribes whom Jesus addressed were members of the established “church” in their day.

Which leaves us at a crossroads. This is where the parable goes; this why we need to identify with the older brother.

For one thing, the church is called to be inclusive.

This theme comes up over and over in the Gospels; and we see it again today, loud and clear. Jesus is dining with tax collectors and sinners; the prodigal son is welcomed home with open arms.

Jesus loves the hated and the marginalized. We, his church, are called to love them too, to invite, welcome, and connect them into this living organism we call St. Thomas.

For another thing, the church is called to be adaptable.

Where do I see this? In the older brother’s reaction to the father throwing off convention. The older brother gives us an example of what not to do.

Jesus is doing a new thing in his church. Mainline Christianity is experiencing changes unlike anything it has ever faced in our nation’s history. We can no longer have an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. For, the fact of the matter is, people just don’t view church the way they did a generation ago: to be affiliated with a church is no longer a social obligation.

This has its pros and cons, sure. But the point for the moment is that in the last four decades both attendance and donations are in decline, yielding unprecedented change. All convention has been cast aside.

Will we be able to adapt? Or will we brood and sulk like Jesus’ opposers?

So, here’s the thing: Back to the parable, what the older brother decides to do in the end is left open. Will he celebrate with his father and younger brother, because his little brother was dead but is alive again; lost but now found? Or will he continue to brood and sulk, outside and alone?

We don’t know: the answer isn’t given; Jesus doesn’t tell us. We’re left at a crossroads.

We do know from history, however, that Jesus’ opposers chose the latter: to brood and sulk over the changes Jesus brought. And their brooding and sulking led to hatred, bigotry, and death.

But our history has not yet been completely written.

We are part of a church—mainline Christianity—that has tried to serve our heavenly Father faithfully and obediently, not nearly perfect yet repentant—a lot like the older son. So how will we respond to convention being thrown off—to Jesus doing things in an unexpected way?

Will we brood and sulk over it, guarding and protecting the institution we have created? Or will we rejoice with Jesus, going out into the highways and byways and inviting, welcoming, and connecting the hated and marginalized into our heavenly Father’s home?

Those who opposed Jesus in his day no longer have a choice.

We still do!

Willing Brood

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 13:31-35

1.

Today, Jesus calls Herod a fox. I wonder what picture Jesus had in mind.

Aesop tells of a fox wandering through a vineyard on a hot day. This fox looked up and, lo, just there, he spied a voluptuous bunch of delicious-looking, juicy, perfectly ripe grapes.

So he took a running leap, but they were just out of reach. He tried again—and failed again. And again. And again! Until, finally, he gave up the idea altogether, saying, “Ah, well, they’re sure to be sour anyway.”

Another time, Mr. Fox was just sauntering along when he saw a crow swoop down and grab something out of a kitchen window. Acting nonchalant, as foxes do, but nonetheless deeply curious, he sidled up close to the crow’s perch and discovered that what Miss Crow had grabbed was a beautiful and good-smelling chunk of cheese.

So he shouted up to the crow, “Ahoy there, beautiful Miss Crow, is it true what I hear: that you have the most melodious voice of all the birds in the aviary kingdom? Why, just yesterday my neighbor Pig went on and on about the glories of your euphonious and lyrical abilities. Can’t I hear just one little smidgen? Maybe a few bars of Adele?”

And with such fine and flattering words the crow became more and more puffed up, stood taller and taller, until finally she opened her mouth to answer Fox’s request.

But she didn’t even finish singing out one word before Mr. Fox interrupted her saying, with a mouth full of delicious cheese, “I’ve heard quite enough, thank you”; and was on his way.

And yet another time Mr. Fox accidentally fell into a well.

But Mr. Fox is wily. He’s clever. He’s cunning.

So, along comes Old Man Billy Goat. Mr. Fox puts on his game face and calls up out of the well, “Billy, Billy, is that you I hear?”

And a moment later, yes, Old Billy peers into the well and says, “Why, Fox, whatever are you doing in that well?”

“Oh,” Fox replies, “this well is known far and wide as having the best, wettest, and most thirst-quenching water in all of the known world. Don’t you know? In fact, why don’t you come down and join me for a drink?”

“I should like that very much, thank you,” Goat answers. And lickety-split he jumps in to join Fox.

A few minutes later Fox looks at Old Billy and says, with his most nonplussed expression, “Um, I just thought of something. How are we supposed to get out of here?”

