Through the Gate / Embrace
Our scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel of John chapter 10 verses 1 through 18. On this Mother’s Day, we refer to God as Mother and change all the pronouns to God to feminine pronouns. Jesus has just healed the blind man — a story we heard during the Lenten season — and is challenged by the Pharisees. He responds to their questions with the following stories:
“I assure you that whoever doesn’t enter into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs over the wall is a thief and an outlaw. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger but will run away because they do not know the stranger’s voice.”
Those who heard Jesus use this analogy did not understand what he was saying.
So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down her life for the sheep. When the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away. That’s because the hired hand is not the shepherd; the sheep do not belong to the hired hand. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. The sheep do not matter to the hired hand.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as God the Mother knows me and I know the Mother. I give up my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.
“This is why God the Mother loves me: I give up my life so that I can take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I give it up because I want to. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Mother.”
Through the Gate / Embrace / Lament
Will you pray with me?
Holy God, open our eyes to see you around us, open our ears to hear our siblings’ cries, open our hearts that we may love. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:18
I don’t want another reason to weep or rage. I don’t want another reason to grieve. In this pandemic-ridden world, have we not already lost enough?
On this Mother’s Day, I want a reprieve for just a moment to celebrate and rejoice. To enjoy laughter, good food, flowers and the comfort of my family.
But before we can celebrate the day for ourselves, before we can honor our mothers, our daughters who have become mothers, our partners, our sisters, we need to first tend to the voice weeping in Ramah.
Friends, we must first tend to the weeping of our sisters of color — the great grand daughters of slaves. The daughters of immigrants. Immigrants themselves.
The mothers who fear for their children’s lives every single day.
Who have had to give their children “the talk” to teach them how to respond *appropriately* when stopped by police.
The mothers who have little or no recourse when their children are shot in the street.
Because they were perceived as threatening.
Even though their backs were turned.
Even though they were going the other way.
Even though they told the officer, as they reached into the glove compartment for their vehicle registration that they had a licensed firearm in the car.
Even though they said “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
Even though they put their hands in the air, “Don’t shoot.”
Even though they were just reaching into their hoodie pocket for some Skittles.
First we must tend to our sisters — the mothers whose children are perceived to be dangerous simply for being black or brown.
The mothers whose children are looked over for jobs or promotions because their names sound too ethnic.
The mothers whose children bear the family names of their enslavers from generations back.
The mothers who cannot find justice for their children.
The mothers for whom justice can never be because nothing, nothing will bring their children back.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Why now? Why on Mother’s Day?
Because those of us who have the privilege of forgetting, the privilege of not living this reality every single day have been reminded of it by the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. He would have turned 26 on Friday — instead of a birthday party for her son, his mother got a grand jury. The first hint that the men who killed Ahmaud might be held accountable for their actions.
Ahmaud was just jogging through his Georgia neighborhood on a late February day when three men in a truck picked up pursuit, confronted him and then shot him dead. Right there. In the middle of the street in a residential neighborhood.
Ahmaud’s crime? Running while black.
The truth is this isn’t something new for us to mourn.
Black and brown people have been killed in the streets of our nation for decades. Centuries. As far back as colonial history goes.
This is simply the ongoing reality of racism in America.
Ahmaud was black. His killers white.
I can’t help but think that the situation would have been different if races were reversed — the white man jogging through his neighborhood, pursued, confronted and shot down by three black men. They would have been handcuffed and carted off to life in prison tout de suite. But not in Ahmaud’s case.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been here before. With Sandra Bland. Michael Brown. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin — just to name a few. I’m ready for things to change. I’m tired of this.
And then I think about the mothers — who have watched their children killed or taken away from them for generations.
Who have had to bite their tongue while they are dehumanized in front of their children.
Or even worse, as their child is insulted in front of them — and they can do nothing.
And my fatigue feels like the nagging of a bored child.
How, I wonder, how, dear God can we as a nation overcome the evil of white supremacy? Of our own racism? And not just the racism that pulls the trigger. Not just the racism that refuses to respect people who are different. Not just the racism that hurls ugly words or threats.
