Sunday, May 3, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday
"E Komo Mai"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
Sometimes the authors of the Revised Common Lectionary – the three-year schedule of biblical readings that many churches like ours use to guide our worship – have done us a disservice in pulling a passage wildly out of context. The brief lection from John 10 that I read just moments ago is a case in point. Read alone you may be drawn into the exclusive claims or “black and white” distinctions that Jesus SEEMS to be making between good shepherds and bad shepherds – those fortunate enough to be inside the gate and those who are kept out. Therein lies the problem with focusing solely on a small section of the story and not the whole thing.
We should remember, the chapter and verse demarcations were not added to the Bible until much later – the earliest record of this being at the beginning of the 13th century. The imposed divisions made it much easier for reading and referencing but sometimes added confusion or misunderstanding because they broke up whole stories into more manageable units. Again, today’s lection is a perfect example.
If we read ONLY chapter 10 – we miss the fact that the people Jesus was addressing were the Pharisees, as WELL as his disciples. Coupled with chapter 9, we get an entirely different story and perspective. In chapter 9 we are introduced to the controversy that makes a whole lot more sense in chapter 10. Chapter 9 is the story of the man who was born blind – the one whom Jesus healed on the sabbath. That story opened several theological debates including who was to blame for the blind man’s misfortune (his parents or was his malady the result of his own sin)? And then there was the controversy of Jesus healing him on the Sabbath – the day of rest – which no self-respecting rabbi would dare to do.
So, the Pharisees AND the blind man, now healed, are all befuddled. How could such a renegade (i.e., Jesus) do such remarkable things – in such an unconventional manner?
This whole thing goes back and forth until Jesus addresses the man himself. And it’s right there – at the end of chapter 9 – that we begin to catch a glimpse of what Jesus intended. Not only was the blind man healed so that he could see physically. We now understand that real healing takes place only when our eyes are opened spiritually. When we discover that our relationship with God is NOT dependent on rules and regulations, but on our response to the invitation to truly see, hear and respond – only then can we enter the gate. And that brings us to chapter 10.
The pervading image of the “Good Shepherd” is precious to us. We’ve seen the pictures. We’ve sung the songs. And you heard a beautiful rendition today from Uncle Jimmy ‘Aʻarona. But we can miss the deeper point of the story if we focus our attention on those who are granted permission to enter while others are seemingly locked out – the supposition being that WE are on the inside – THEY are not.
Like the Pharisees, it is easy for us to be critical of the man born blind – surely, they postulated, either he or his parents did something wrong to deserve this challenging fate. Cause and effect theology or reasoning is so tempting – even today. This kind of black and white reasoning is predicated on the fact that there MUST be insiders (those who are good enough) and outsiders (those who fall short). And so we surmise – often privately, “Oh, if only they would believe, think, and act the same way I do – the world would be a much better place.” Anyone else ever had that thought? I know I have from time to time – and especially during our current pandemic. But that’s exactly what Jesus is inviting us to let go of in this story.
Rather than delineating who is “in” and who is “out” Jesus says I am the gate (or door is a better translation), and I am inviting all who hear my voice to enter into safety and in due course to go out into lush green pastures. The Savior is simply saying no one is excluded – rather we exclude ourselves – and others – when we blindly or intentionally superimpose false barriers – fences – social constructs that say, “YOU are not welcome.” Nothing could be more different from what Jesus intended and demonstrated in his life and teaching. [Pause]
The first day I came to visit Keawalaʻi Church my jaw dropped at the shear beauty of our grounds and physical plant. To say it is a quaint, lovely chapel by the sea is an understatement. There was a distinct feeling I got when I stood in the cemetery gazing first at the church, then the ocean, then the mountain. I’ve described it as a “thin place,” where God’s presence is so real it was palpable. I know many of you know exactly what I am talking about. Beside myself with excitement, I took many pictures and sent them immediately to friends and family on the mainland so they could see this new place where I was about to begin ministry.
When I got to the office, I noticed sign above the door whose words, at the time, I did not understand, “e komo mai.” I now know they mean “welcome – come in.” It’s a message that communicates an important value – expressing (just as our mission statement proclaims) “you are welcome here”.
I now think of those words as similar to what Jesus offered to all who were willing to listen. He not only offered access, he offered agency. He was both the opening (the door) and the means (or pathway) to safety, provision, and abundant life. The blind man had now discovered this as both his eyes and his heart were opened – but Jesus wanted to offer this gift of healing to everyone – and still does today.
“E komo mai,” Jesus says. Welcome, enter into life. I came that you may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant living is the spiritual gift offered to everyone – no one is excluded. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy. [Pause]
Famed scientist and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, has said “we are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience.” As spiritual beings we are always seeking deeper insight, awareness, and understanding that our human experience can blind us to. You may know this all too well as you limp from day to day through lockdown and the annoying restrictions of facemasks and social distancing. But I wonder what we may be missing as we may feel like we are locked behind an insurmountable gate for our own protection. Can we embrace the spiritual being that we are naturally? Can we embrace, even during this challenging time, the invitation to “abundant living” in its total manifestation?
Can we hear the words of our Savior – words of invitation “e komo mai” that may unlock our human experience into something much deeper?
I invite you – maybe more so now than ever before – to hear and heed the call that Jesus continues to offer each one of us without requirement or discrimination. Come unto me – “e komo mai.”