I am the gate
Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, Sunday 19th January 2020
I am the gate is the latest instalment in our sermon series on I am, Jesus in his own words. This blog title is words from the sermon, He will speak to us personally.
A really bright sunny Sunday morning in which I yet again demonstrated my lack of organisational skills. I was playing in the worship band and had taken my music home after the Friday rehearsal, as notes left on music stands can disappear. I forgot to bring them back on Sunday. However, I managed to get my wife to bring the notes with her. What I did remember was my sunglasses. Bright sunlight from the low winter sun streaming through the south aisle windows can be too strong for my sensitive eyes.
The sermon started in an odd way, about how this week there will be the vote on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump. This is only the third time a president has been impeached, the other two being Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. On both occasions, the vote went for the president. Richard Nixon also had impeachment started, but resigned before the vote. Nixon’s scandal, Watergate, has led to any scandal being given the suffix -gate by the popular press. These include Blobbygate, about the failure of the Crinkly Bottom theme park, and Gategate, when a Cabinet Minister, cycling away from 10 Downing Street, called a policeman a pleb for not opening the main gate for him to depart instead showing him the smaller side gate.
The sermon could have been called Gategate. But as that is taken it was titled Shepherdgategate. This was a scandal. In saying, I Am, Jesus was giving a veiled claim to being God. When he said, “I am the gate for the sheep,” it would have been understood. Israel was a pastoral country. A shepherd was a familiar sight. There were references in the psalms and prophets to shepherds and sheep, Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd is one example, and the prophets made unfavourable comparisons to the leaders of the nation for not looking after the people.
There are still sheepfolds that can be seen which are a circle of stones with an open side where a wooden gate may have been. In Jesus time the shepherds lay across the opening. A thief would need to have climbed over the wall to steal the sheep. This passage is about the authenticity of shepherd and the safety of the sheep.
The Authority of the Shepherd:
Just before this passage, in John chapter 9 shows the Pharisees poor treatment of a man born blind. Jesus angry at their callousness. The sheep will respond to the real shepherd. The sheep will follow the shepherd in and out.
That we care for one another is a sign of caring. But why do we do what we do? Why do we care for others? It could be for influence, power over other people, to make ourselves feel good and other reasons. We are a mixture of motives if this is us, doing it for ourselves, we are the thieves. We are to enter through Jesus.
David, the preacher, now retired, went back to his early days as a candidate for ordination when he was looking for a theological college. The then Bishop of Pontefract recommended that he go to an Anglo-Catholic college to give hin experience of other churchmanship but he resisted. A few years later, when he was a young curate, the same bishop met him in his training parish and took him to one side to apologise. The bishop admitted that despite being in the church for years and rising to be a bishop in the Church of England that he had only just met with Jesus and become a Christian. He said that for David to have gone to the Anglo-Catholic college would have been a mistake.
Life to the full
Jesus said that he came so that people can have life to the full. Whoever enters through me, he said, will have eternal life. There have always been bogus messiahs and prophets tickling the ears with feel-good messages rather than proclaiming the truth. It is by their fruit you will know them, sid Jesus elsewhere. Access to God is only through the crucified Jesus Christ, he will speak to us personally. We shall know his voice and other teachings will not draw us away. This is possible because he loves us and is a good shepherd.
On a personal level, mention of Kirkheaton where David served his curacy took me way back to my 20s. There was a renewal meeting that outgrew the Retreat House at The Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield and moved Next door to the church Christ the King. The worship was led by musicians from nearby Kirkheaton and Lepton churches, I was a new Christian and new guitarist, fresh from university, where just before leaving I heard about Charismatic renewal.
I became part of the worship group there ending up leading by 1980 as people moved on to other things. But I have learnt most of what I know about worshipping God from Chris Edmondson, another curate at Kirkheaton at the time, who went on to become the Bishop of Burnley before retiring.