In and Out - Reflections 4-30-2020

Texts for the 4th Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020 


Acts 2:42-47 
Psalm 23 
1 Peter 2:19-25 
John 10:1-10

This week’s first lesson in Acts continues from those of the last 2 weeks. In those readings Peter, newly inspired by the Spirit, proclaimed the first public sermon, announcing the Good News of Jesus. These two readings take place directly after the Pentecost, which in another strange turn of the lectionary will be celebrated 4 Sundays from now. When Peter’s sermon ends, 3000 people are baptized. 

This week's reading immediately follows those baptisms. We move directly to this week’s text where all those baptized people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. If you’ve been a part of a faith community, that describes it pretty well – Word and Sacrament while supporting and praying for each other. They shared everything in common and cared for everyone with glad and generous hearts. Sounds perfect.

However, to get some perspective about this ideal community we need to continue the story. The earliest church then started setting up a structure which included an organizational chart and rules. As you keep reading, you find disagreement on the organization and its rules, especially the guidelines of who is in and who is out. This discord carries a lot of the action of the rest of the book of Acts and is addressed in letters of Paul to the Christian communities spread through the Mediterranean. This persists to this day.  Who is in? Who is out?

Now on to John. First you need to know that this conversation is a part of a big scene (that takes all of John 9 to describe) where leaders are trying to discredit and condemn Jesus. The conversation continues into chapter 10; Jesus is addressing those with whom he disputes. He draws a lovely image of shepherd and sheep. But it goes right over the head of those listeners. 

So, he moves to another metaphor in which he is a gate. Truthfully, I think I understood the shepherd one better than this one.  Most often, the gate image paints a picture of sheep safely enclosed from those thieves and bandits. The sheep do not want and are comforted (Psalm 23). A cozy little sheep enclosure which is quite reassuring. Of course, that assumes that I am a privileged little sheep.

One of my favorite go-to commentators, Debie Thomas, turns that image around. She reflects on an article from the Christian Century  magazine in which Amy Frykholm describes a congregation that has steadfastly met weekly at the border fence with people on both sides of the wall. The Border Patrol has tried to stop them over the years, but they continue to meet there at the wall. Since they cannot pass any thing through the slats, Eucharist is shared with elements on both sides. At that place and time, the wall which is supposed to divide and isolate is instead community that celebrates as one in Jesus.

With that in mind, Debie Thomas points out that the gate opens as well as closes. A lot of the time we focus on the closed gate that keeps things in – like sheep. But gates also open. In fact, Jesus the gate says, those who go through will come in and go out … and find abundant life.

Jesus as gate opens the way for those whom the way is blocked. Jesus as gate closes in those who need comfort. Jesus as gate to abundant life says all are welcome.

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Written by Pam Larabee-Zierath


Gathered by Grace, Scattered for Service
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