Sermon on John 10

Tom Ravetz has written a sermon on the week’s gospel reading, which you can listen to here.

Here is a transcript.

I am the Door – the ‘I am’ is the Door

Doors have always had a mysterious, transformative power.

Doors create boundaries –  barriers or markers that divide inner from outer, outer from inner. Such boundaries are the precondition of all life and development. Without cell-walls, the life of the simplest single-celled organism would be swamped by the water in which it lives. Without the clear boundary marked by closing the door and ringing the bell, the spiritual power of Act of Consecration of Man would be dispersed.

However, if it is impermeable, the boundary-wall becomes a prison. For life to unfold within the cell-walls, there has to be an exchange of substances between the inside and the outside.

The boundary around the Act of Consecration of Man is also permeable. Through the course of the service, we invite the whole of humanity, all those who have died, and all the ranks of spiritual beings to assist us in celebrating.

The power of the door lies in the fact that we can change its state. If it were only open, it would be a break in the boundary, which could be dangerous for the life inside. If it were only closed, its protection would become a fetter on life.

When we think back to our first experience of ourselves as an ‘I’, we may well remember a time when we had to find our self, perhaps against resistance: to uphold our own being, maybe when others were trying to influence us against our will. To find ourselves, we needed to be able to go inside and shut the door.

There is another aspect of our ‘I’. If we think back to moments when we felt most at one with our true self, they will often be times when we gave ourselves fully to a task or to a deep encounter. We find ourselves by opening ourselves to the world. These days of enforced inactivity are a challenge, particularly for those of us with active, restless natures. Will be we able to bear the quiet loneliness of the inside?

‘The I am is a door’ – this word of Christ has a particular resonance this year, when we are experiencing the ‘lockdown’. Last Sunday, we heard how the disciples locked themselves away for fear. Their inner liberation happened through Christ’s presence among them, even in their fear, even in their locked down state. Suddenly, the closed door changed from being their refuge to being the necessary boundary around an inner space, in which the spirit of the whole world could become present.

St Paul’s famous phrase: ‘Not I but Christ in me’ (Galatians 2:20) is actually part of a longer passage. Paul describes a powerful experience of death: he, who had lived his life according to the law, to what was right and wrong, experienced that this brought him to a dead end. Then comes one of the most astonishing sentences in the whole Bible: ‘I have been crucified with Christ’. The experience of death – of futility, of failure, of getting it wrong – leads to a breakthrough. A door opens. Paul continues: ‘and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.’

The story of Holy Week, which has its climax in the crucifixion, is the story of the collision of two kinds of power [death]. It is likely that Palm Sunday saw two triumphal entries: Pilate would have marched at the head of the occupying army from his residence on the coast, in order to enforce a semblance of peace on his troubled province during the great festival of Passover, when the population of Jerusalem swelled many times over. On the other side of the city, the power of self-giving, sacrificial love was embodied in Jesus’ donkey-ride. All through the week, the power of fear and control – what St Paul sums up as the law in all its forms – tries to crush the power of self-bestowing love. It has to be said that a neutral observer of both events would have seen the glittering display of military might as rather more convincing than the humble entry of an itinerant preacher from the unfashionable end of the Holy Land. However, when we celebrate Easter, we affirm that Pilate’s power was limited, because in the end it could only deal out death. The death of the one who seemed sure to be obliterated gave rise to a new power of life, a power great enough to change the course of history.

A question I have been living with is whether it makes a difference if we take as our starting point the fact that the Resurrection has actually happened. Would this take away some of our fear? Open inner doors that were threatening to shut us in? What would happen if we knew that the reality of creative, self-giving love is already written into every atom of our world? Would our assessment of current events change if we knew that the deepest motivation of every spiritual and human being is ultimately to align themselves to the power of that love? If we understood that everything that afflicts us is in the end the foil for our courage – courage to break down whatever gates of hell we have closed upon ourselves? That whatever dark forces may be at work, whatever schemes and strategems we fear, it will turn out that the powers behind them ‘meant it for evil, but God meant it  for good’?

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The indwelling Christ, who has taken up residence in the Holy of Holies of the human soul, leads us through death into life. He is the comforter in all our earthly experience, because he has shown the outcome of the battle between the powers.

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