Sermon for Sunday 07 May 2017
Fourth Sunday in Easter
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
Hallelujah, He is Risen!
I don’t like gates, enclosures, pens, fences, walls.
I never have. It’s part of the reason I felt more suited to the call of deacon or the office of Word and Service, a position that is called to go outside of the walls of the church, mostly.
The feeling of being restricted bothers me. It bothers me, even more when others appear to be stuck, confined, or fenced in. I want to be free to live the life God intended and I encourage others to find that freedom as well.
I imagine if you are here today, in the Holy Land, restrictions and confinement bother you too, and that’s why you’ve come to walk with others toward freedom.
If we play the who-are-we-in-this-scripture-game, and we are the sheep, what emerges for me is if we, the sheep, weren’t pinned in there would be no need for a gate.
You may be saying, but Adrainne the sheep need to be pinned in because sheep are dumb and wander off, and like dumb sheep, we need to be kept safe.
My experience makes me challenge that.
I do not need to be kept in bondage for my own safety because I lack intelligence. We, who are made in the image of God, do not need to be herded up and pinned in for our own safety.
As you might have guessed from looking at me and hearing my accent, I am a Black American, and for this reason, I’m not a fan of enclosures.
Enclosures or prisons are used to disproportionately incarcerate Black-American men in the U.S. six times the rate of whites. I have three male relatives serving time in State correction facilities, today, and a few others who have spent some time in jail.
Last week Palestinian prisoners held a hunger strike to bring awareness to a similar condition. Palestinians are often jailed for longer sentences for lesser crimes than Israelis, or jailed without trials, especially political prisoners. FATAH — a Palestinian political party called for a “Day of Rage” in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners’ strike.
Of the 65 million refugees and displaced persons, several find themselves housed in refugee camps throughout Europe, Africa and Palestine while governments figure out what to do with them.
Dear Jesus, if we had no enclosures we would have no need for gates.
Gatekeepers, are being used to restrict some and admit others. Gatekeepers get to say who’s in and who’s out often times based on prejudices and fear.
In the United States during the civil rights movement, whites were allowed to use the front door of establishments but blacks had to enter through the back.
Oddly, being here as a black American brings its own set of challenges to passing the gatekeeper, or guards at the checkpoints.
It is not my complexion that denies me entry, but my passport that allows me in. I don’t walk through the checkpoints often, but even from a car the disparities in who is in and who is kept out are glaring.
I’ve watched Palestinian drivers searched, made to get out of the vehicle, his car trunk checked, and delayed because the gatekeeper says he is suspicious.
Then I roll up, the gatekeeper takes one look at me, my American way of holding myself, the scent of American privilege wafting through the window and I am flagged through without a care; even if she is an African immigrant, it’s safer than a Palestinian the gatekeepers determine.
I’ve never been a fan of gates; always refusing to live behind one. When my husband and I interviewed for this job, Global Missions asked what would be the one thing that would keep us from accepting the call, and we said, we refused to live in a gated compound, behind a guarded gate away from our neighbors. For us, walled communities are constructions that signify division, them and us.
Gates, fences, and walls don’t fit my experience as a black woman, my social agenda, or my parenting style.
When my children were babies learning to crawl I never bought a playpen. I hated the idea of pinning in my curious crawlers. My parenting style was to let them explore, it just meant that we as parents had to stay alert, to had to pay attention.
I discovered quite awkwardly that I’m not the only one who sees enclosures as a means of oppression, and cruelty. When my children were first and third grade, we had friends who also had children the same age. This family was vegan, and not just because they didn’t want to kill animals and use their flesh for meat, no it meant more.
One day we decided to get the kids together and have a two family outing somewhere around Atlanta. I made a huge mistake by suggesting we take the kids to the zoo because we had an annual pass. Frustrated with us, they said No; our children have never been to a zoo and will never go see the cruel entrapment of animals for the entertainment of humans. As I wrote this sermon, I realized that our kids are all teens now and that family has never tried to get together as us since that faux pax of mine.
But I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand.
However, as a minister of Word and service, as one who has experienced the Resurrection of Christ as a force of life and freedom and liberty, I knew somewhere in this parable there is freedom to be found beyond the metaphor.
Life has overcome death; after all, the tomb is empty.
I believe that our risen Lord, the one on this fourth Sunday of Easter comes to release us from bondage, to liberate, to heal the blind.
Then Jesus says I am the gate! He is the gatekeeper!
And so we have a gatekeeper in Jesus, but one who, as usual, is counter -cultural in his example.
As Lutheran Deaconess E. Louise Williams said in her sermon on the “Five Images of Diakonia” The Gatekeeper, image number four, is the one who stands at the margins she say,
“Jesus has shown us the way —– Jesus who was on the boundary between heaven and earth, between God and humanity —- Jesus who winsomely welcomed all kinds of people into the circle of God’s love.”
What Deaconess Louise understands it that,
Jesus patrols the gate so that when we show up he…. invites us in and leads us out again, he shows us that his way, his yoke is light, he shows us that we are worthy to enter through the front, that we are welcome to come boldly before and through him. He empowers us to come in the way of the fully human, fully Divine One, and gives us power to shepherd the way to freedom for others.
Jesus’s enclosure is the sweet enclosure of the Trinity, an enclosure I want to be in. It is an enclosure of love and togetherness that invites all. There will be one flock, one shepherd, and one voice.
“For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
We are not incapable, unintelligent beings. We have the choice to come through the front door of the goodness of God’s kingdom, into a community in which we live together, sharing, looking after the wounded, comforting one another in our sorrows and sufferings, rejoicing in one another’s joys and providing each other a share in the abundance of the sacrificial lamb.
The sheepfold is a community of mutuality and servant-leaders not one of exclusion based on fear or out of a false sense of protection. The ways in which the world has typically built structures of enclosure are the way of the thief.
When I used to read this scripture living in America, I imagined a flat plain, like an open field with the sheep pinned in with wire fencing.
I don’t know how many of you have had the opportunity to spend time in the deserts of the Levant since being here. If so, you might have seen sheep in their pens, Palestinian style, the way Jesus is describing here.
Today in the deserts sheep are kept in caves. The sheepfold are gathered up at night and placed inside these shallow caves.
So when Jesus says the bandits CLIMB in by another way, is not simply a sheep bandit climbing over wire fencing but she would have to go around through the desert from the opposite side of the sheepfold and repel down the side of a cliff to sneak into a shepherd’s sheepfold.
The thief travels far out of sight to steal or appropriate the goodness of the flock without love. The thief has come to lie to us and say that settlements of “sameness,” devices that divide us, structures that imprison us are for our own good, are for our protection from the other.
The thief is fear and hatred that gives us an imitation of the community that the risen Christ came to give us in love.
Brothers and sisters,
I ask, what ways are we unintentionally contributing to theft: the theft of exclusion, the theft of restrictions, the theft of isolation, and the theft of blaming the other?
Whose voice will we hear?
I still don’t like to be restricted, but I want to be a part of the enclosure of God’s heavenly kingdom here on earth.
I pray that you all will continue to do the work that break down barriers, and build up communities of shepherds for the love of Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.