But the insidious racism that creeps into our hearts and hides in our well-intentioned “helping” or “saving” or “rescuing.”
The racism that keeps silent when someone is killed because they are black or brown.
The racism that allows people around us to insult whole communities — it was just a joke. No harm done. YES. Harm is done.
The racism that stays quiet when leaders and legislators make gross generalizations about entire races of people.
The racism that will not look at how we benefit from systems that are literally killing others. The systems that allow COVID to run rampant through tribal communities and communities of color.
How will we get out of this pit that we have dug for ourselves?
This question has invited me to read this morning’s text differently. How will we get out? How will we free ourselves from the enslavement of white supremacy that harms ALL of us?
I am the gate, Jesus says. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.
How often I have read or heard this text as exclusionary, hurtful, distinguishing between us and them. Yet another scripture used to draw the line between insider and outsider.
But what if that is not the purpose of this gate? What if this gate is instead the source of our liberation?
What if Christ, love, truth are all the Way out of that which binds us?
And yes, we know there are other voices that seem to tell us that they can get us out of the mess of racism our ancestors built and that we maintain — capitalism; trickle down economics; no child left behind; pulling yourself up by your bootstraps; school choice; the American dream. But have any of them worked? Truly? Have we been liberated from the systems of injustice, white supremacy and racial inequity?
Just imagine for a moment if the groups of protestors at state capitals were black people, black men, armed with hate and automatic weapons!
I am the gate. What does Jesus mean? What is this gate? I daresay, we can find some clues when we look at who Jesus is, who Jesus tells us God is: Truth. Light. Bread. Resurrection. The Way. Life. Love. What if the gate is the good news that we are one in Christ? That there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female; black nor white nor brown.
I am the gate.
I always thought of the gate as something that kept things out; that kept people out. But what if the gate is the opening? Not the wall or the fence but the window. The crack that lets the light in. The tender place in our spirits that is authentic and vulnerable. The place that will open.
I am the gate.
And the truth is that most of the time the gate is frightening. For the gate is like the stranger in the Emmaus story. The gate is how we tap into emptiness. Do we really want that? Do we really want to open ourselves up to our truth, to our complicity, to our hurt? To the hurt of others? Wouldn’t we rather spend Mother’s Day not thinking about it? Not thinking about Ahmaud Arbery’s mother? Or the mothers at our border? Or the mother who even with her two essential service jobs can’t afford a computer for her child to use to keep up with school? Do we really want to know who the stranger on the road is? Who we are?
“I am the gate” Jesus says — I am the opening. I am the vulnerable place in your armor. I am the soft spot in your spirit. I am the opening to resurrection. To life abundant. To love so strong it will lay down its life willingly. I am the gate to rest and peace and compassion and joy.
And if the gate, the vulnerability, the truth, the reality, the emptiness, the abundant life still terrifies you a lot or even just a little, that’s okay. Because Jesus isn’t done yet.
“I am the good shepherd.”
These, beloved of God, are words of comfort, words of courage. The good shepherd does not deny danger. The good shepherd does not depict a perfectly safe world. But the good shepherd DOES promise to be there — to guide and to protect. To know by name. To love. Even to lay down her life.
I can’t help but think of Jesus at the scene of Ahmaud’s death — a shepherd intervening. Stepping in between a young man jogging and those who would kill him.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as God the Mother knows me and I know the Mother. I give up my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Beloved of God, on this Mother’s Day, let us not only celebrate, let us not only cradle our particular losses and griefs, let us not only honor the complication and joy of our relationships to mothers, mothering and motherhood but let us tend to our sisters — the ones who weep and cannot be comforted. Let us speak out against racism. Let us keep our eyes open even when it breaks our hearts. Let us do OUR personal work to unveil our personal bias, to transform our own hearts and to usher in God’s beloved community.
Friends, let us enter the gate that is Christ’s love and compassion, that is vulnerability and empathy. And as we do, let us take comfort and courage for the Good Shepherd is ever beside us, leading us and calling us by name. Amen.
© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
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