The Fourth Sunday in Easter
In the Gospel today, Jesus refers to himself as 'the gate,' which is one of a number of translations of the Greek word θυρα (thura) in the original text. Another translation of θυρα is 'opportunity.' 'Gate' or entry way and 'opportunity?' How might these translations of the Greek text inform the way we think about God and the church? A distinguished architect once declared that the most important part of a church is the front door. You might expect it to be the chancel, or the Altar, or the baptistery, but, no, he maintained quite adamantly that it is the front door. The front door is the first thing people see when they come to a church. But I believe that a door also speaks to the life that goes on within the building. You may recall the old movies of the Al Capone era when some shady character would approach the closed door of a speakeasy and give a secret knock or password. If it were the correct one, the door would open and the person gained entrance to the shady activity that was going on inside. Sometimes the doors of a church are closed to people. Several years ago, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul’s in San Diego opened its doors to the family and friends of a thirty-one-year-old businessman who served as Vice-President of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation and the Greater San Diego Business Association. His premature death during a ski vacation from an altitude-induced heart attack stunned the community. The Roman Catholic bishop of San Diego refused him burial, to the shock of the grieving family because the young man was gay. The doors, the entry way, the gate to the comfort and peace of the Good Shepherd was closed to this grieving family and friends. The dean of St. Paul’s had this to say, “Our basic philosophy is whoever you are or wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith, we welcome you. We learned from a city councilwoman that the McCusker family needed some help and we were happy to offer that.” One person who attended the funeral was quoted as saying that “the service and compassion of St. Paul’s ministry brought tears to my eyes.” A powerful statement of faith, love, compassion and comfort is posted at the entrance to the St. Paul’s Cathedral and for a number of years has greeted people at my former parish in Norwalk. It reads: All persons who enter this sacred place enter with the promise that they will be free to be who they are…If you are visiting please know that you are granted immunity from the painful ravages of religious bigotry… I would venture to say that we all have at least one 'San Diego story' to tell, a sad tale about a time when some daughter or son of God was turned away, excluded—even abused—by the church or one of its clergy. So this Gospel raises for me the importance of our doors as the church and the question of what opportunities lie beyond them. One of those opportunities is that behind those doors God invites us to use our human capacity to imagine—to form mental pictures of the self, the neighbor, the world, the future, to envision new realities. Theologian James Whitehead defines it as “the enduring ability to imagine life in a certain way,” in other words, learning to see the world, each other, and ourselves as God sees us. For now, our church doors remain closed but our hearts are always open. As the COVID19 pandemic, and the losses it has meant for so many people, weighs heavily on our hearts, Jesus invites us to walk through the gate through which we might discover the God of extravagant and unconditional love—the door to safety and security, the door to the fullness of life, to the banquet and feast, to the green pastures and still waters. It is the door to mercy and goodness and grace. It is the door to the abundant life. Like God’s all embracing, motherly arms, the doors of our church must always be open to all of us and to all who are not yet here. May they be icons of welcome and entryways to the life to be discovered beyond them, where a community of sisters and brothers struggles, prays, and learns to see the world, each other, and ourselves as God sees us. God is with us here this morning. Jesus, our Good Shepherd offers us the opportunity to break away from our real world and its craziness even for an hour, waiting for us to ask for grace and to be open to receiving it. The Good Shepherd’s shoulders are broad and strong enough to carry us all and every bit of angst, doubt, heartache, and even deep emotional baggage that comes with us. Here we are invited to grab the hand of God and obtain the energy and vitality to return to the world renewed in spirit. “Why do you come to this church?” the priest asked a group of people discussing evangelism. Some said they enjoyed the music and worship. Others were there for the fellowship. To the rector’s relief, someone mentioned the good preaching. Then a voice spoke up and said, “I keep coming back because, of all the places in my life, it is this place that I experience most vividly the presence of Christ. I have hardly ever come here without feeling, at some point in the service, or in conversations before or after, that Jesus is here. That’s why I come to this church,” she said. That’s what the McCusker family found at St. Paul’s, San Diego. That’s what we’ve found at St. Andrew’s. That’s what so many are still seeking—just looking for the right door to step through, one that will give them the opportunity to find that all persons who enter this sacred place enter with the promise that they will be free to be who they are. Jesus is the door that we all seek. The doorway to the heart’s deepest desire: to know and be known by God.