Grace Presbyterian Church
May 3, 2020, Easter 4A (livestreaming)
The magazine Newsweek, on April 18, carried a report of a court order issued by a federal judge in Miami, blocking the sale of a so-called “Master Mineral Solution” being touted as a “cure” for the Covid-19 virus. This “solution” apparently consists of sodium chlorite, table salt, and a few other minerals. When combined with an “activator” (sold separately, of course) that consists of hydrochloric acid, the “solution” turns into chlorine dioxide.
Chlorine dioxide is a type of industrial bleach. In other words, that’s stronger than the stuff in your bottle of Clorox at home.
Yes, it’s galling enough that such a hoax is being perpetrated at all; more galling is the fact that the entity behind this hoax calls itself the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing (it’s based in Bradenton). One of the “church” websites offered the claim, both ethically and grammatically flawed, that “this should wipe it out this flu-like virus that many are being scared with its presence in this world.”
It’s not a shock to see a “church” or a “minister” or “evangelist” purport to have a cure that isn’t. There’s a substantial history of exactly that kind of thing, including the disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker – remember him? – who is now peddling a “Silver Solution” as a potential cure for the coronavirus. Again, it’s not new. But it does make me wonder, after time with today’s reading, about how easily swayed by fear so many people are, and how this passage might suggest that we are actually inferior to sheep when we behave that way.
Today’s teaching is actually a small chunk of a much larger story from John’s gospel, following chapter 9’s account of the healing of a man born blind and a controversy stirred up by a group of religious leaders following that healing, one which had ended with the healed man being thrown out of the synagogue after he had wondered why they had so much trouble with Jesus.
In chapter 10, Jesus is trying to teach his disciples in the wake of the incident, warning them against what he calls “thieves and bandits.” Jesus defines those “thieves and bandits” as “anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way.” In the real-life setting that informs this metaphor this is sensible enough; anyone looking to steal one of the sheep isn’t going to walk right up to the gate (and presumably right by the shepherd guarding the gate) and expect to be able to get away with it. Such a thief would need to rely on stealth, sneaking in and climbing over hopefully without the shepherd noticing.
How, then, does that translate to our own hearing and doing?
Part of the answer must necessarily be an accurate understanding of just what it means for Jesus to say (as the does twice in this passage) that he is the “gate” for the sheep. (Some translations may use the word “door” here, which is a good literal reading, but context points to “gate” – sheep don’t generally go through doors out in their fold.) Jesus supplies some of that throughout this reading (and its larger story of the healing of the man born blind), which is fairly detailed thanks to his disciples’ frequent habit of hearing Jesus’s teaching and … not getting it. And getting this right hinges very strongly on exactly what definition one uses for the word “saved” in verse 9, and what one understands of verse 10 and its talk of “abundant life.”
The “gate” of a sheepfold in such a time is, as suggested above, a security measure – a means of protecting one’s sheep from those thieves and bandits. This isn’t about the very common usage of “salvation” language in American Christianity in which being “saved” basically translates into having a “get out of Hell free card.” No, here the concept of being “saved” is much more elemental, as demonstrated in the healing of the man born blind; he was “saved” from his seemingly unending vulnerability to actual thieves and robbers, from the hopelessness visited upon the blind in his time and place.
Rather than being snatched away by thieves and predators, the sheep come through the gate – following the voice of their shepherd – and find safety and security, or good green pasture. Again, they can do this with a lot more confidence than we normally attribute to sheep because of that one attribute – they know their shepherd’s voice.
And that’s where it seems to break down for us. We profess to be followers of the Good Shepherd (that comes later in John 10), we recite that 23rd Psalm like a mantra, but we modern American Christians are too often and too easily swayed by the voices of the thieves and bandits, especially those with churchy-sounding titles. We grab for what looks like a quick fix rather than trusting in the God who has our interests at heart for the long haul.
We also have a skewed definition of “abundant life,” one that looks suspiciously like self-gratification more so than true abundance. We have a tunnel vision about that abundant life too – we make the thoroughly un-Christlike presumption that such abundant life is for me and not for us – singular instead of plural. We’re ready to bolt and run from the herd at the slightest provocation. We forget to be “us.” And in even the slightest time of trial, it’s too easy to slip into “I got mine, to heck with you.” You see that a lot right now.
Knowing the Good Shepherd’s voice comes partly of being together in the body (even in social isolation), hearing what Jesus said and what Jesus did and knowing that the voice of the Good Shepherd won’t lead you toward anything that doesn’t look like or sound like that. And that applies to “we,” not just “me.”
The abundant life of verse 10, then, is not something to be ordered online or downloaded in secret. It’s about being in the body of Christ (yes, even in quarantine), being in the sheepfold, following the shepherd to the good pasture and through the real gate. Our prayer, then, really needs to be as much about listening, and learning to know and to follow, the one true voice that calls us to the gate, and calls us to security, and calls us home.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #187, Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us; #541, God Be With You Till We Meet Again
 Asher Stockler, “Federal Judge halts sale of industrial bleach as Covid-19 cure from South Florida church,” Newsweek, 4/18/20 (accessed 5/2/20), https://www.newsweek.com/coronavirus-food-drug-administration-bleach-1498751
 Megan Flynn, “A disgraced televangelist promoted an alleged cure to coronavirus. Missouri is now suing him.” Washington Post, 3/11/20 (accessed 5/2/20), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/11/jim-bakker-coronavirus-cure/