Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday

After a few months away from you fine folks, it is a pleasure to be back in this Orchard
Park pulpit. Since I saw you last, I have been pleased to learn that you Carmelites are in
the forefront of an environmental renaissance. First, I heard that you were designated
an Earth Care congregation, which in my mind is a pretty big deal. Congratulations for
that! And then I read recently that the city of Carmel is trying to eradicate Bradford Pear
trees, which have pretty blossoms in the spring but are invasive trees that want to take
over the world. So, basically, with this environmental vibe going on up here in Carmel,
you are becoming a bunch of Presbyterian hippies. Congratulations! I knew you had it in
I am here today because I understand that Shelly is out in Pennsylvania somewhere
standing in an ice cold stream learning how to fly fish with a bunch of Presbyterian
ministers. I’m sure they will have a wonderful time but it sounds perfectly horrible to me.
The fly fishing would be fun, but standing around with a bunch of Presbyterian clergy,…I
can’t think of anything worse. We are terrible. Our jokes are bad, our prayers are too
long and we think everything should be done decently and in order. “Decently and in
order” tends to cut down on the fun. So, my advice to you is if you are ever invited to a
gathering of Presbyterian clergy, don’t go. Play pickle ball instead.
So, here we are, on the 4th Sunday of Easter. We have shouted the hallelujahs and
praised the risen Lord. We have heard the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection and
we have accepted the excuses from doubting Thomas for not believing those accounts.
But now, in scripture today, we are moving on a bit. The initial excitement of Easter has
died down some and the nitty gritty details of the world are back in our face. In other
words, the resurrection of Jesus is great, awesome, wonderful but now, how do we live
as Easter people? How do we get out of the way and let Easter be Easter?
We Christians are notoriously bad at getting out of the way of Easter. We’re stingy about
who can experience the joy. We make too many rules, we require too many consents,
and we cause people to jump through too many hoops. Like the TSA at the airport, we
wave our little wand and tell people to empty their pockets or they can’t get to the
Promised Land. Get rid of your sin, get rid of your imagination, get rid of your creativity,
get rid of your brain, …we don’t need free-thinkers in the Kingdom of God. We
Christians are much better at saying, “No, you can’t come in” than we are at saying
“Sure, you’re welcome here, come on in, the party is just starting.”
The reading from John spells this out. Jesus is trying to explain who he is and what his
mission is, using an agricultural metaphor that includes sheep and shepherds and open
pastures. It is like Psalm 23 without the poetry. The sheep need to move from one green
pasture to the next one to protect them from the thief next door. To do this they need to
go through the door. The door is open, nothing is blocking the door, all the sheep can go
through the door and it doesn’t cost a thing. And the great announcement that Jesus
makes is that he is the door. That’s the metaphor: Jesus is the door and all the sheep
are welcome to come through to reach the green pasture. It is not rocket science, it is a
simple open door. All are welcome.
In other words, don’t stand in the way, let Easter be Easter. Jesus beckons us…the
sheep…to abundant life simply by walking through the door. No exams required, no
prerequisites needed, no references or resumes. Just walk through the door and there,
awaiting you, is the green pasture, or as Jesus calls it…abundant life.
Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? Just walk through the door. Simple stuff for simple
sheep like us.
Of course, and as always, there is a problem. A couple sheep, maybe more than a
couple, won’t get out of the way of the door. They’re blocking it. They don’t get it, you
see. They don’t get the metaphor. Jesus is the door…don’t block the door, why can’t
you see that? But they don’t.
A couple weeks ago I was talking to a young man I met a few years back. Nice, young
guy, hard worker, married and gay. He was raised as a Christian, heard all the same
scriptures that you and I heard and tries his best to live with peace and goodness. But
he is a mess. Because someone is blocking the door to those green pastures. His
parents don’t think he can pass through the door because he is gay. And they use the
Bible as a reason to block the door, of course. They pull out a few wicked-sounding
scripture readings to justify the reversal of everything good and loving about God.
Instead of waving their son through the door, they shut the door and say “you can’t go
through there like that.” They will not let Easter be Easter. They will not let abundant life
come easily. They think that Easter people need to prove their worth before God.
And their son, who loves his parents, doesn’t know what to believe. He is not, not going
to be gay. It is not a switch that you can turn off or on. But he is weighed down with the
guilt of living without his parent’s support and he is weighed down with wondering why
they would close the door on him.
Why indeed? Why do Christians want to block the door to the green pastures of
abundant life? Because if it is not parents blocking the door on their gay son, it is a
politician blocking the door to a trans kid, or a racist blocking the door to a person of
color. And in some cases, they don’t just block the door with the Bible, they block the
door with their AR-15 assault weapons held high, daring someone to cross the line.
The earliest Easter people would have been appalled at the way Christians in our world
act. First-generation Easter people never considered blocking any door. In fact, they
invited everyone through the door. In the reading from Acts we learn they shared things
in common, their possessions and goods and they distributed them to all. The writer of
Acts tells us that they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, having favor with
all the people. A glad and generous heart keeps all the doors open, and welcomes
anyone who walks through it. A Christian without a glad and generous heart is blocking
the door, withholding the grace of God, trying to block the will of God.
At the end of the reading from John, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and
have it abundantly.” I am no intellectual giant, but that, to me, is pretty clear. The
purpose of Christ and the purpose of Easter is abundant life. Nothing less than that is
acceptable to God. And that means, the door is wide open, always wide open, …and no
one gets to block it.
A friend of mine helps out on a little farm just north of here in Tipton. A couple years
ago, just after I retired she said to me, “Bob, we’re getting some ducks for the farm.
You’re not doing anything. How about you build us a Duck House?” Well, I’m no
carpenter but I know my way around a drill and a saw, and so I said “Sure, I’ll build you
a Duck House. One question though, what is a Duck House?”
I watched a couple of YouTube videos and became an expert in no time. A couple
weeks later I was in her barn building a Duck House out of scraps of wood and old
siding. Much to my surprise, it came together very nicely. It was kind of the Taj Mahal for
ducks. If I were a duck I would want to live in that house. Put a roundabout in front of it
and it would fit perfectly in Carmel.
So, I presented it to my friend and she presented it to her ducks, …and they hated it.
They wouldn’t go through the door. Crazy, dumb ducks. They don’t know what is good
for them.
But the goats loved it. It is now a Goat House and the Goats live an abundant life. And it
is hard to look one of those silly ducks in the eye but if you catch one staring, I think you
will see some jealousy. If they only knew then what they know now.
It has taken lots of time, but Christians should know now, that we don’t get to block the
door. We don’t get to choose who receives abundant life and who doesn’t. God makes
that choice. And God chooses everyone. So God leaves the door wide open.
It is a failing idea, a false narrative, that any of us has the right or privilege to block the
door on anyone else. The relentless power of Easter is that the stone will always be
rolled away from the empty tomb, that nothing can block the door, that no power on
earth can stand in the way of God’s unconditional love. Just like those silly ducks,
Christians should know what is good for them. It is not judgment, it is not guilt, it is not
power over others. What is good for them, and for us, is the grace of the open door. It is
the promise that abundant life is so close, within sight, it is just in that pasture over
there. And if we can only just put away the human negatives: pride, prejudice, anger,
fear, injustice, we will be able to step into that green pasture, and invite everyone to join
My friends, let Easter be Easter. Do not stand in the way of the open door. For the ones
standing before you…they may be ducks or they may be goats…but God loves them all
and Christ came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, the door is open. Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God. Amen

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