And just as Goat processes their dilemma but not a moment longer, Fox suggests, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you stand with your front legs against the wall and I’ll climb up your back. Then, once, I’ve reached the top, I’ll reach in and pull you out by the horns.”

“Um, yeah,” Billy agrees.

And just like that, Fox is out and free. But before he leaves he looks back in the well at Old Billy and says, “Come to think of it, I’m not really strong enough to pull you up and out. Guess you should have looked before you leapt!”

So, I wonder: is this the picture Jesus has in mind today when he calls Herod a fox? Wily? Cunning? Shrewd? And also untrustworthy? Duplicitous? To use a modern buzzword, Narcissistic?

2.

But then Jesus likens himself to a mother hen.

Which leads me to enlarge my image; for what happens when a fox breaks into a henhouse?

Isn’t it mayhem? A sudden explosion of fowl fear! Of avian anxiety! Of poultry panic!

But, now, enlarging still, what if a mother hen is hovering over her brood when that fox breaks into the henhouse?

There’s still mayhem all right! A cackling cacophony! But the difference here is that the mother hen is making none of it.

She’s not in it for the moment. Unlike the fox, she’s not concerned only for herself, shrewdly strategizing what she can get out of the deal for herself. Rather, her concern is for her children.

If the fox wanted to, he could simply step in and make a kill without resistance. She’s resolute. She’s calm, quiet, unflinching in the face of fear, for the sake of her children . . . kind of like Jesus during his trial, sentencing, and execution: Resolute; Calm; Quiet; Unflinching; For our sakes.

But here’s the part I find most incredible. When a fox breaks into a henhouse, it’s most often not the quiet, resolute mother hen that the fox kills. The fox instinctively pursues movement and noise.

Was Herod really after Jesus? Surely there were other, noisier hens in the henhouse!

You know, I don’t think this image is about Jesus’ trial, sentencing, and execution. After all, Herod, that fox, was not the one who tried Jesus. That was Pilate.

3.

So just what do we make of today’s Gospel?

Some Pharisees come to Jesus, saying, “You better get away from here. Herod wants to kill you.”

Really? Throughout the Gospels, Pharisees are mentioned as Jesus’ opponents. Does Herod really want to kill Jesus? And if so, would Jesus’ opponents really suddenly care for him enough to warn him of this? Or, maybe, are they just making it up, colluding, to scare Jesus away?

On the other hand, Jesus is in fact a political threat to Herod.

This isn’t Herod the Great we’re talking about, the one the Wise Men from the East visited on their way to the Christ child. No, this is Herod Antipas, Herod the Great’s son, called the Tetrarch because he was granted Roman authority to rule over just one-fourth of his father’s domain—a puppet of Rome.

He was a ruler of sorts, but weak, something like a County Supervisor of a county bordering Washington, D. C.—and what is a County Supervisor compared to someone with federal jurisdiction?

And now people are talking a lot about this man Jesus. In fact, Jesus has gained quite a following throughout Galilee, Herod’s domain.

Roman appointment is one thing; popular acclamation is quite another!

So, yes, the political threat is real. Maybe Herod, that fox, was after Jesus’ life.

Or maybe at least he wants to push Jesus out of his domain and into Jerusalem, the federal domain, Pilate’s jurisdiction. Yeah, let Pilate deal with him!

Whatever the case, this is a politically charged passage!

And it’s kind of playful—something I tried to communicate above through fables and henhouses.

And best of all, Jesus calls a leading politician a name: Fox! So this gives us the green light to call politicians we don’t like names, right?

4.

But so far we still haven’t arrived at the main point.

What is today’s Gospel all about? Jesus’ crucifixion? His ministry? God’s care for us, his disciples? Our political liberties? What’s the main point?

Well, let’s step back and look at all the pieces.

It’s a politically charged passage. Herod is a fox. Jesus is a mother hen. Opponents threaten Jesus. And Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem—outside of Herod’s jurisdiction—where he knows already that he will be killed.

And in this context Jesus launches into a lament about Jerusalem. He, the mother hen, longs to gather his chicks under his protection and care; but he cannot because they are unwilling!

Just who, then, are these unwilling chicks?

This is the key that opens the main-point door!

Jesus does not say they are the children of Israel. Jesus does not say the Gentiles. Jesus does not say the Romans. Jesus does not say the Samaritans.

Neither does Jesus say the patrons, clients, tax gatherers, prostitutes, cynics, stoics, wealthy, poor, sick, or healthy.

He says, simply, the children of Jerusalem.

