One time, when I was a kid, we came home from church one Sunday evening and found the back door of the house standing open. I don’t remember exactly what happened but I do remember that it was dark and scary. I remember the police came and looked through the house. Someone had broken in - they had broken in through the kitchen window and had left through the back door. The house was ransacked and some things had been stolen. I remember being scared that they might come back. I remember my dad being a little irritated that I asked that question – but, thinking back, it might’ve just been that I had asked the very question that he was thinking himself – maybe he was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince me.
You know – Jesus says, “Anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber.” See – thieves don’t come through the door – they sneak – they sneak through the window – they sneak over the wall – they sneak through a hole in the fence. Jesus also tells us that “the thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.”
In John, chapter 10, Jesus talks about a sheepfold – a gate – robbers – thieves – shepherds…
He talks about sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice and the shepherd entering through the gate – not sneaking over the wall. He tells his followers, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He tells them that “the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” He says, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd and the sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice and come to the shepherd. The shepherd calls the sheep by name and leads them out. After the shepherd has gathered the flock, the shepherd walks ahead of them, and they follow the shepherd because they know the shepherd’s voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from a stranger because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.”
Have you ever heard of “stranger danger?” We teach our children – if they’re approached by a stranger – we teach them to run. I’m thinking that in our Christian churches – in our Jesus-following communities – that there is the real threat of stranger danger. But I’m not talking about people – I’m talking about attitudes – agendas – expectations – prejudices – misconceptions that sneak over the wall and into the church - into our Christian community. And again, Jesus says if it sneaks over the wall, rather than going through the gate, then its purpose is to “steal and kill and destroy.” But he also says that his purpose is to give us “a rich and satisfying life.”
So – how do we tell the difference? How do we differentiate between the stranger’s voice and the shepherd’s voice? How do we tell the difference between good attitudes and bad attitudes? How do we determine the difference between our own self-centered agendas and God’s agenda for us as Christian community? How do we know if our personal expectations are actually destructive for the body of believers we’ve chosen to be a part of – for those Christian sisters and brothers we say we love and who we want the best for? How can we remain sensitive as individuals about our prejudices and misconceptions about other people – their ideas – their worth and place in our church? How do we best go about offering that rich and satisfying life to each other, and to the community around us?
Maybe I’m over-simplifying things, but Jesus said that if we love God – and if we love each other – of course, we’ve got to have a correct definition of what love is. The best definition I know, in I Corinthians, chapter 13, tells us, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
Maybe I’m over-simplifying things, but Proverbs, chapter 3, verses 5 and 6 tell us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek God’s will in all you do, and God will show you which path to take.”
See – Jesus is the gate to the sheepfold and the shepherd comes through the gate. If it sneaks over the wall – if it is about anything else but loving God and loving each other – if it’s not patient and kind – if it’s jealous and boastful and proud and rude – if it demands its own way – if it’s irritable – if it keeps track of everybody’s screw ups – if it says “I told you so” – if it gives up on those God has called us to love and to serve – if it lacks faith – if it refuses to hope – if it causes you to live under the circumstances rather than over the circumstances – if it’s not about trusting in the Lord – if it’s based on your own understanding – if you’re not seeking God’s will – then it is a thief, and robber, and its purpose is to steal, and kill, and destroy – not to offer a rich and satisfying life.