Gate to MVP

Sermon from May 11, 2014
John 10: 1-10
St. Francis, Houston, Texas
St. Mark’s, Houston, Texas
Good Shepherd, Tomball, Texas

{click here for audio} https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sunday-homily-audio/id636157455?mt=2

As you all probably know, there is a lot out there on the internet, especially posted on social media.
However, there are really very few emails or posts that open up the gate to my emotions.

Yet last Tuesday, my son, John, pointed me to a video that did open up the gate to my emotions.
You see, last Tuesday, Kevin Durant was awarded as the Most Valuable Player in professional basketball.
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder was made MVP.

Now Kevin Durant’s acceptance speech as MVP was truly filled with humility and inspiration.
He admirably thanked each one of his teammates, recounting a personal story about how each fellow player had supported him to greatness.
Yet, as inspiring as this speech was from the most valuable player, none of these words opened the gate of my emotions.

Then Durant turned his attention to his mother, Wanda Pratt.
You could almost hear a pin drop in the media room.
Durant looked directly at his mom – and through his tears said:
“Mom, you were a single parent of two by time you were 21 years old.
Everyone told us we weren’t supposed to make it.”

Now my eyes begin watering and Durant continues:
“[Mom], you made us believe.
[You] kept us off the street.
Put clothes on our backs, food on the table.
When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate.
You sacrificed for us.
You’re the real MVP.”

durant

The floodgates of my emotions opened, as tears rolled down my cheeks.
Yet the gates of my emotions were not opened until Kevin Durant acknowledged the reality of living an abundant life:
That is, the sacrifice of his mother.

For the abundant life is not lived by making perfect free throws or by being the most valuable player in the NBA.
The abundant life is lived – when we pass through the gate of sacrifice, sacrifice for others.
The abundant life is lived – when we pass through the gate of the Cross.

Jesus proclaims:
“I am the gate for the sheep.”
Whoever enters by me will be saved.
I came that [you] may have life, and have [life] abundantly.”

My friends, Jesus is the gate.
And we know from later in the life of Jesus that the gate through which Jesus passes is the gate of the Cross, as he sacrifices his life for us.
And the gate to eternal and abundant life is through sacrifice, through the cross, through the grave.

Before I was elected as a bishop, I served as the rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Waco.
And four years ago, while I was the rector of St. Alban’s, one of the founding members of the congregation died during Holy Week.
So on Holy Saturday, on the day before Easter Day, we buried Lucille Saunders in Oakwood Cemetery, in a beautiful graveside service.

Before the graveside service began, Lucille’s casket sat perched above her open grave.
And before the graveside service began, two of Lucille’s great-grandsons, who must have been about 7 or 8 years old, kept wandering over to the edge of the grave.
These two little boys kept inching perilously close to the very edge of the hole that had been dug in the earth.
I noticed that these two little boys were peering down – and pointing excitedly into the hole in the ground.

So, partly out of fear for their safety, I saddled up to these two little boys, standing at the edge of the grave.
With great concern and with enormous theological curiosity, these little boys pointed into the grave.
And then they looked up at me and asked:

“Is this the way?
Is this the way that Mimi is going to get to heaven – down through this hole?”

Yes, yes, yes – that is exactly the way that Mimi is going to get to eternal life!
Because the gate to abundant life – is not up, but down:
Down into a hole, down into sacrifice, down into the watery grave of our baptism, down into the pain of our crosses.
And Jesus is the gate, the gate downward through the cross and into abundant and resurrected life.

Yet there are thieves and bandits who try to steal us sheep away from the gate to an abundant life.

Today we are confirming a bunch of people into this abundant life of Jesus.
We are confirming that Jesus is the gate.
And we are renouncing the thieves and bandits who try to snatch us sheep away.

For thieves and bandits are trying to fool us into believing that the gate to an abundant life is not through the gate of sacrifice.
Thieves and bandits deceive us into believing – that we will live an abundant life – once we are skinny enough and buff enough and rich enough and cool enough.
Thieves and bandits deceive us into believing – that we should skip out on Sunday school and on church – and focus instead on soccer and on gymnastics and on making grades that will get us into good colleges.
Thieves and bandits deceive us into believing – that we can work our way into abundant and eternal life – if only we could just be smarter and stronger and better and more perfect.
My sisters and brothers, thieves and bandits come to steal us away.

However we are confirming today that we sheep will not listen to those thieves and bandits.
We are confirming that we will listen to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is the gate to abundant life.
We are confirming today – that the gate to abundant life is not through perfection.
Rather, the gate to abundant life is through giving of ourselves, through loving each other, through sharing our pain, through sacrifice.

This morning, we are standing at the edge of the grave, asking:
Is this the way to abundant life, down into this hole in the ground?

Yes, yes, yes!
For abundant life is one of sacrifice and heartaches and sacrificial giving and downward mobility, down into the depths.
Because the Cross of Jesus – is the gate.

Kevin Durant’s mother put food on the table, even while she went hungry.
His mother kept her sons off the streets, keeping the thieves and bandits from stealing them away.
She gave her sons abundant life.
She loved and sacrificed for her sons.
Therefore, to Kevin Durant, she is the real MVP.

And Jesus puts food on this Table, feeding you with the bread of life.
Jesus keeps the thieves and bandits from stealing you away.
Jesus gives you abundant life.
Jesus loves you and has sacrificed for you.
Therefore, to us,
Jesus is
The real MVP.

AMEN.

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