This includes the children of Israel, the Gentiles, the Romans, and the Samaritans; the rich, poor, sick, and healthy; the Pharisees, Herodians, Pontius Pilate, and everyone in between. This includes his friends, yes; but much more importantly, his political enemies! This includes everyone who lived in this politically charged, federal city in 30 CE.

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together . . . and you were unwilling!”

What’s the main point of today’s Gospel? Today we call it inclusivity.

The way of the world is domination, like a fox breaking into a henhouse.

The way of Jesus, by contrast, is love for the whole brood of humanity. Every one of us, no matter who we are!

Jesus’ love—which is self-sacrificing and other-serving;

Jesus’ love—which was enacted ultimately on the cross in Jerusalem;

Jesus’ loves—which extends to all races, creeds, genders, sexualities, political party affiliations, factions;

Jesus’ love—which beckons us continually, though we remain unwilling;

This is the love we are called to live; the love we are called to receive!

Run to it. Flock to it. Gather under it.

Be willing.

Called to Do Welcoming and Inclusive

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2018 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church on September 30, 2018.

Mark 9:38-50

1.

“Whoever is not against us is for us.” What a welcoming and inclusive phrase!

It reminds me, actually, of a story from Alexander the Great’s conquests. Maybe Jesus had this in mind too.

The year was 331 BCE. In his campaign against Darius III of Persia, Alexander’s army was making significant headway. Strategist that he was, Alexander reasoned he would divert his focus for a time to conquering Egypt. Conquest of Egypt would be advantageous for many reasons, not the least being the establishment of a strong coastal base from which he could communicate across the Mediterranean.

When he reached the town of Pelusium (in Egypt), he was met by a man named Mazaces, the governor who had been left in charge by Darius himself; but only Mazaces—no army, no navy, no kind of resistance whatsoever—for Darius had recently commanded all military forces to return to Persia.

So, Mazaces did the only thing he could think of: he handed over the treasury, 800 talents; and the royal furniture. Alexander installed a new governor, Cleomenes, but warmly received Mazaces, even appointing him to an administrative position overseeing finance and the royal mint.

News of this meeting spread. Later, having sailed up the Nile, Alexander and his navy reached the capitol Memphis. There they were received with a red-carpet reception. Alexander was hailed across the land as Savior and Liberator. As if to say, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” no battle of even the smallest scale took place. In fact, awed as he was by Egyptian culture, Alexander largely returned life to what it had been before Darius.

But this saying also reminds me of St. John’s Episcopal Church, in New Braunfels, Texas: the first Episcopal Church I ever attended, on Maundy Thursday of 2006. Soon after that, the bishop visited and confirmed Holly and me. At last, my family and I had found our spiritual home.

But about a year later, on a Sunday morning, from the pulpit, the rector announced, “After much prayer and discussion, the vestry and I have decided to leave the Episcopal Church. Next Sunday will be my last. In fact, we will march in procession out of these doors and down Guenther Ave. two blocks to where we have rented a new facility. Who’s with us?”

Is this the same thing as to say, “Whoever is not against us is for us”?

Now, the bishop was against him, surely. As for me, I didn’t really care what he, as a person, decided to do; but I was concerned about the parish, the community. I suppose, then, I was against him, in a way.

But what about all the other people, people like my dad, who was far removed from this drama and didn’t really care one way or another. He wasn’t against the rector; did that then mean he was for him?

Well, no.

So, I wonder, what about all those people in and around Galilee and beyond who were ambivalent toward Jesus? Was Jesus saying that, well, they weren’t against him so therefore they must be for him?

Um, Jesus, I’m not so sure it works that way.

We like to say things like, “Whoever is not against us if for us”; and “We’re welcoming and inclusive.” But in reality it doesn’t always flesh out like we think it’s supposed to.

2.

Whatever we make of Jesus’ words, today’s Gospel puts these ideologies to the test.

A man is casting out demons in Jesus’ name; and the disciples want to stop him, “because,” they say, “he was not following us.”

Jesus then says something unexpected: “Do not stop him”; and, “Whoever is not against us is for us”; and we think, rightly, that Jesus wants us to be similarly welcoming and inclusive.

However, did you catch what happens a little farther down? Jesus says it would be better to maim the body than to enter hell whole. Entering hell complete is still complete hell.

But here’s the thing: by body Jesus probably means the common metaphor for church; then what Jesus is now saying is that there is a time and place to be exclusive. Specifically, it is better to cut off a bad body part—better to exclude a present member of the community—than not to include an outsider seeking to come in.

Include the outsider yet exclude the insider? Is this a paradox? What gives?

