Jesus: Threshold, Security Barrier or...?
By Rev. Dr. Stanley E. Jewell
[The morning alarm went off and woke Jim from his delicious sleep. He hit the snooze button and rolled back over into his pillow. But the damage was done. He was waking up in spite of himself. He remembered that it was Saturday and he sorted through his memory trying to recall why the alarm was set so early. Oh, yes now he remembered he had volunteered as a part of Central’s summer of service to go and work at a Habitat for Humanity build. He would have to roll out soon if he was going to meet the other volunteers for orientation. But the bed felt so good.
He looked beside him at his sleeping wife and recalled the fine evening out they had at a friend’s house the night before. They had stayed later than they had planned and that made the bed feel doubly comforting. The reality was his whole life felt comfortable and secure. His job was going well. Things at home had never been better. The kids were doing well in school and his wife had just started a new job that really excited her. They were slowly but surely building financial security. It all felt as comfortable and as secure as the bed he lay in. He thought, “This was the way life was meant to be… and it feels good. Maybe he wouldn’t go do his volunteer work today. The last time he had gone to work at Habitat one workers got injured and had to be taken to the emergency room. It wasn’t always safe out there. Maybe I’ll sleep late and just enjoy a quiet morning at home.
He rolled over on his back and decided he might as well do his morning devotions in the comfort of his bed. He picked up his Bible and devotional book he had been using from the bed side table and turned to the appropriately dated page. John 10:1-10 was the reading for the day. Ah, a passage about the good Shepherd, how appropriate. God certainly had enclosed him in the sheepfold and he felt secure in God’s love and care.
“I am the gate for the sheep” He reflected on some of the comforting images in the passage. The devotional guide spoke of the sheep folds of Jesus day; of how they were large areas divided off from the rest of the world by stone walls of piled up rocks. After getting the sheep inside the safety of the fold the shepherd would lie down and sleep in the gate, actually becoming the gate that kept the sheep from wandering out into the unprotected world and keep predators from entering into the fold. He set the guide down and reflected on his own faith journey and when his faith first became real to him as a young married man. He had been trying to go it alone. He had to prove to himself and the world that he was a man who could take care of his wife and impending family. He had felt so small and inadequate and the more he demanded of himself the smaller he felt. It was his wife who suggested they return to church. She felt something was missing in her life. Jim went along just to support her. But when he finally caught the message of grace and forgiveness and God’s unconditional love it had been a tremendous relief. The message of Jesus had truly been the gate by which he entered into the security of God’s love and grace. He smiled contentedly to himself as he recalled the kind of change that had gradually come over him.
But Christ had become not only the threshold to his faith, but had also become a security barrier from the world. He reflected on the health of his marriage. The way that they had remained faithful to each other. He thought of many of the guys at work, some were on their second marriage and others in the midst of their second divorce. Others when the women were not around bragged of their extra marital affairs. He had opportunities to cheat on his marriage. With the travel that he did, it would have been very easy. But he was committed to his wife and his Lord and it was just something that was out of the question. He was sure that his faith had helped protect him from infidelity.
He thought of his three children. They were active in the church school and choirs at church. The oldest had begun participating in the youth group and was excited about their activities. They seemed to have a good sense of meaning and values. Jim was certain that they had received these because of the family’s involvement in the community of faith. Those values and attitudes toward life had definitely been a protection for his children in the world. Many a time they would come home and talk about the things that other kids had done at school and they just could not believe that kids would do such things. They certainly were being shaped by the faith community. Yes, Jim thought, he and his family were very secure and safe within the fold.
But as he lay their contemplating his security a nagging anxiety moved from the back of his mind to the front. In a couple of days, they were to get the results of the test from the doctor. His wife had gone in for a physical a week ago and they had discovered a lump in her breast. They had done a biopsy and they were to get a call from the doctor Monday. The peace that he was feeling suddenly fled. One moment he was feeling secure and safe with in the comfort of his home and bed and then he felt as if the space was being violated.
He returned to look at the scripture hoping to find that safety and security that was there a moment before. But as he read all he could focus on was the thief, bandit and stranger that entered not by the gate but climbed over the wall to steal kill and destroy. He soured the passage looking for assurance that the good shepherd would protect them from such intrusions upon their security within the fold. But he could not find it. The shepherd said whoever enters by me will be saved, but there was nothing there that promised safety from all harm. Jim thought about what he would do if the diagnosis came back as cancer. It scared him. He wanted his faith to protect him from all these things, keep his marriage secure and never have problems with children. But he knew that wasn’t realistic. He had prayed many times for faithful Christians who had cancer. He had seen good people suddenly find themselves in difficult financial striates. He had seen good and faithful Christians end up in divorce court, and children of believers make wrong choices that were detrimental to their lives. The safety and security he was feeling just moments before had vanished. The house and bed that had seemed like a fortress against the world now seemed so vulnerable.
He remembered the feelings he and the family had just a couple of years before when their home had been broken into one night by burglars. How violated they felt. How strange it felt coming into the house for several weeks, always checking in the dark corners, wondering if someone was there. No, there was no promise that there would be no harm.
But one thing that caught his eye was the part about hearing the voice and following. The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, because they do not know his voice.
Suddenly he realized that he had been listening to the voice of fear and anxiety. He thought about how many times he tended to listen to other voices. Voices at work that encouraged him to shade the truth to get ahead. Voices urging him to not take responsibility for his own mistakes, but let others take the blame. Voice tempting him to misrepresent his expenses for a little extra income. The voices were always there. And “most” of the time he rejected them. The few times he had followed those voices they lead to frustration and conflict at work. In place of uniting the people he worked with, it scattered them and hurt them.
He was reminded of the experiences that he had lately on the session at church. They had intentionally sought God’s leading in major changes and decisions and they’d come out feeling God was truly leading them. Often before that they had run the discussion like a business meeting, voting and arguing for their various positions. There were winners and losers at the end of each meeting, sometimes there were people who felt wounded. This new focus on discerning God’s will took longer, but now as they moved forward with decisions about the work of the church there was a security in their decisions that God was in them. It didn’t mean that they would not make mistakes or that there would not be struggle and conflict, but they knew that God was guiding them, and it felt good. They were listen to the shepherd’s voice as he leads them out.
As he leads them “out” of the fold. That was what the passage said. He had been so focused on the security of the fold that he had missed that. The shepherd leads them out of the relative security of the fold, into the risk and insecurity of the world. Why? He thought. What possible purpose could that serve? The security is in the fold, isn’t it? But then he recognized the purpose of the shepherd in the passage. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I came that they might experience life in all its fullness. It joys and its tears, its comfort and pain. Here was a shepherd who leads them through the valley of the shadow. Here was a shepherd who prepared a table before them in the presence of their enemies. The security was not in the fold, but in the following of the voice of the shepherd, wherever it leads. Besides how would they find the life of green pastures and still waters if they just stayed cooped up in the fold, crowded in with all the other sheep. They only could find real life, abundant outside the fold, out in the world.
He realized that was true for the church as well, even if that meant change and possible conflict. It meant following the shepherd out of the security of the fold and into whatever lay before. It meant following the shepherd out of the security of the fold into service in the world.
Suddenly the Habitat Build came to mind. “You are calling me out of my security aren’t you?” He said aloud. His wife rolled over and said sleepily, “What did you say?”
“Nothing dear, just getting up to head down to the Habitat build. Gotta take a shower first.”
She rolled over and went back to sleep. But in a half-awake condition, she thought she heard a strange sound coming from the shower. No, it must have been a dream, for it was the sound of a bleating sheep.