Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 7, 2017 – Open Wide the Gates!
A classmate of mine in the seminary has a son who is a border patrol officer in Arizona. His job is to keep Mexicans and other Latin Americans from crossing illegally into the United States. Fair enough.
Human rights groups, however, are concerned about the way border crossers are detained while waiting for their cases to be reviewed. Other sources tell us that, since October 2000, more people have perished trying to enter this country than have died in the September 11 attacks and in Hurricane Katrina combined.
The biblical texts for today are familiar. They are about gateways, gardens, and gatekeepers. We’ve heard the comforting words of the psalmist often, in different contexts — God is a shepherd who protects us and provides verdant pastures and restful waters and, we have need of nothing else. But this promise cannot be true. There is plenty we want.
Consider the children, men and women in refugee camps worldwide trying to cross borders into more secure and fertile pastures. Hundreds of thousands are stuck in Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Jordan. These are not temporary settlements. The gates in these camps do not swing both ways. Too far away for you and me to be concerned?
As many of you know the fastest growing immigration detention system in the world is right here in the United States. It holds illegal immigrants caught trying to enter this country; asylum seekers escaping brutal regimes; anyone with or without a criminal record. Sometimes legal, permanent residents are detained on the suspicion of being here illegally.
How would we talk with those confined in these camps and centers? How would we explain an absentee shepherd? The passage from Peter reminds us that the death of Jesus, the good shepherd, liberated all of us. But that theological aphorism does not seem to apply to everyone. How do we understand this promise in light of present global realities?
What locks the gates of opportunity for ourselves and others? Could it be power mongers who govern nation states? Could it be that the privatization of detention centers is a big business? Maybe what blocks us are our own cultural mindsets, our personal political leanings, our subjective fears of the stranger or ancient theological assumptions about who gets saved. Who gets into the sheepfold? Who is left out?
The gospel of John insists that the only way to have life more abundantly is to repent, get baptized and follow Jesus into the safety of the sheepfold. And then, what? What happens after repentance and baptism? Tithing? Ministry? Charitable works? Is that it? How does the care of the divine shepherd reach oppressed people or those who have been shunned by their church? Where is the shepherd leading you and me?
Lutheran theologian Anna Carter Florence wonders if, unwittingly, the church itself is a boundary between the saved and the not- saved. She suggests that the sheep gate we heard about today merely marks the boundary between where we are in our lives and what we are to do next. 
If Jesus is our liberator; if his life’s work is a model for us; if his cross is a symbol of injustice; if you and I are called to tackle the sinfulness symbolized by that cross then … you and I are bound by our baptism to open the gates that lead to pastures where all people can find food, shelter and the opportunity to grow in freedom.
Samuel Moyn, a religion and ethics writer for ABC, reminds us, historically societies world wide cultivated robust theories of governmental obligations toward individual rights, but also of individuals toward one another.” However, the problem today is that my right to be free from oppression does not always translate into my duty, my obligation to eradicate injustices so that others would not have to suffer.
Our religion and our nation are both founded on making it possible for all to live in freedom and without fear. We, as human beings, are called to be gatekeepers of heaven and earth; to open wide the doors of opportunity for ourselves, for others close to us and for all people on this earth.
1. Florence, Anna Carter. Working Preacher Year A. (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary 2016) 62