At the very least, today’s passage brings up some difficult questions about communities that are formed in Christ’s name: churches.

Questions like:

Who is in the community; and who is not?

And:

Once a person is in the community, what are acceptable behaviors; and what are not?

3.

We, the Christian church, like to say we’re welcoming and inclusive. It’s a good thing to say. Nevertheless, what we do often demonstrates otherwise.

What do I mean?

Well, for starters, a church can become like a museum.

A museum is beautiful—and sacrosanct and awe-inspiring and all that—but at the end of the day it is mostly a place for artifacts, things that maybe once upon a time made the world a better place but have lost their relevance for today.

Chanting Rite I, facing east, wearing holy vestments from Roman times, burning incense, singing masses—these sorts of things are spectacularly and aurally beautiful, and no one wants to see or hear them fade out entirely; but when they become a church’s main focus, that church largely loses its relevance to the outside world.

A church can also become like a country club.

Now, don’t get me wrong, country clubs are nice places—the food, the recreational activities, the hospitality, the friends. But the reality is they are there to serve the insiders, the members, those who pay the annual fees. Apart from a modicum of marketing efforts, country clubs do very little for the outside world; and likewise the outside world is little concerned about what happens inside the country club—or the country club church.

A third analogy: I’ve heard statements made on many occasions like this: “That church is in hospice.”

The idea is that the church body in question is on its last leg, doing all it can to keep going another year or month or week or day before it is forced to close its doors. The focus is no longer on its life in connection with the outside world, but on life support: on how much longer it can be kept going.

Hospice facilities are good and necessary; and a very real part of the church’s responsibility is to focus on end-of-life issues. But death is just that: only part of the story. New life—resurrection—is the other part. And if you ask me, new life actually takes precedence over everything else. It’s the focal point in all our liturgies, even funerals. The goal of a “church in hospice” shouldn’t be to keep it going.

On the other hand, a fourth analogy, a church can just as easily become hipster.

But, regardless of how much a church tries to keep up with the times—technology, fashion, music, how cool the pastor is, whatever—trends toss and turn like the waves of the sea; yet the deeper realities and needs of humanity, the outside world, continue.

One more: a church can become a school of theology, where doctrine becomes the brand. What matters to a church like this is where you stand or don’t stand on hot topics—abortion or home-schooling or global warming, for instance.

I could go on, there are more analogies; but the point has been made. In each of these cases—no matter how welcoming and inclusive they say they are—these churches end up excluding those who are not like them.

And this is Jesus’ point today: even as communities of Christians, we humans naturally establish unwritten rules—shibboleths, invisible boundaries, walls—to keep out those who don’t see things the way we do.

But when these are stumbling blocks . . . it would be better to tie a millstone around our necks and plunge into the sea, Jesus says, than to put them in the way of those outside of our community who seek to come in.

I cannot stress it enough: Jesus calls us not just to be but to do welcoming and inclusive.

Gate Contemplation

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2014 by timtrue

John 10:1-10

I am the gate.

These are Jesus’s words here. We usually like to focus on what follows, when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” But here Jesus specifically says gate. Jesus is the gate.

In this word, gate, there is a certain sense of exclusivity, isn’t there? Consider: a sheepfold in the ancient world was an area closed off by a tall rock wall; completely enclosed except for one opening, the gate. The sheep were led into the sheepfold by way of this gate every night as a place of protection from predators and thieves. They were led out to pasture in the morning, when the sun was up, when the shepherd could easily see predators and thieves by day. But by night, when it was too dark to see, the sheepfold provided boundaries, allowing the shepherd to hear a thief or predator trying to climb over the wall and thereby to defend the sheep. The gate, then, is the way in and out of this protective boundary.

But exclusivity rankles our modern sensibilities, doesn’t it? After all, the church is not some protective boundary from the world, not some place to which we’re supposed to retreat every Sunday for protection from the bad ones of the world, the thieves and predators. Rather, the church is supposed to go out into the world, from Jerusalem to Judea and all Samaria to the ends of the earth. It is the means through which God is realizing the Kingdom. We’re trying to include unbelievers, not exclude them!

Besides, isn’t exclusive thinking at the root of social evils like racism, caste systems, and war?

Exclusivity rankles us, yes. The other side of this coin, inclusivity, feels much better. At least to us. Today. In the twenty-first century. In the Episcopal Church.

And it feels better for good reasons, reasons based on God’s love. God has called us to an outward love, a love that focuses on the other, a love we demonstrate towards our neighbor, someone who is different than I am. It’s easy to love myself. It’s hard to love my neighbor.

