Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd and Confirmation Sunday John 10:1-10 – Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
My wife and I have a poster at the parsonage. It’s called “The Doors of Bergen.” We actually got it in Bergen, Norway. You can find similar posters made in various cities. For instance, we recently saw a poster called “The Doors of Rochester.” On the poster are pictures of 25 doors. Some of them are rather elaborate, some are plain, some are colorful, some are hideous. But put them together in a poster and they are just adorable.
Today we are talking about a door, but this door is a person. Jesus tells us that he is the door, the gate that lets us into green pastures. Jesus paints an interesting picture for us. There is a sheepfold, a corral, where the sheep are kept safe at night. There’s a gate through which the shepherds enter to gather their sheep and lead them to pasture. There’s a gatekeeper watching over all the sheep. Then there are thieves and robbers who try to sneak under the fence or over it. All they want to do is to kill the sheep or steal them. Now when the true shepherd enters the gate he calls his sheep and they come running because they recognize his voice. The other sheep who don’t belong to him won’t follow him because sheep know the voice of their shepherd, and he is the only one they will follow.
The point of all this is that we should be like sheep and follow our good Shepherd. But it’s not at all obvious who we are going to follow in life. There are plenty of influences out there promising all kinds of wonderful things, promising happiness and success and pleasure. Whose voice are you going to follow? Whose promises are you going to believe? There are plenty of temptations to follow, but in the end, Jesus says, their way is only death and destruction.
Today Jesus invites us to follow him, because it is in following Jesus that we discover abundant life.
As I was thinking about this I remembered the story of Pinnochio. How many of you know that story? Pinocchio is a little wooden puppet whose creator, Jipeto, wishes him to be real. A fairy comes to make his wish come true. She gives life to Pinocchio and says to him. “Pinocchio, I have given you life because tonight Jipeto wished for a real boy.” “Am I a real boy?” Pinocchio asked. “No Pinocchio,” the fairy replied. “To make Jipeto’s wish come true will be entirely up to you. Prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy. You must learn to choose between right and wrong. Your conscience will tell you.” “What’s a conscience?” Pinocchio asked. Suddenly Jiminy Cricket appears and says, “I’ll tell you. A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to.” Then the fairy gives Jiminy Cricket the job of being Pinocchio’s conscience, and she says, “I dub you Pinocchio’s conscience, Lord and high keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, counselor in moments of temptation, and guide along the straight and narrow path.”
It doesn’t take long before Pinocchio runs into temptation. Instead of going to school he’s tempted to take the easy road to success- the theater, with bright lights, music, applause, and fame. After learning his lesson there, he’s tempted again, this time to go to pleasure island,
the place for care-free boys where every day is a holiday, and where being bad is a lot of fun. But Pinocchio discovers again that these are empty promises and almost makes a jackass out of himself- literally. Jiminy, his conscience, helps him just in time and they take the only way off the island, jumping off the cliff and into the ocean. Finally, at the end of the movie Pinocchio does prove himself to be brave and unselfish, and becomes a real boy.
I want you to think of Pinnochio jumping into the ocean as a kind of baptismal image. In baptism, God makes promises to us. When we affirm our baptism, we make promises to God. There is a part of the baptismal service when the pastor asks the parents to confess their faith. I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the Church, the faith in which we baptize. Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all of his empty promises? Empty promises are exactly what Pinocchio was tempted with. Empty promises are what we are all tempted with in life. When we give in to those empty promises, we get to the end of life without anything bigger to give us meaning and purpose. We just live to satisfy our own desires. And sometimes those desires can get us into real trouble. It’s like Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that you might have life, life abundantly.” When we follow Jesus, we find abundant life.
Today, our confirmands are saying yes to God, saying yes to the grace of God given in their baptism. It is a milestone in their lives. But affirming our baptism is something that we should all do again and again throughout our lives. Martin Luther said that every day we should remember our baptism, say yes to God and no to sin.
Pinnochio is a morality story. The message is that when you behave and learn to be kind and unselfish, you become real. I think my only argument with this story is that as Christians we don’t become real by behaving. We are made real by God in the waters of baptism. We are children of God whether we behave or not. That is a gift of grace. That grace has the power to change us from within. As we follow Jesus throughout our lives, his grace changes us. We become more kind and unselfish.
Today our confirmands remember their baptism. But this is a reminder to all of us to remember our baptism each day and follow Jesus. Jesus is the gate, the door that leads to abundant life. His promises are trustworthy and true. I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.