■ Kent Leydens / Contributed
When I first came to Hemet, I was struck by all the gates. Some gates were open, closed only when something needed to be kept inside temporarily. Other gates were closed; a necessary breach opened for a few seconds to let in and out what was being protected. Most gates were attached to fences, but some stood without; I guess they were decorative or reminders of the past. So many gates send many different messages.
Jesus says that he’s a gate (John 10:7, 9). I’ve found that what we do in our churches – how we worship and serve – depends a great deal on how we view Jesus as our gate. How high, strong and impenetrable do we want the gate to be to insulate and protect us from the world?
Jesus says there’re things out there that want to claim us and want to steal from us; there are things out there that would even kill us (John 10:8-10). He’s the gate between the realms of life and death. How much of the world do we want to encounter?
Some years ago, I attended a course at the Presbyterian seminary in Richmond, Virginia. During orientation, the instructors made it very clear that the campus where we were living and studying that week was not in a safe neighborhood. They made it clear that we should never venture off campus at night.
Just as orientation ended and instruction began, Richard walked in. I remembered him from seminary a dozen years before; he was a bit different from most of us seminarians, but well respected.
During breaks that day, we caught on where ministry had led us. At some point, he asked if he missed anything that morning before he arrived. I told him, “The neighborhood is bad; do not venture out at night.”
And his eyes lit up. “Hmm,” he said. “I’m going to have to look into that.”
“No, Richard….” But it was too late. I remembered why we thought him different. I also felt responsible. So, after dinner, off we went beyond the campus gates.
It was November; night came early. As we walked through the neighborhood, I was immediately conscious of how well-fed, well-dressed and well-educated I was. I could think even to quote T. S. Elliot, “Certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats, of restless nights….”
I was very glad to get back behind the safety of the campus gates. I remembered, too, why Richard was respected at seminary. I understand why he ventures around the gate: to see and hear more angles and other perspectives about life than what we get in books and from people who are only like “us.” Going outside of the gate adds depth to what happens inside it. And, what happens inside informs how we experience what happens outside.
Gates do a lot of things. Some hold us in. Some keep others out. But, that is not all.
Jesus describes his role as the gate very clearly. He’s the entrance to safety; he’s the place of division between what should be let in and what should be kept out. The barrier between the thieves who’d steal, kill, and destroy his sheep. He is the protection from those who’d bring such destruction to us.
Yet, watching him in action, if he keeps anybody out, it is those who everyone would think were securely locked in — the most stringently religious. The ones he keeps in are the ones everyone else thinks couldn’t get in — the Samaritans, the Roman officials, the adulterer, the crucified thief. And, as strange as his choices are about who gets in and who’s kept out, it gets even stranger – Jesus lets us, his followers, come in and go out as we please.
Why doesn’t he lock us in so the thieves and killers can’t get us? Can’t he hold us in so we are not lured away by other voices?
It turns out that as a gate, Jesus represents more than a barrier. He marks a place of transition. He’s where, once we enter, what we were is no longer what we are, nor what we shall be anymore. He’s a threshold – a passage to new life.
Jesus knows that ever since we crossed him, we’re claimed by him and changed. Yes, we remain imperfect and subject to temptation, but we’re not the same person we were before we entered the gate. Because Jesus is the son of God, crucified and risen, everything has changed.
And because we’re transformed, the gate no longer need lock us in. We don’t need to cower behind gates. Because the gate has claimed us, we’re free to live worshipping God and serving the world. When we do, we aren’t so much choosing to put ourselves at risk of destruction; we are putting the destroyers at risk of coming to the gate that we know and love – Jesus.
He’s the gate that leads to abundant life now and forever. He’s the gate who enables us to worship God and to service the world in God’s name.
The Reverend Kent Leydens is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hemet, 515 E. Kimball Ave., Hemet.