The very first year I was at Shepherd of the Valley, I received a letter from Saint Philip.
Phil Ause, our faithful friend it was my privilege to commend into God’s eternal
care two years ago, was not happy about the gates to the small north parking lot being locked during preschool hours.
In the spirit of Moses, he delivered a ten point list.
One of them was this prophetic insight: A subtle message of locked gates and
doors is we are a closed group and you are not welcome.
This is not helpful for obtaining new members and students.
Within a year, we became a Reconciling in Christ congregation and passed the
welcome statement now printed each week on the front of the bulletin.
It begins, We welcome everyone; it concludes, Our doors are open to you.
Yet we’re still locking the gates.
That, of course, is a sadly necessary capitulation to a dangerous world full of school
shooters, pedophiles, and other children of God so broken by life that they make
disastrous choices that transmit their pain to vulnerable children.
Locking gates is part of the vigilance of caring for our precious preschoolers who cannot
But locked gates come with a price, as Saint Philip pointed out.
They establish a chasm between in and out.
They provide a visual reinforcement of the comforting lie that delineates us and them.
Healthy boundaries have an insidious way of calcifying into hardened borders.
The tragedy of this is on full display in Jesus’ explosive parable about Lazarus and his
rich, anonymous neighbor.
No connection is ever made, on either side of death or fortune.
The rich man never learns to see Lazarus as his brother, even though it is clear they share the same father.
Lazarus in agony and Lazarus in glory is always on the other side of a gate that will not
open. My doors are closed to you.
Today I will be handing over my keys.
I can no longer open the doors or the gates.
I am returning and entrusting that vital ministry to you.
After we celebrate and say goodbye, I will drive away.
Perhaps you will be standing at the gates, bidding me farewell, hopefully with a wave
instead of some other gesture.
When I disappear, stay by the gate for a minute.
What do you see?
Whom do you see?
Is Shepherd of the Valley truly open to what is on the other side of those gates?
I believe, with gratitude to God, that the answer is yes—at least much more of a yes than
when you first flung open the doors to welcome me as your new pastor.
The ministry of the mission outreach team has blossomed: we have tied blankets,
collected food and socks, donated tiny homes, assembled portable toiletry kits,
supported Adore-LA and served at Central … among other acts of care.
We have become a Reconciling in Christ congregation, specifically welcoming people of
any and every sexual orientation and gender identity.
Our preschool has grown, shriveled during covid, and grown again.
We have welcomed public servants counting the homeless, voters, and school protestors who needed a restroom.
We have joined the Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish and begun working in partnership with
our siblings in Christ at St. Luke, Woodland Hills.
And the Living the Resurrection team is pivoting into a process that will lead Shepherd of
the Valley beyond this campus into even more intentional listening and
engagement with West Hills and the surrounding community.
Our gates and our hearts are trending open, and I applaud your compassion and courage
in moving that direction and making welcome happen.
Please, keep that up.
Not only because Lazarus needs you.
You also need Lazarus.
You see, in spite of Abraham’s skepticism, Jesus tried it.
He tried coming back from the dead to get people’s attention.
He crossed the uncrossable chasm at the cross.
The author of Ephesians explains: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were
far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and broken down the
dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.\
And Matthew makes clear that Christ extends this calling to his church, and the gates of
Hades will not prevail against it.
Following Christ means breaching closed gates.
It means breaking through to the other side—to the lost, the desperate, the needy,
the nameless—breaking through to reach that poor soul who is alone with his purple and fear.
Because Christ starts on the Lazarus side of the gate.
Christ is poor and hungry and sick, with no place to lay his head.
The church’s greatest preacher—not me, St. John Chysostom—said it powerfully: If you
cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the
Shepherd of the Valley, I love you, and someday I want to see you in glory.
So cozy up to your meal ticket.
Keep getting to know Lazarus.
Keep getting to know those on the other side of your gates.
Keep getting to know your neighbors, especially those who have been thrown to the dogs.
Because they are where your Savior lives.