The Dwelling In the Word is a spiritual exercise that is like Bible Study. It is part of our Vestry Meeting devotional, and for this meeting, we reflected on John 10:1-10 - the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Easter 4. I must say that it was an interesting discussion. Part of our conversation was about sheep and shepherds and whether that role is interchangeable - that is, whether you and I can both be sheep and shepherds.
One of my responses was that we play both roles as sheep and shepherds at various times in our lives, at home, at work, or in a Third Place, like Christ Church. When we serve in leadership positions - especially in a Third Place, where we become shepherds, our responsibility is to guide, sustain, nurture and, in fact, ensure that our communal environment offers an enriching formational experience for everyone. Part of our task is to ensure that the gate remains open for everyone to feel welcome. As shepherds, our task is to make sure that the sheep who have been given to our care are spiritually fed and nourished.
When we serve as shepherds, we are invariably a part of the sheep because we do benefit from the same nurturing environment that, as shepherds, we work to build. Using the Vestry as an example, we acknowledge that there are times when parishioners serve on the Vestry and then rotate off the Vestry. Parishioners are shepherds when they serve on the Vestry, and are then sheep when they rotate off the Vestry - we lead as shepherds and are led as sheep.
But whether we are sheep or shepherds, we know that to lead or be led, we have to go through the Gate.
The interesting thing is that some of these discussions often go in different directions. This time, one of our members shared something profound. He said, "Jesus in the text referred to himself as the Gate - the one through whom ALL who come in through the gate of the fence can seek pasture."
"Jesus," he added, didn’t say, "I am the gatekeeper or the gate man" - two important roles but not enough to capture the essence and presence of the Gate itself. He said, "I am the Gate." And the Gate is there to assure us that not only are we welcome but we don’t have to climb over the fence. The Gate assures us that we can simply walk in and find grace. The Gate that remains unlocked reminds us of the open and welcoming embrace of the pasture.
There’s a story about a man who had served his church for many years. One Sunday morning, he went to church but forgot to turn off his cell phone. In the middle of the sermon, his phone rang. The preacher rebuked while everyone turned to look at this man. After service, the man's wife also rebuked him. Out of frustration, he simply walked to a pub that was across the street from the church.
He got himself a bottle of Guinness; mind you, this man hadn't had a drink in years at this time. Just before he opened the bottle to take a drink, his hand knocked the bottle off the table, the bottle fell on the concrete floor, cracked open, and splashed onto the other patrons in the pub. The man expected those who had Guinness in their clothes to also rebuke him. But they did not. Their response was, "Don’t worry, it happens all the time." He even got his bottle of Guinness replaced for free!
He saw the Gate to the pub and simply walked in, not knowing what to expect. This man who didn’t remember the last time he went to a pub, and hadn’t had a drink in years, found more grace among the patrons in the pub than in his church.
A few days ago, I got an email from a parishioner who shared with me a story about an incident on Saturday when she went to help with the Food Drive. This is part of what the parishioner shared:
“…The husbands of two elderly couples who volunteered at the food drive went out of their way to assist me in getting my car started again. The battery didn’t restart immediately; nevertheless, they stayed for what might have been 20-30 minutes and worked on it until it did restart. The experience was a humbling reminder to me that none of us know when life’s table will turn and we’ll be on the receiving end rather than on the giving end. I’m thankful that my Third Place is a warm and caring community where others are willing to help each other.”
I couldn’t be more thankful for such a testimony by one of our parishioners. To an extent, this testimony touches on how we become sheep or shepherds to one another. More than that, it expresses how for the sake of the one who is the Gate, we commit ourselves to help each sheep and shepherd find pasture by meeting the peculiar needs that they may have.
I am grateful that such commitment to each other - many sheep and shepherds - abound here in this incredible parish. And nothing so fills me with joy and hope than the grace of knowing that we each can find pasture by walking through the wide and boundless open Gate which welcomes everyone.