But what about inclusivity? Can we take it too far?

At the last general convention of the Episcopal Church, the diocese of Eastern Oregon called for us to consider what they call an Open Table. What they mean by this is a Communion Table open to everyone, regardless of belief, religion, or practice. So, for instance, a practicing Muslim ought to be able to come to the Communion Table if he likes, they say.

This is an inclusive idea, one aligned with radical hospitality.

Yet the naysayers—of which I am one, by the way—say that according to history, tradition, theology, and even Jesus’s words, the sacrament of Communion is only for baptized Christians. Some naysayers I know, including a former seminary professor of mine, go so far as to say that an Open Table is promiscuous!

In any event, we naysayers aren’t inclusive here, but exclusive.

But do you know there was a time in the Church’s history when a practice called “fencing the Table” was the norm? In 1873, in fact, a group split off from the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA for this very reason, because we did not allow baptized Christians to take Communion unless they were Episcopalians. Methodists were fenced from the Table! Baptists were fenced! This group today is called the Reformed Episcopal Church, by the way. Back then we were too exclusive for them. The irony is that today we’re too inclusive for them to consider a merger.

So, do you ever wonder—like me—if maybe we’re focusing on the wrong thing? Ever wonder if we’re focusing so much on inclusivity and exclusivity that we begin to lose sight of the actual gate?

By day we’re out to pasture. It’s warm and sunny; there’s delicious grass to munch on. But we feel a little vulnerable. We wonder if we’re in the right neighborhood, if our kids are hanging out with the right friends, or how to outsmart the sheep next to us. Our thoughts move in the direction of exclusivity.

But by night we’re safe inside, in our enclosure, protected. And we begin to think about those poor, lost sheep outside of the fold. How can we help them? Who will go to them and show them the way to the gate? Our thoughts move in the direction of inclusivity.

The church’s history is a giant pendulum-swing.

But Jesus’s point is that he is the gate. Through it—no, through him—we find safe pasture. Through him we find shelter and protection. Through him, as today’s passage says so clearly, we may have life and have it abundantly.

This is our end, then: abundant life. In our day-after-day routines—waking up, making coffee, eating breakfast, commuting, accomplishing whatever tasks at work or school, praying, reading, studying, watching TV, walking the dog, watering the lawn, deciding whether to be inclusive or exclusive in any given situation—we may know rich abundance, profound joy, in all of this, if we just keep our focus on the gate.

But how? That’s the question, isn’t it? I don’t think there’s a person in here who doesn’t want to experience profound joy in his or her day-to-day routine. And if Jesus is the gate, then keeping our focus fixed upon him is the key to the gate, so to speak.

Well, then, how do we do it? I offer a few suggestions from the text.

First, don’t try to enter by another way. This seems to be one of Jesus’s main points, doesn’t it? There is a sheepfold with only one gate, the port of entry. Anyone who tries to get in by another way—climbing over the wall, dismantling the wall, or whatever—is not the gatekeeper or the shepherd or the sheep, but a thief or bandit. These are not friendly words.

A popular notion today is that there is more than one way to eternal life. Some will say it’s reincarnation, others enlightenment, others still that a life of good works will get you there. Now I don’t know about any of that. But I do know that Jesus Christ says he’s the way. And he left us two great sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He has also left us the church and its proven traditions like prayer, scripture reading, and fellowship. Why try entering by another way?

Next, don’t try to enter on your own. Always in this passage we see sheep in the plural. The sheep enter and exit through the gate together. There is also the suggestion that lost sheep join the regulars, thereby becoming part of the flock. But my point here is community. We should engage in the sacrament of baptism together. That’s some of the reasoning behind godparents. It’s the same with the Eucharist and the traditions I already mentioned: do them in community.

A final suggestion: learn to recognize Jesus’s voice. He is the gate. But, as the text goes on to say, he is also the good shepherd. He knows the sheep; and the sheep know his voice.

So what do I mean here, that we need to learn to recognize Jesus’s voice? Just this: it’s a matter of worldview. It’s not just listening for Jesus in spiritual matters—in the church, in sacraments, and in traditions. But it’s listening for Jesus in all of life. You watch a movie or a TV program, or you read a book. Where was Jesus in it? What is Jesus saying to you in your Facebook habits? When you enjoy a family meal together, how is Jesus speaking to you through it? You see? It’s all of life. Jesus is the gate, and also the good shepherd, in a comprehensive way, in all of life. We need to listen for his voice in everything.

Jesus is the gate so that we might live a life of profound joy, a life of abundance.