One of the tragedies of the Lectionary, is that it breaks up the Gospel of John to the point where it becomes a puzzle of sorts,
we read a bunch of I AM statements, and statements about Jesus’ connection to we, His Church… but they are just little islands scattered throughout the church year.
For example, today’s reading from the Gospel of John immediately follows the story of the Blind man we read at the start of Lent.
Do you remember the blind man?
The man healed by Jesus.
He had no name, only a condition.
Once healed his friends abandoned him.
He was healed on the Sabbath… but the religious leaders declared “The Sabbath was made for rest, not liberation… work must not be done… even if it is healing work!”
And his townspeople drove him out—
out of the city gate,
out alone in the wilderness…
There the Religious Leaders follow him… and mock him…
Then Jesus meets him there, and calls the Religious Leaders Blind.
There, outside the gate, Jesus meets him.
Outside the gate…
Let us Pray
Outside the gate, they meet.
Yet at the gate Jesus redefines what’s going on.
He flips the boundaries of the man’s life, and turns everything inside out.
The gate, which was to keep the blind man out
—out of participation in Sabbath Rest,
out of his family,
out of his city,
even keep him without a name—The gate has dissolved… for there is only one gate—Jesus Christ, and he has entered into the safety found there.
It reminds me of a gag on the TV show Futurama, in it Bender, a robot, and Fry, a human, are rooming together… but apartments for robots are essentially closets, so Fry is squished in there with Bender, who simply turns himself off in order to sleep.
Well, one day, after Fry is so bent and sore from sleeping in the closet with Bender, Bender says, “I need to put something in my closet,” and opens up a door to a giant apartment!
It’s like that
—the Blind man is chased out of a gate
—out of a place of protection
—but finds himself entering into a real gate,
a life giving gate,
one that functions as it should.
And Jesus is not a gate of exclusion, but a shelter in the time of storm and a circle of protection.
When we are driven out, Jesus shelters us in his arms,
calls us by name,
and keeps us safe.
In short, there are those things and people who would come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus protects us from them and fosters an abundant life.
I think of a friend of mine, Dan. He’s working a retail job that’s killing him. It’s a relatively low skill job—he’s easily replaceable, and his bosses let him know that regularly. He sometimes goes weeks without a full day off. His colleagues don’t particularly like him. He’s constantly asked to do more and more with less and less, and because of his credit card debts he doesn’t say anything in protest.
I imagine he feels kind of like the blind man did, without Sabbath rest, a nameless cog, perhaps he even feels like he’s assailed by thieves and bandits.
But it’s a different story when Dan makes it to Church. He’s on his Vestry, he’s respected and enjoys his responsibility.
He knows he’s a beloved Child of God there and the work he does with his church is meaningful.
He has ongoing relationships there, both with his extended family and with people who are like family.
And at our best, church can be that—the very body of Christ. We can be like the earliest church
—breaking bread together,
tending the needy,
devoting ourselves to the word and even doing wonders and signs for one another…
In other words, at our best, we are the place where people find some of that abundant life Jesus offers.
You know, with all this talk of abundant life and death dealing powers, I’m hyper aware of the deaths of Milton, Velma, and my seminary friend Rodney.
Rodney died of an aneurism,
—he left behind a wife and two young daughters
…it felt like a thief came and took away our beloved friend. That the aneurism came to kill, steal, and destroy.
But, then, last Monday, we all gathered together—it was like Lutheranism invaded Jamaica Queens.
And we all went into New Hope Lutheran:
The Eulogies lasted for over an hour and a half,
the Seminary’s rock band—of whom he had been the drummer—played,
and Bishop Rimbo preached,
and we all got together around a meal in the basement…
and we were all gathered there.
Gathered within the living gate of Christ’s community—consoling one another, we entered in and we found pasture.
We entered into New Hope Lutheran,
coming from up and down the East Coast, entering that church alone…
but upon entering we found one another and the whole thing opened up
—Christ showed up there.
The closet was a giant apartment,
the city gate we were driven from led into a safe field of abundant life.
There, outside the gate, Jesus meets us.