They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Jesus the Good Shepherd
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I was invited to be part of a World at Work day on Friday at Forehill Primary School.
There were about a dozen different occupations represented, from the police force to hospital scientists, from lollipop ladies to bakers, all giving the Primary 7s information on what their job involves.
Although the Church of Scotland, nationally, now employs a Vocations Officer, there are no materials available yet to engage youngsters and inform them of career opportunities in the church.
I decided it would be useful, as well as alerting the young people to all the other opportunities there are to work for the church, rather than ordained ministry, it would also be helpful to create a collage of "a month in the life of a Parish Minister" I simply put together pictures of things I've been involved in in the last month- and asked them to guess what the various activities were.
I was quite surprised that the young folk who see me around a lot, whether at school or the youth organisations or visiting one of their neighbours still saw my role as confined to Sundays and to the church building.
Each group as they listened and looked at the words and pictures I'd taken to illustrate the work, said they hadn't understood the diversity and complexity of ministry.
The most enlightening part of the morning, though, was the break, when the youngsters left for a while and the adults talked together. A number of the adults had searching questions for me, as well as some compliments about the profile of this congregation in the community.
Sadly, the school community has been rocked by bereavement this week.
And folk simply wanted to talk.
How to sum up Christian faith and, in particular, hope, in just a few minutes?
Fortunately that wasn't necessary.
Just being there was.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
It's fascinating how the meaning of words change subtly with time and usage.
While "gatekeeper", according to Wikipedia, traditionally meant someone who controls access to something, like a city gate, for instance, it has been purloined as a metaphorical term assigned to those who decide whether a particular message can be distributed by mass media.
Gatekeepers today, if understood in this sense, exert considerable power and control and, it has to be said, could easily skew our world perception.
Gatekeeping seems to be a role that can easily be abused.
Which seems a polar opposite to the gatekeeping of which we read in the gospel today: The gatekeeper who protects the sheep in the fold.
The history of the church, it has to be said, reveals differing understandings of the tasks of Gatekeepers in different times and places.
For instance, the gatekeepers who once controlled who could read Holy Scriptures and what language worship could be conducted in.
And if folk couldn't understand the language, so much the better - that would prevent a lowering of standards. And it meant that only the learned could interpret Gods word.
Surely a recipe for abuse and corruption.
The Gatekeepers who drew up the rules and regulations of who could belong to particular Christian communities and what the rites and obligations of admission would be.
Gatekeepers have, through the ages, held considerable power, keeping undesirables from participating in the body of Christ.
But, of course, Gatekeeping is not just a historical phenomenon.
Still, today, there are those who would happily deny access to community for all sorts of reasons, many of them arbitrary.
Even if we don't articulate our exclusion policies today, still they exist.
And still they are pretty obvious to those who try to gain entry.
We may not be wholly exclusive.
We may perceive of ourselves as welcoming.
But it is the unwritten rules that are just as off putting for those who don't yet belong.
Our rituals and traditions that we see no need to explain.
Our cliques and our customs that we see no need to expand.
Gatekeeping that results in exclusion seems to be a particular past time of the Christian community.
Today, I'd like to reclaim the term of Gatekeeper.
Restore it to its positive aspect.
While Gatekeepers can, of course, keep folk out, they can also invite folk in.
Gatekeepers can be at work encouraging others to come and explore community together.
Gatekeepers can be the folk engaged in inviting others to step into faith.
In the passage from Acts we read an account of the early Christian Community devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Clearly this was a community that aroused the interest of those around. That attracted folk and inspired them to become involved.
A community that invited folk in, to pitch in their lot and explore faith together.
We have ample opportunity to do that today.
To catch folks attention.
To invite them in.
To journey together in the exploration of faith.
I regularly meet folk in this community who are interested in what we are doing.
Whose curiosity is aroused by the way we do things, by the activity they see here, be it our coming together to celebrate times and seasons or our coming together to mourn a loved one.
People notice and they pass comment.
They are curious about our life together.
Do we have the desire and the confidence to invite them to join us on the journey?
Does this community of faith have the space and the will to embrace the wider community, a community that is hurting, a community that is bewildered and seeking answers just as we are?
Can we who are gatekeepers be the kind who welcome rather than repel those who are seeking a safe space to explore the mysteries of life?
Jesus said: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
As we struggle to believe these words in the midst of all that life throws at us, are we willing to be joined by others in that struggle?
Is the glimmer of hope, however faint, that we have, enough to share with others, enough to light the way to the Light of the world who comes to bring us not just life but abundant life.
Let's believe today that the hope that we have is enough.
God honours our honesty when we struggle, carries us when we need to be carried and encourages us to share with others whatever we have.
May we be known as the Gatekeepers who create a safe and comforting space for others to come and find abundant life.
Thanks be to God.