August 29, 2021
Elder Laura Malesich
The Gate: Narrow & True Shaq Rejected at White House Gate Some doors, like the front gate of the White House, are tough to walk through. The White House has one layer of security after another, and you simply don't get in unless you are wanted, unless you have clearance, unless you have an appointment. Some people do get into the White House based on who they are. Some get in based on who they know.
On Sunday July 26, 2009, one of the biggest and most famous men in the world—NBA star Shaquille O'Neil—tried to get into the White House without an appointment. At 7-1 and 325 pounds, with a winning smile, and NBA championship rings on his fingers from years of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaq has what it takes to walk into most places he wants to go. Doors open for Shaq. And so, Shaq decided to put his celebrity, and President Obama's love of basketball, to the test. He was on a D.C. sports radio show on Friday July 24th, and he put this question to the listeners: "Check this out, I got on a nice suit, I'm in D.C. paying a visit, I jump out of a cab in front of the White House, I don't use none of my political or law enforcement connections. If I go to the gate and say, 'Hey, I'm in town, I would like to see the President,' do I get in, or do I not get in?" Two days later, Shaq gave it a try, and just as Shaq has rejected those who would try to drive past him to the hoop, so the security guards at the White House gate rejected him.
Picture in your mind various gates you’ve tried to walk through: garden gates? Pasture gates? Gated communities? Electric fence gates? Private Property Gates? Toll bridge gates? Train station turnstiles? Fancy Hotel revolving doors? Concert venue entry gates? Most gates we pass through to get to something or somewhere we want or need to be. But gates can also keep out uninvited guests, nonticketed visitors, or unwelcome critters.
When Jesus used the example of the gate to the sheep pen he chose a gate many in Israel were very familiar with. The sheep pen would have most likely been built from stacked stones since timber was not a common resource. The round pen would have been 6-10 feet high with a single opening for the sheep to enter or exit. Here, the shepherd would place himself across the threshold — taking position as the gate — providing security and safety for the sheepfold within the walls. Sheep would be protected from weather, wild animals or thieves and when the time came to leave the pen, the sheep would follow their shepherd based on their call, the sound of their voice, and the trust they had built between them.
Throughout this series on the book of John we have been learning about Jesus’ I AM Statements. When teaching the people the roles that He was ready to fulfill for them, Jesus used the I AM statements as metaphors to help them (and us) visualize who He is— in this case the gate illustrates how our belief in Him protects us & provides access to the Father & His saving grace. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Where sin had separated us from God, Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection reconciled us to God, creating a doorway to enjoy His protection, freedom and security forever within the sheepfold. When John first begins in verse 1, he addresses those who do not enter the sheep pen by the gate as thieves & robbers — a metaphor highlighting false teachers, corrupt leaders and forces of evil present then and now — those who lead God’s sheep astray. The world can distract us with the latest & greatest, the newest fad or contemporary wisdom, and seduce us into believing there are many ways we can find our way to eternal life in the end. We can be led to believe we should rely on our own strength, fill our schedules to the brim & accomplish more, or put our wants before God...our careers, desire for more money, pursuit of the next great thing, or another vacation to escape the everyday. The world can distract us from choosing to follow Jesus by diluting God’s Word to just another book, drowning out His truth & purposes with loud voices of dissent or disgust, or leading us to believe just being a good person earns us our entry into heaven. Jesus reminds us here that He is the only way to heaven, eternal life and everlasting peace. He is the gate we must enter through - the Way into the fold.
Safe. Secure. Forever. Unchanging.
As we continue to read in John 10, it feels like we are weaving together both Jesus’ statement as the Good Shepherd and the Way. Jesus is both guide and path — the One we trust & follow to our ultimate destination. Yet as we also read today in Matthew, Jesus explains his way is a narrow path through a small gate that leads to life but that many will choose the broad road that leads to destruction. Imagine you are visiting an unfamiliar place with 2 winding paths set before you — one is narrow, a few folks walk ahead of you and a few follow behind you but all walk single file and you can only bring yourself, no room for baggage; the other is wide where folks bring cart loads with them alongside others doing the same in masses. At first glance the well-trafficked one may seem the best — after all, many are already traveling that way so it’s probably a fine way to go. Plus you don’t have to let go of any of your belongings (precious collections, favorite items, awards & memorabilia, etc.) before you can begin. On the other hand, you notice the folks on the narrow path look free from the cumbersome weight of their baggage as they let go more and more along the way and walk freely and lightly. What’s more, this path has a leader out in front encouraging them along, helping them navigate the turns and shedding light on the road as they travel. Which path would you take?
“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
The path is narrow and the gate is small but it is waiting for each of us. In following Jesus we can be protected from a life that leads to destruction, saved from fear & sin, and enjoy the freedom from death that comes with abundant life and the assurance that you will live with God forever. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead changed everything about our relationship with God. The path is narrow but wide enough for the whole world if they choose to accept it...instead of worrying about how narrow the path is we should be grateful to God for providing a sure way to get to Him.
The process of preparing for this message today raised questions for my own self-reflection and 1 perhaps they will resonate with you too. Ask yourself:
• Does my schedule allow me to listen for Jesus’ voice everyday or just when I find I’m lost?
• Do I allow the distractions of this world, (my job, entertainment or personal interests) more priority than my faith?
• Am I choosing the narrow path each day or following the crowd?
• Do I truly believe Jesus is the ONLY way to eternal life? If not, where am I hung up? Who can I ask to pray for me?
• Do I step into opportunities to share Jesus with others? If not, do I need to pray to feel equipped? Courageous? Humble & honest?
Life is full of choices and doors. Choosing the right doors in life is important. Picture a game show, with several unknown doors to choose from — we don’t have to guess and hope we picked the right door. Unlike Shaq we won’t be rejected. We don’t have to wonder which way to go, or what to do. Jesus says, listen for my voice, look for my leading. To the weak, to the timid, to the fearful, to the guilty, to those who are worn out and tired, he calls us all...come to me you who are weary and I will give you rest, to all of us sinners he says, my grace is sufficient for you. To those who have been abused or abandoned he says you are wanted and safe with me. I will never leave you or forsake you. If you have been confused or lost your way, if you have wandered and knocked on doors with empty promises, come, come to me and I will give you abundant life. To the faithful who have persevered, to all who will come, from the side streets, from the highways, down the mountainsides, across the rivers and through the meadows, come to me, for I Am the Gate! And all who enter through me will find peace that only I can give, the joy of true acceptance, the comfort of assurance and salvation for your soul!
LETS PRAY: Dear Lord, Thank you for your words of promise. Sometimes the things that are so easy are the hardest to do. Thank you for this illustration that shows us the ways you care for us, the way you call to us and know us each intimately, calling us by 12 Wednesday, August 11, 2021 name, and even though we don’t hear you audibly, our spirits hear and respond. Thank you for being the gate that protects us from the threat of thieves and robbers who try to steal people away with a different message, who selfishly work for their own gain, robbing the sheep of the truth. Thank you for showing us that you are the gate, the image of the open door that gives us access to the Father and eternal salvation. I pray for those who are still looking for the right door, and for those who have found it but are standing in front of it unsure, help them to see clearly and to take the next step. May every gate and open door we see remind us of your words of promise and the grace they offer. In Jesus Name. Amen