Go online and type in “gated community” and the map is spotted with houses, townhouses, and apartments clustered together within a bordering wall entered through an impressively secure gate often with an attendant in a gatehouse. Some of you may live in one that is limited to adults 55 and older; others may not have that age restriction and, to attract families , offer all kinds of child-friendly amenities.
A few weeks ago friends from high school days invited Howard and me to visit their “gated community” in center city Philadelphia and enjoy a meal in their apartment. Following their directions, we drove into an off-street, underground parking garage where an attendant served as the valet who directed us to an office that used to be the place to pay the parking fee when leaving. Now it is where visitors report who they are visiting, have their names cleared with a phone call to the hosts, and then directed to walk into the hallway outside the office and take an elevator to the announced floor. When we did, we found ourselves standing in a darkened corridor staring at rows of doors – all with no markings, no number, no names.
Thank goodness the friends who invited us had a miniature mezuzah attached to the side of the door frame to fulfill the Biblical order (Deut. 6: 4-9) to post the words of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one…”) on a doorpost. A knock opened the door to us.
It was our first experience of an urban gated community which isn’t new; gated communities have been around for centuries, with a model being pictured in today’s Gospel in Jesus’ words,
“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate.”
The Biblical image is a flock of sheep, herded at night into a stone-walled enclosure with one way in and out – a gateway, with the shepherd lying down to seal the opening. Jesus’ model for His followers gathered generation after generation to our time in the gated community of His Church.
Note two details:
One is the wall made of piled up stones, like the ones we see lining a field with rocks a farmer removes from the soil to clear it for plowing and planting, an image for a congregation, a fenced-in people.
A couple was thrilled, they parked their new car in a garage beneath their guarded apartment complex, made secure by a high, chain-link fence, and a 24/7 guard at the gate, and settled in for a good night’s sleep. In the morning they went through their usual routine and headed for their new car to drive to work, only to find to their horror the windshield had been smashed and everything electronic had been ripped out.
“How could this happen?” they shouted to the attendant in the guard house by the gate. He answered that the thieves had cut through the fencing at a location that wasn’t covered by the surveillance camera. A blind spot they discovered too late to prevent the break in.
(Adapted from: “The Gate to Grace, Goodness, and Glory,” www.sermons.com . for May 7, 2017)
This gated community of the church, this congregation, needs to be alert to maintaining the defensive “fence” that is built to be our stone-like enclosure.
Last week when a relative brought boxes of family records spanning five generations, I happened to pick up (show) this little book dated 1895 and titled “Heidelberg Catechism and and Catechist’s Assistant,” with the label pasted inside the cover reading “Clement H. Bean, Creamery, PA.”
The inside back pages name the stone-like rocks that make the wall around us solid and secure:
“Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, Ten Commandments” and the understood foundation stones of Bible and Sacraments.
The secure wall around us in this gated community of Christ’s flock that is His church, this congregation.
The second detail is the gate which Jesus named when He announced,
“I am the gate.”
and we acknowledge when we say or sing Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd…” Who has made Himself the gate to keep us together inside the sheepfold of His church, this congregation, and to ward off anyone or anything that is determined to break through and carry us off to make a meal of us, to devour us, or to scatter us to fend for ourselves and eventually die of hunger and thirst.
We Christians quibble over the designation we give our congregations;
some take the name of a person credited with leading them to “the Great Shepherd of the sheep,” a title from Hebrews 13:20;
others call themselves by the place where their flock first grazed, or the pastureland where they prefer to feed;
and still others claim an exclusive right to be the first to walk through the gate and even question who is admitted after them.
When serving on Conference staff and leading workshops and retreats on how to “Find, Welcome, Attract, and Keep New Members” – I over- heard a greeter welcoming visitors with the announcement, “I am the seventh generation in this church.” I thought, “O Jesus, how we need to get YOUR Name on the gate into your flock, your family, Your Church!”
How we need to say to ourselves and to everyone else, “Jesus is the gate into this congregation!”
Jesus is the gatekeeper welcoming us into worship and blessing us as we go into the pastureland and rocky paths and valleys of daily life;
Jesus is the One Who protects us with His very body so we can sleep at night, knowing we are safe in His care;
Jesus is the One Who hears us when made sleepless by nightmarish thoughts, when whimpering with pain of body or mind.
So, let’s put His name on our church, let’s put His name on our life; let’s let Him be the gate that keeps out all which threatens to pull us away from His flock and all that entices us to go our own way.
A man walked into a church‘s soup kitchen, desperate for food and when welcomed and fed, he expected to be made to do something in return: scrub the floors, do dishes, listen to a sermon? When he asked, a woman pointed to the sign above the door: “Caritate Deo” – Latin for “love of God” which can also be read as “love for God.” (Quoted from Sunday, March 6, 2011, Caritate Dei, Len Neihoff)
“Love of God” -another name for Jesus, the keeper of the gate and and of the sheep and “love for God,” another name for the actions of His gated community, His flock, His church, this congregation. Amen