Sermon Series – “The I Am Statements of Jesus”
I Am the Gate & I Am the Good Shepherd
This past week, March 21st in fact, marked World Down Syndrome Day. Now while I must admit that I do find all the days for every cause a bit much, for obvious reason Dawn and I have a special affinity with this particular day. The 21st of the month is picked because it relates the the extra 21st chromosome which is a defining characteristic of Down Syndrome. Now when I say this I must admit I am a little conflicted. Down Syndrome is certainly a part of who Trinity is but it is not all she is, as she would say to us when she was just little, and this was always dear to my heart, “I am people too”. I mention this because this Lent we are working through the “I Am” statements of Jesus and a significant part of them is the identity of Jesus and identity is important. We identify ourselves by what we do, our families, where we are from and our economic and cultural backgrounds to just name a few.
So just to recap, this Lent we are working through the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus which is central to understanding John’s gospel. John’s gospel is broken into four parts, the prologue and the epilogue and between those two short sections are two longer sections called “The Book of Signs” and “The Book of Glory”. The “Book of Signs” contains the seven miracles of Jesus in John and both middle books contain the “I Am” statements. Today we are looking at two of these I am Statements which happen to fall one right after the other and they are “I am the gate for the sheep” and “I am the good shepherd”.
To begin today’s reflection let us take a moment to look at the beginning of all of these statements the “I am” portion. I put this off last week and said I would get to it so let us take a moment. The statement “I am” is both biblical and full of meaning. It occurs over three hundred times in the scripture in reference to the identity of God. The most well known of course is the burning bush, when Moses asks God who shall he say sent him and the answer is “I am that I am”. So when Jesus says “I am” as it is written in the scriptures he is speaking in this manner, it is not as if we were to say “I am an Anglican” but rather it has much more depth than that. The second thing worth noting is that “I” is a personal pronoun. This says something about who God is. God is not distant or obscure or simply a concept but rather there is a sense of the personal in the identity of God. This makes sense as we were created in God’s image and this means that we must be able to relate in a personal way to God. Further “am” is a verb which speaks to action. It is more than just God is God or God is Creator but rather is a sense of action and movement in terms of the nature of God. I think we see this so well in the Johannine letters where it states “God is Love”. God is action and personal and engaged in creation. I think we could talk about this for hours, but for now let us just recognize that there is a fluidity and action and an engagement in the very nature of God.
Second, what does it mean for Jesus to be both the gate for the sheep and the good shepherd. At a very basic level this speaks of two seemingly contradictory sentiments, these are both judgement and eternal care and speaks I think of the eternal nature of Jesus. In order to understand these “I Am” statements, from the perspective of the identity of Jesus, I do think we need to keep the prologue in mind. John opens that very famous phrase “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word here refers to Jesus and without getting into a great linguistic study, and Word here is Logos which is Greek for Spirit. So there is a sense that Jesus is eternal, a part of creation and of the very spirit of God who was a part of creation. This again we could talk about for hours but as we do not have the time, let us recognize that it says something very profound about Jesus and his role and his nature and I think is how we need to look at Jesus being both the gate for the sheep and the good shepherd. For Jesus to be the gate for the sheep speaks of him as judge. The one who decides who is in and who is out, from an eternal sense. Within this there is a sense that the sheep are sorted and some enter in and some do not. Then against this we have Jesus as the good shepherd who cares for the sheep and there is a broad sense of inclusivity here, there are other sheep that do not belong to this fold and he will bring them in also. This seeming contradiction can only be understood if one understands that the Jesus of the “I Am” statement is the Jesus of the prologue and the Jesus of creation and judgement and eternal care. There is a sense that when Jesus is the gate and the shepherd he is acting in the wholeness of his being. As the one who defeats all that is evil and death itself and the one who is eternal and cares with love for all of creation. Today we see Jesus as the gate for the sheep and as the good shepherd. It reminds us of the vastness of his being and reminds us that in knowing Jesus we know God and in knowing Jesus we know judgement and in knowing Jesus we know forgiveness and in knowing Jesus we know the eternal. Today Jesus is telling us something of himself which is hard to comprehend but at the very core of the identity of Jesus.
So for that message we do say, thanks be to God. Amen.