Jesus makes a bold, but for those of us who have been following Jesus’ story, unsurprising claim: that Jesus is the gate and those who come to know this will find their way in and also their way out to green pasture. To verdant new life. Jesus makes this assertion on the heels of the crowd gathered around him once he had been taken by the authorities; the crowd around him choosing to use the annual Passover get-out-of-jail-free-card to set free Barabbas the bandit instead of him. And crying out for his crucifixion. So, not surprisingly, Jesus uses the illustration of the bandit and the shepherd, and shares how the bandit is the one who leads us astray from our Shepherd. But our Shepherd is the one who makes possible our coming in and our going out, that is to say that the Shepherd is the one who makes possible a fluid transition between discovering and cultivating a verdant inner life and the expression of this inner life in how we live in the outer world.

Yes, Jesus who has been risen from the dead, Jesus the risen Savior at the center of our lives makes the green grass grow and makes possible the health and healing that can give rise to individuals with the capacity to found verdant communities like the one we hear about in our first reading from Acts today, where everyone was gathered and shared their possessions in abundance, not just for the sake of their newly forming Christian community, but for the sake of the feeding of all those with whom the community came in contact in the world who had need. This is what is possible when, with God’s help, we choose to develop and recognize that our core being takes its deepest breath and receives new life again and again from Jesus who is Savior Life Abundant, the great Good Shepherd who knows the sheep and seeks to facilitate our going in and going out for the sake of life, for the sake of building up good and verdant life for ourselves and for the communities and world of which we are a part.

There are so many things that can lead us astray, take us off course in this life, as people, and as communities!

You may have heard that Jerry Springer died this week. Jerry Springer was the originator of the sensational talk show genre, where guests - who would likely end up in conflict - were invited up on stage, and it was not unusual for fist fights to break out. One reporter who interviewed him over the years commented that unlike his talk show, Jerry Springer himself seemed like a pretty nice guy. Jerry Springer, when asked, admitted that his talk show was “really stupid.” I don’t think I ever saw more than one episode, but I do remember there was a fist fight, and I do remember the way that the Jerry Springer talk show, which was intended to bring out the worst in humanity – was glorifying these sad stories for the sake of other humans being entertained, and how this gave rise to more sensational talk shows.

And then, of course, we’ve seen the development over the years of sensational news media – offering aggressive commentary to satiate the never-stopping 24-hour news cycle – people’s opinions intended as often as not to incite conflict – being offered as though they were facts. And then in the late 1980s there came “reality TV shows” that bear no resemblance to reality, but which also draw more viewers when there is more conflict, more problems, more tragedy. And into this mix has come social media where all too often there has also been too much mean content that is again intended to incite conflict and increase views and advertising and money. Maybe it is no surprise that we ended up with one of the largest media outlets in the world stating completely false claims about election fraud that have stoked further falsehoods. Maybe they were eventually taken to court, but so much damage had already been done.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with television or media or social media or the news. We could make a hefty list of ways that television and media and social media and the news, real news – that these tools have been and are utilized for the good. Yet all too often more conflict through more breaking down of others means more views, more advertisers, and more money, and even pretty nice guys like Jerry Springer, give in to the temptation to encourage that which breaks down others for the sake of more views, more advertisers, and more money.

I’m not sure there are many more pernicious forms of evil than those that parade as entertainment and yet exist only because of the people whose lives and situations are being exploited. In my mind’s eye I see the Roman stadiums with prisoners made to fight one another juxtaposed with one of these television audiences sitting in tiered seating viewing the stage, cheering on the spectacle of destruction. Might remind us of the crowd crying for Jesus who had done no wrong to be crucified. And for the bandit to go free.

I wonder if one way that we can spot evil is by recognizing that it only breaks down, evil in all its forms and disguises, only destroys and takes apart, it does not build up for the good and for the many. For this reason, that evil was and is present and humanity could not and cannot free ourselves, Jesus chose to become human and to die and to rise so that we might have new life. This is what we gather to celebrate and give thanks to God for each week, and especially during the Easter season. That we are not left alone to be led astray, but have a Shepherd who also makes it possible for us to pass through the gate from the places of brokenness and sin into safety and renewal. And then makes it possible for us to work from that place of center out into the world so as to bring a taste of the verdant, life-giving hope we have experienced to those who have not yet experienced it.

For while there are so many things that can lead us astray and take us off course in this life as people, and as communities, and world, there is a loving God and our merciful Savior who are always trying to help us rediscover our center, came back through the gate to home base so to say, to our core selves, where of course we are held in love and grace by the Good Shepherd who is Jesus. And then, yes, because we are not only a people who are saved and being saved, but a people being sent, we go into the world and our lives looking for how we might live in a way that gives glory and praise and honor to God by building up others and this world for the good.

Social Media was what connected one of my aunts and uncles with people they had known in Kenya years ago, and it was how they learned of a courageous band of Kenyans to start an orphanage and school for children who had lost one or both parents to Aids. This reconnection led to the founding of Crossroad Springs and hundreds, now thousands of children being given a second chance. And the tagline of Crossroad Springs is “Feed the child, Heal the Nation.” For when God’s healing comes for any of us individually, it potentially ripples out to be healing for the communities and countries and world of which we are a part.

It was television that welcomed generations of children into the world of Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where these children many times encountered diversity and kindness and learning about others for the sake of community being built up in a way that their day-to-day worlds outside of television did not yet reflect. And it was television that first gave many people their up-close view of war in photos and film, causing a different level of outrage and efforts to build peace. The same is true as media helps people encounter the realities of Climate Disruption and its terrible effects on nature, wildlife, and ironically humanity who are the cause of it, again trying to mobilize the best parts of who we are to take action that leads to making a difference for the better.

The powerful tools of media can be used for good or ill. Our lives can be used for good or ill. And we need deep moral centers and practices and spaces that renew us in our clarity of who we are and what we are called to be about in this life. For us as Christians, that is to be signs of the resurrection! Signs of new life. Our hearts and spirits renewed, our bodies and minds activated and our whole being centered, being re-centered again and again by Christ who is the gate that not only invites in for renewal, but is opened outward that we might participate in the resurrection work Christ intends for the whole world. Amen.