Fling Wide the Portals

April 29, 2017

An exploration of John 10

By Rev. John W. Nupp

This article originally appeared in Fragment 4: Action of the 2017 Annual Conference Devotional, MOSAICS.

Wards Chapel, photo by Kat Bowling

Not a door, photo by Kat Bowling

Open Doors, photo by Erik Alsgaard

One of the many blessings of serving the people of Ward’s Chapel was worshipping with them in their historic sanctuary. Built stone upon stone from local quarries in the mid-1800s, the founding families deeply rooted in the early Methodist classes made room for newcomers. They knew that no one enters a sanctuary through solid stone! So, under the canopy of solid timbers supported by four Greek columns, they designed two sets of doors.

Any of you who have worshipped in older church buildings know the mixed blessings of antique doors. They had been painted so many times that they did not always shut tight. They looked wonderful, but it was hard to block out the noise of the motorcycles racing past. We worried about making them secure, since it was hard to keep them locked tight.  And every so often, a good, strong breeze would blow open one of the doors during the worship service. This feature made for some spectacular spiritual moments in prayer and preaching. It was as if the Spirit of Jesus was stopping by for a visit!

For several weeks now in these devotions, we have been witness to Jesus at work: changing water to wine through the simple Miracle of willing servants, touching the heart of the woman at the well until she Overflowed with grace, bringing Sight to the one who was born blind. Like those early disciples who received the call to follow Jesus, we have seen what Jesus can do in the lives of others. And like all of these people who met Jesus, we have some decisions to make. What will we do with what we have seen? Being a follower of Jesus, after all, is not a spectator sport.

Jesus reveals himself in John chapter 10 as a deeply invested Shepherd. Shepherds (at least the good ones, as opposed to the hired hands) would encircle their flocks with a protective hedgerow to form a kind of fence out in the open fields. For lack of a post-and-iron gate, the Shepherd would lay down in the opening, forming the door themselves, with their body. And so, Jesus our Shepherd, also serves as the Door.

In John 10:9, we are told that we enter the fold through Jesus. Through Jesus, we also go out and find pasture. What do you think Jesus means by this? But what does this mean for us and for the way we live our lives? When we consider our covenant in baptism, I think it means we have been saved from sin for life. We reject the evils of this world and repent, accepting God’s power to turn away from all that leads to death. But we do so with the purpose of following Jesus into life and life in abundance. We confess Christ as our Savior and put our whole trust in his grace, so that we might follow him with our lives as our Lord, our Shepherd.

What does this look like for you and me together in the church? Does this mean saying the sinner’s prayer one time at the altar rail? That may be a good beginning, the way to enter the flock. Does this mean ending our prayers “in Jesus’ name”? If with our words we begin to say Yes, so that in our lives we rise to follow through, then that would be an excellent way to live! We don’t leave Jesus behind when we rise from prayer, we rise to follow where Jesus leads.

What does this mean for us as we seek to offer the grace of Jesus to the world? We can talk about this, but the world doesn’t really care what we say and neither does Jesus, when it comes down to it. Jesus and the world both agree on this point: what matters is how we will act with the life we have been given. All the Miracles, the Overflowing grace, the gift of Sight, brings us to this mark of new life in Christ: Action.

If we keep all this to new life to ourselves, then we would be like people worshipping in a sanctuary of stone with locked doors. We would be guilty of doing a tremendous disservice to our neighbors and to ourselves by keeping the miracle to ourselves. But we serve a Risen Savior, who rolled the stone away, who breaks through the locked doors of fear and shame with Good News for us and for our world.

Maybe you have been following Jesus a long time. Maybe you know the weariness of the winding road. In times like these, I am thankful that the Spirit of Jesus blows open the doors of our hearts and our minds. When I’m going along through the motions, safe in the security of the stone sanctuary built by those who have gone before me, I am thankful they had wisdom enough to include some doors! It is good to keep out the road noise and the weather, but how wonderful it is to be surprised by the presence of the Spirit of the Shepherd! How awesome it is to serve the Living Door, who welcomed you and me with grace and continues to turn our lives inside out.