It’s tough to know how much to care. Moms run into this problem; dads do too. How much comfort do you give your teenager when she’s having a tough time before she feels like you’re smothering her and treating her like “a baby?” You can get a serious tongue-lashing from a kid who feels like you’re caring too much for their good. But be careful you don’t show enough caring. Ten years later he may say he didn’t feel loved when he was growing up having problems. The parenting see-saw.
We want to show we care but we don’t want to overstep. Sometimes, people will say they don’t know what to do with someone who has lost a loved one recently. They want to show them they’re thinking about them, but don’t want to stir up feelings when that person isn’t ready. The truth is you can almost never go too far caring for someone else when they’re grieving someone. A rule to go by is people want to talk about someone they no longer have with them. Saying their name, for example, brings that person back to their loved one. Talking about them makes them reappear a bit. It lets the sad person use words to shape his or her grief and so manage what the heart is feeling. Make the call to them. If you see them, don’t walk the other way or act like they weren’t seen. Take the time. Help someone in sorrow. Care for someone in pain.
Another rule to go by is to ask yourself what you would want. Most people are like most other people, you know. Put yourself in their shoes; put your heart where their heart might be. Find a way to take yourself out of your life, whether it’s going well or not so well, and expand yourself to think or feel how another is thinking or feeling. To care means to expand oneself, to take on the texture, the fabric, the ups and downs of someone else’s life and world for a while and see what you can do for and with them. It’s incredible to have that capacity to imagine another, to take on another person, and to get out of one’s own shell.
To err is human, to forgive is divine, we say. But there’s nothing more divine than to care. To do good for someone with no ego-gratification involved, with nothing coming to you for your benefit, would be to be freed, released from the many trappings that press against us and bind our minds and hearts to worry and self-concern. Regain your capacity to care. Let go of your fears. Find a freedom that can only come when we do more for someone else than we do for ourselves.
In today’s scripture, Jesus describes himself as “the door.” In John, Jesus makes many statements of this sort about himself. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” “I am the true vine.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the way and the truth and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” In this passage, he goes on to say, “I am the Good Shepherd,” but before he gets there, he says “I am the door.” These metaphors attempt to inform us who Jesus is like, and how to understand Christ’s ministry toward us.
Marit’s going to put up images of five different images of Jesus. I want you to tell me which one you like best. They are Jesus as teacher, friend, shepherd, savior, or door. The top vote-getter will be Jesus as shepherd. Shepherd. Let’s see. It’s a familiar image in scripture. You’ve got Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” as well as numerous New Testament passages. Then there are many shepherd-type hymns. But let’s face it: most of us today are unfamiliar with sheep and shepherding. Without these familiar scriptures and hymns, it’s not necessarily an image that we would gravitate to.
Jesus as door is one of the ways that the Bible speaks of Jesus—here as a gate or a door, depending on your translation—but we don’t go around thinking, “Jesus is my door.” We just don’t. Maybe we should.
You want to hear something interesting? Architects have a unique way of looking at church buildings. “The most important part of a church is the front door.” That is what you’ll hear from an architect. Not what we expect to hear, right? If you had to name the most important part of the church building, what would you say? Some would say that it’s the nursery. For new parents, the nursery is extremely important. Or fellowship hall. It’s used, well before Covid, that is, for meals, receptions, meetings. Important stuff happens in the fellowship hall.
But if we were playing Family Feud and surveyed 100 parishioners, I have no doubt that the number one response would be the sanctuary. This is where we worship, and worship is our reason for being. This is where we gather week after week.
Still, an architect says no, the most important part of the building is the front door because the front door is the first thing newcomers encounter about the church.
We had an interior designer come here and tell us we should reconsider our front entrance, our front door. It’s what she said first and went back to it at the end. She said it was too hidden. When she saw the fish shaped door
handles on the outer north sanctuary doors, she said those were wonderful for the actual front door that people use. She also said she bet most people walked up and tried to enter the building through those same doors because that’s the way the walk up curved and the direction it led new people. I said, “Yep, all the time.” We almost always turn people away from that door to enter through the hidden doors under the overhang. The door was a big deal to her. I guess doors may be more important than we give them credit for.
While an architect might point out the importance of a door, we all know that we do not come to the church for the door, even for new ones. A door is a means of getting to where you are going, not an end-in-itself. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the door? Why does John have Jesus speak of himself in this way?
You might think there’s too much mixing of metaphors. Is Christ the door, or is he the shepherd? Well, we are so far away from what it meant to be a shepherd at that time it may appear that something was lost in translation. But that’s not exactly the case. Often, the shepherd functionally was the door, or the gate, to the sheepfold. There would be an enclosure for the sheep, but the enclosure did not always have a door, so the shepherd would sit, or lie down, at the opening. To enter or exit, you had to get by the shepherd. The shepherd knew who or what was coming and going and could protector the sheep.
We might think of Jesus as our door, our entrance, our way to God. That may be a helpful way to think about Jesus as the door. But there is more. Doors work both ways. The traffic moves in both directions. To say that Jesus is the door could also be a way of saying that Jesus is our way out into the world. The shepherd protects the sheep in the fold, and then leads them out of the fold. The text says that the shepherd brings them out and the sheep follow, but that is an understated translation. It’s more like, “the shepherd propels them out” or “drives them out.” Sheep need a push to go out many times.
Remember Psalm 23? “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he leads me in the paths of righteousness.” None of that involves being in the sheep pen. Out we go, says the Good Shepherd.
Out we go. For what, though? To do what? Well, ironically perhaps, not to be sheep! Sheep need a lot of care. They aren’t courageous. They follow something else. They’re afraid. They need help. They need caring.
It’s one thing to let Christ be the shepherd and to care for us, but it’s another for Christ to be the door. The only way that idea works is if John meant for us to understand Christ as the door, the doorway, that is, through which we enter life, through which we see life and live. Christ is the passageway, the prism, the path we take to live. The one who cares for us asks us to do as he has done, to be as he has been toward us. The Lord is supposed to rub off on us as we go by and go through him.
To say Jesus is the door is to say that Jesus is the way, the path. It’s to say, as Jesus did just a couple of chapters earlier in John’s Gospel, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the door because he’s the way we make our way in the world.
Marissa Schimmoeller is a 9th and 10th grade English teacher in Ohio. She dreaded going to school the day after the Parkland, Florida shooting three years ago. Sure enough, a student in her class asked, “Mrs. Schimmoeller, what will we do if a shooter comes into your room?” She launched into her pre-planned speech, but then she had to say the hardest part. “I want you to know that I care deeply about each and every one of you. I will do all I can to protect you, but being in a wheelchair, I cannot protect you the same way that an able-bodied teacher can. If there is a chance for you to escape, I want you to go. Do not worry about me. Your safety is my number one priority.” Imagine having to say that to your class. Her words slowly sank in. But then, another student raised her hand. “Mrs. Schimmoeller, we have already talked about it. If anything happens, we are going to carry you.” The sheep have become the shepherds. The ones cared for and loved have become those who care and love.
When someone helps us the message that comes through is we are not alone. When we care, we tell someone else they’re not alone. It’s a hard thing to be alone. You’re not alone. We’re not alone. You are always free to care about someone else, to lift another, to speak peace, to let them bear their grief or their burdens in a better way. You are never alone, not with Christ the Good Shepherd guarding your way. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Regain your capacity to care. Free yourself from worries and much self-concern. Build a heart big enough to care for others, to keep them in the pen of your heart.
Can the church say Amen?