John 10 - From Gatekeepers to Pasturekeepers [bible.hack]

What better Scripture to inaugurate the bible.hacks label than this past Sunday's Lectionary? Read it here: (Easter 04, Year A) John 10:1-10, Jesus says "I am the Gate." Read on for a bible study on John 10 and a call for Churches to cease being Gatekeepers and instead tend the pasture for whatever sheep come our way.

One of the contemporary understandings of hacking is based around permissions:

  • Hacker break into a computer system that they do not have permission to access.
  • Hackers often obtain these permissions by fraudulent means
  • Hackers spoof their permissions and gain access by impersonating someone else.
Gateways grant entry only to those with permission.To combat hackers, computer architects create gateways: one-stop places where you have to authenticate yourself to gain access. You use gateways everyday to login to your email, to view a website that you have registered for, your PIN on an ATM, your voicemailbox code, etc. Gateways grant entry only to those with permission. All the data or resources are locked behind closed doors until you authenticate yourself.

In the first section of the Scripture, Jesus is the gatekeeper. Jesus keeps out those who are thieves (those who steal others' permissions). Jesus declares "thieves" those who attempt to enter the safety of the gated safe haven by other means other than through himself. One has to have permission to enter the safe haven; permission is given only to those who know Jesus' voice.

That's the contemporary understanding, perhaps you heard it this past Sunday in church. But this is a bible.hack, let's hack that understanding by offering new ways for the bible to be used and understood in our contexts.

Gateways also filter how insiders view outsiders.There is a second understanding of gateways. Just as gateways keep people out, they also are an entrance to the outside world for those who are inside. Gateways filter how the insiders view the outsiders. Think of anti-spam or parental censoring software on your computer or cable: only those with permission can view the content. If a child surfs to a porn website, they will be blocked by the gateway. Nuclear researchers are denied cell phones and must pass all information through controlled gateways. All the information in the outside world is controlled via the gateway for those inside the system.

In the second section of the Scripture, Jesus is the gate for those to come in and out of the safe haven. Jesus opens the gate, and the sheep follow his voice to green pastures. By Jesus' voice, Jesus guides the sheep to where they should go. Jesus is the gateway, then, and by listening to His voice we are confident and secure that Jesus would not steer us wrong.

By all indications, Jesus is against hackers: those "thieves" who would cause mischief in the safe haven by improper means, or those who would spoof and steer you wrong in the outside word. And rightly so: the Christian community needs a safe haven to be vulnerable to one another as they grow in discipleship.

The Way of Jesus Christ is opposed to worldly powersBut hear this: Jesus hacks the system. Jesus knows there is contemporary wisdom, there are codes of conduct written by the powers and principalities of the world, telling us how to live. Jesus is the gateway: Jesus offers His voice in opposition to the outside world and shows His followers how to be in the world. There are worldly ways and Godly ways...and ways that profess to be Godly by spoofing the Christian identity, but are not Christ's ways. By allowing Jesus to be our gateway, we are offered sure guidance in a world of TMI: too Much Information.

Problem: How to Hear Jesus in a world of TMI?However, Jesus is not here in the flesh to guide us. In contemporary culture, there is information overload. We have access to SO MANY ways and paths in the world that we are unable to filter and process all of them. The varieties of worldly ways are immense: Advertising driven by psychology, school curriculum agendas, Hollywood depictions of violence and sex...and the ability for anyone to open a web browser and find out about anything in the world via Google or Wikipedia. The green pastures for spiritual growth and edification are no longer a choice between three or four paths, but three or four hundred.

The Church replaces Jesus as the gatekeeper.Here's where the Church gets it wrong. We in the church censor information. Just as we create our own echo chambers of news and views, the church often will selectively teach or create policies that keep out unwelcome facts or opinions. We have replaced Jesus as the gatekeeper with the Church leaders as the gatekeepers of information. Consider these real-life examples of information-censoring by church leadership:
  • In sex education classes, churches teach abstinence-only, ignoring birth control methods.
  • In so-called pregnancy crisis centers (often faith-based!), more resources are given to women who want to continue their pregnancy, while offering little to women who do not.
  • In pop-culture preaching, churches proof-text Scripture as remedies to society's ills without proper biblical investigation and edification.
  • In the Lectionary, we preach a bit more than 2/3rds of the Scripture and ignore contextual continuities between scripture passages (especially in John!).
By censoring and protecting our children, women, and parishioners from information the church deems harmful, we have replaced Jesus as the gatekeeper. We justify this by claiming that some information is the worldly way and should not have a place in Christian community. Information can function as a "thief" which offers a seductive path of self-justification to those the church deems "not ready" to discern right from wrong...especially teenagers and children in Christian education.

But Jesus has other sheep we have not considered.But hear these words: Jesus is the gateway. The followers of Jesus hear His voice and will go where Jesus calls them. Following up on the aforementioned frustration with the Lectionary, by reading a few more sentences past the Lectionary we see Jesus say "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold."

..............Wait, what? Verse 10:16: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold." There is more out there, there are more sheep that are not of this fold, there are more followers of Christ who may not graze in the pastures we are comfortable with.

Christ alone judges what should be censored.Christ reminds us that Jesus is the gate: Jesus alone bears judgment of who is righteous to be included in the kingdom of God, and Jesus alone bears judgment of who or what is a thief to our discipleship. While there are reasonable limits to how information is presented or taught in a Christian context, prayerful discernment must be given to each aspect of the Christian life, even those your grandparents don't want you to teach.

Mission: Not Gate-keepers, but Pasture-keepers.To the church, the mission is simple: give the gatekeeping up to Christ and become open to sheep not of your fold. We are called to tend to the pastures, to plant what comes our way, and if it grows and edifies, integrate it, and if it seeds death and discord, root it out! We are to prayerfully discern, not dismiss out-of-hand, what new sheep might be coming to your church doorstep.
  • These may be sheep that are walking wounded by abusive exclusionary theologies from another faith community that need safe haven and to be shared the Love of God.
  • These may be sheep that have alternative theologies to your own that will challenge and strengthen your community.
  • These may be sheep that have radical ideas for evangelism that God may be placing before you.
  • These may be sheep that seem too young or old to really contribute, but are disciples of Christ nonetheless.
  • These may be sheep who view Jesus from their cultural perspective, which may seem offensive to Anglo congregations, but will give rich imagery to our faith journeys.
To all these sheep, the gate is wider than we may want. Christ calls us to be hospitable and be open to those ragged-looking sheep, empowers us to remove the sheep who truly do siphon off creative energy in the church, and reminds us to leave judgment up to God. We must allow our gates that we construct to be opened, to allow our eyes to see beyond ourselves, and allow ourselves to be enriched by the entire breadth of communities of faith and cultures.

From Gated Communities of Christ to Open Pastures.In any system, diversity gives strength, but also trepidation as the gateways become wider. We are given the commission to break through the echo-chambers in our own congregations and allow the Spirit, to give the disturbing Spirit the freedom to flow freely through us and upset our rigid codes of conduct and teachings. Maybe God will offer new life today.

May the God who gives us strength and wisdom lead us from gated communities of Christ to life abundant in the green pastures of the Kingdom of God.

- the Process and Faith Lectionary for inspiration for this blog post
- the Oremus Bible Browser for Scripture passages (all from the NRSV)


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