The inclusive fold

Preached for St. John’s United Church, Marathon’s livestream service on May 3, 2020. Based on John 10:1-10 for Easter 4, Year A.

Tell me, when you hear this teaching, do you hear a story of inclusion or exclusion?

When I hear Jesus say: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”[i] All I can think about is the people who don’t enter through the gate.

What about the other sheep?

What about those who are left behind?

And, that’s a good and fair question. I think it’s the kind of question Jesus urged his followers to think about. He was extremely interested in those who were not included, those who were discounted and forgotten.

But one of the dangers of reading the Bible the way we do, in church, is that we miss so much between paragraphs. Something has happened that has caused the character of Jesus to share this teaching, something we heard about weeks ago.

In Lent, when we were talking about New Life, we read the story of the man born blind.

Do you remember?

Jesus’ followers asked “who sinned, this man or his parents”, and Jesus replied “neither”. He spits in the earth, making mud to rebirth the man’s sight.[ii]

Then we read a long section of arguments between the local religious authorities and this healed man, we read how they debated the question of Jesus’ identity, and it all seems to overshadow this miraculous experience![iii]

The man’s neighbours didn’t seem to care that he could see.

And so, we see a man who had lost his community once – to the stigmas of difference and disability – lose it again. He is excommunicated because he dared to share his story and to challenge the narrative of those in power.

Jesus hears that the man’s neighbours have driven him out, and so Jesus goes to him. Jesus welcomes the man in, promises him protection and fellowship and he becomes Jesus’ follower.[iv]

Maybe this teaching, which follows that story, is not about exclusion but rather is a radical invitation.

Jesus’ teachings are known for breaking down the long-standing rules of society.

Jesus shrugged off traditional family expectations, telling his listeners that it is those who do God’s work that are his kin, his mother and brother.[v]

Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors, sex workers, and poorly educated labourers – he refuses to conform to the mold of what a religious teacher should look like.[vi]

He declares that God’s world, God’s love, and God’s kin-dom are for the whole world – all people.[vii]

Here in the passage we’ve read today we hear the familiar voice of Jesus, one we recognize because it echoes in our hearts, saying that he will offer protection and provision for those who have none.

Those who have no flock; those who have experienced rejection and suffering at the hands of others. The Good Shepherd offers restoration to those who would be his sheep.

This teaching is a reminder to those who have been beaten up by life, those who have been wronged and abused.

Christ can be trusted with all of our vulnerabilities, because his vision for the world is so different.

Where bandits and thieves may want to take advantage, coerce or exploit, Christ declares a new promise and a new blessing:

He declares:

Blessed are the poor and oppressed,

The weak and the hungry,

Those who are filled with mercy and compassion,

Those who continually turn back to the way of peace.[viii]

This flock of his, this new community, shrugs of ideology of a dog-eat-dog world, of might-is-right.

And Jesus, as an example to his followers, to his mothers and brothers, has even walked this path himself – a path of courage in the face of rejection, of peacemaking in the face of perverted justice, of mercy in the face of abuse and even death.

That, more than anything, is what makes me think I can trust his Way of doing things.

This Easter we’ve been talking about dwelling intimately with God, and this passage, as well as Psalm 23, offer us an image of her pasture – her dwelling place.

When we pasture there she offers us something…

Now, her promises aren’t flashy.

She doesn’t tell us we’ll become wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, that we’ll never hurt again, or that she’ll smite everyone whose ever wronged us.

No, instead she promises green pastures and still waters, a promise of provision and restoration.

She promises accompaniment, through the dark valley and to the banquet table in the company of our enemies.

She promises us an identity as her anointed children, and that the cup of blessing will overflow.

She promises us goodness and mercy all the days of our lives, when we dwell intimately with her.[ix]

So the offer stands: a new vision of community, and a home with our God.

But this is an invitation ever unfolding, for us and for our neighbours.

The gate, which stands open, the Way of Jesus, is a radical invitation of which we are necessarily a part.

We, as “Little Christs”, as Christians, are called to this different Way of being, of community-building. And, we hope that in our own living others will hear the echo of Jesus’ voice in their hearts.

But sometimes the “how” isn’t clear. Sometimes we need to work together to think about the best way to live into that call.

So, I’m going to ask you to take a moment and share with us:

How are you living out the call to radical inclusion during isolation?

How have you seen others live out that call?

There are no right or wrong answers here; how each of us lives out our call is going to look different. So, let’s encourage one another, affirming where we see God’s work being done, and inspire each other to live out our call in this new reality of ours.

QUESTION: How do you live out the call to radical inclusion during isolation/lockdown? How have you seen others live out that call?

[i] John 10:9 NRSV, [ii] John 9:1-12, [iii] John 9:13-34, [iv] John 9:35-41, [v] Mark 3:31-35, Matt. 12:46-50, [vi] Luke 15:2, [vii] John 3:16, [viii] Matt. 5:3–12, [ix] Psalm 23

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