Happy birthday to Steve Toone on May 16th and to Dick Pierson on May 17th. Also, both Kelly Kothmann and Caleb Hamilton will celebrate birthdays next Wed., May 21st. Hope you all have a great special day!
The San Angelo District caucus preparation for the Annual Conference is this Saturday, May 17th at 1.30 pm in San Angelo. There will also be a farewell luncheon for our DS, Rev. Larry Altman at 11:30. Both gatherings will be First United Methodist Church, 37 E. Beauregard.
This is the sermon preached by Pastor Cliff on Mother’s Day.
Jesus is the shepherd, the gate, and the gate keeper. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, he must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.”
Those who heard Jesus use this “figure of speech” didn’t understand what Jesus meant, so he explained it to them: Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. The true sheep did not listen to the thieves and robbers. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. My purpose is to give them a rich and abundant life”.
Jesus is the gatekeeper. Not me and my preferences and my prejudices. Not even my knowledge or experience or insight. Jesus is the gatekeeper. So today we reflect on the ways Jesus acted and still acts as gatekeeper. Jesus is saying he is the gatekeeper, not them, and especially not me. It is comforting to hear Jesus say, in chapter 10 verse 14: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep”: John 10: 16, Jesus says: I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold! I wonder where those sheep are.
I want to give you a brief prison report about some lost sheep. I want you to know that we have to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that we will not give an altar call in prison. We have to agree that we will not try and change anyone. We hope they choose to change, but we don’t try and change them. We just listen and pray. We train our teams that go into the prison that the Holy Spirit is the gatekeeper. That is how we comply with the memorandum of understanding. We let God be the gatekeeper. And we tell the warden that we hope to receive as many of his gang leaders as he will allow. We “listen, listen, love, love”. We try not be obstacles to God’s grace by insisting they connect with God “how” we do. Rather, we try to be a means of God’s grace, not an obstacle.
We try to leave the gate open for everyone. We tell them of God’s love, God’s amazing, outrageous, love. Many get touched by the Holy Spirit and began to ask questions. We caution them with this text from 1st Peter 2:19-25: “For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.” Let me tell you: they know they are going to be beaten out of the gang for choosing to follow Jesus. They know, for sure, if they choose to become a man of God, they will catch hell. We tell them: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Jesus suffered for you. Jesus is our example, and you must follow in his steps if you choose to be a man of God. We tell them: Jesus did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. Jesus left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. We tell them, no holds barred: Count the cost! You will suffer. Despite these warnings, some do choose to follow Jesus. When they do, the scales fall off their eyes. When their heart changes, suddenly their behavior begins to change. For some it is overwhelming as they accept responsibility for their crimes. Some need counseling immediately. We explain that the Kairos weekend is just a doorway to a lifetime of learning, suffering, and changing. We tell them this has nothing to do with parole or leaving prison. It has everything to do with a life of peace, joy, love, and happiness in the midst of a maximum security prison.
Jesus was the answer for the transformation of the world when he arrived over two thousand years ago, and Jesus is the answer today. That requires us to see some folks as Jesus described them: “I have others sheep, too, that are not part of this sheepfold.” The Jewish leaders were not the gatekeepers, and neither are we. The mystery of Easter is that God is reconciling the whole world to himself, and it is a mystery to me how He is going to do it. My job is to believe God is able, and not shut the gate. I am not the gatekeeper. We killed Jesus the first time because he loved the wrong people. I pray I don’t make the same mistake. Jesus has been waiting on you. Yes, you. Especially you. Welcome home.