This past Sunday I preached about Jesus as the gate. We so often think of him as the Good Shepherd that we gloss right over the dominant metaphor in John 10: 1-10 where twice he says: I am the gate.
I tried (and am not sure I succeeded) to emphasis a generosity at the heart of Jesus' life. He puts himself in healing relationship with people before before he demands belief. Jesus as the gate means that it is through relationship with him - and not through correct doctrine or particular actions - that we find our security and our life.
Thus as his followers, we do the works of love he calls for (feeding the poor; caring for the widow and orphan; forgiving and being forgiven) without an ulterior motive of "saving people," trusting that if we have brought people to relationship with God's grace through our loving actions, we have in some way brought them to Jesus.
My hunch is that one reason we liberal Christians ignore the gate metaphor in favor of the shepherd stuff because Jesus as a gate sounds exclusive. A gate closes some people out. I preached that when we think of Jesus as a gate, we should make sure we're not thinking of him as the bouncer - looking to check for the ink stamp on the hand and says we paid or the baptismal credential in the wallet.
I'm not positive I like how I worked that out. I feel like I just got launched on a longer journey to think and learn more about a radical inclusiveness that can lie at the heart of a deep belief in Jesus as the one savior of the world. It's part of the heaven/hell discussion we had in confirmation a few months ago.
The basic question that goes something like this: Do you have to believe in Jesus to be saved? When I hear that, I want to know two things: What do you mean by believe and what do you mean by saved.
Lately questions of inclusiveness and exclusivity - in and out - have been getting renewed attention in evangelical circles because of Rob Bell's newest book: "Love Wins."
I haven't read the book, but after I preached on Sunday, I came home and read a review of it in The Christian Century by Peter Marty. It captured very perfectly what I was trying to say in my sermon (even used the bouncer metaphor - and here I was thinking I was original!) . It made me glad to think that Bell, Marty, and so many other great Jesus-lovers have reached a point of inclusiveness re: salvation that they find consistent with Scripture and tradition. It allows for generosity, humility and mystery to pervade the heart of our faith.
I will read Bell's book - maybe some in our congregation will join me? And I will hope for now that What Peter Marty says about Bell in the article could also apply to me:
Charging Bell with being a universalist doesn't work. Not only does the idea never appear in the book, nothing could be less applicable to somebody with Bell's own passionate faith in Jesus Christ. He simply refuses to limit how far Christ's redemptive love can reach.