Who’s watching the back door?
John 10:1-10

In these days of social networking via computers we are subjected to a vast array of messages and requests that may or may not be legitimate.  In the past we would receive unsolicited emails from individuals or companies who would lure us to their websites so that they could gain our information or get us to download some malicious file that would corrupt our computer.  If you’ve had a computer for more than a year there’s a fairly high chance that you’ve picked up some form of virus or malware that has made your life just a little difficult.

These programs are designed to get in the back door of our systems and wreak havoc.  Now with social networking there are crafty individuals who write programs that cause messages to appear like they have come from a friend and then steal your information or just become an all-round nuisance.  I would have about five a week appear on my facebook page or inbox encouraging me to click a link and take a look at something or other, there was even one during the week that said I needed to click the link to disable it, which for the gullible amongst us meant that it would be further spread.  These people are predators masquerading as friends in order to gain our trust and get entry into our world through a side or back door.

What’s the result of this?  We start to distrust legitimate and genuine emails and social networking posts; they undermine our faith in the system and in our friends and neighbours.  Now all this might sound a bit alien to some of you but for more and more of us it is a genuine concern.  For those who are not tech savvy it means lots of trips to the computer doctor to have your machine repaired and for others it causes extra work or even embarrassment when rogue programs start spamming your friends with foul language or sentiments that are not really from you.
Now some of you are also saying to yourselves, “Why on earth is he talking to us about all of this computer stuff, what’s that got to do with the price of eggs?”  Well I’m glad you asked.

Jesus used his analogy of the sheepfold to explain to his listeners that their pious works wouldn’t get them to heaven; I wanted to use the computer analogy to bring it into our more modern context.  I haven’t seen many sheep around here, there are a few alpacas up the road and some cows and horses, but not many sheep, so it makes the sheepfold a little more difficult to understand, although many of you have had some experience with sheep along your journey.

Jesus’ listeners fully understood the concept of the sheepfold that was used to keep the flock safe at night, away from the dangers of lions and other not-so-friendly creatures.  If someone wanted to steal some sheep or hurt them in any way they would have to enter through another way, by climbing the fence for example, because the shepherd would be keeping them safe by guarding the gate to the fold.

Jesus explanation, which his hearers still failed to understand, was to describe the way into the kingdom of God, into heaven.  They were certain that their good works and knowledge would win them favour with God and as a result gain them salvation.  In fact the only way to do that is directly through Jesus.  As he says more directly in our reading for next Sunday, he is the way and the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through him.  In today’s reading though he explains his analogy, “I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly.  He protects and guides and strengthens us, he enables us to function in life and gives us access to the kingdom of God, through his death and resurrection.

To go back to my analogy, Jesus is for us like antivirus software, he is active all the time, he protects us from attacks that come our way, when malicious software tries to come in through the back door we are protected.  This is where my analogy falls down a little though.  Even the best antivirus software around doesn’t protect us from every virus, the people who write the viruses are always trying to outsmart the antivirus people, they target the bigger companies to make them look bad, that is part of their challenge.

And when they succeed, our computers perform slower, they do things they shouldn’t do or don’t do things that they should.  They are less than effective and make life difficult for us, but when they are repaired, the viruses and Trojans cleaned away and they are restored to full health they operate well, you could say they are living their life abundantly.  We are not really that different, when the attacks come in from the back or side door from the evil one, we don’t operate well either, we are not being led beside still waters, we are being inundated by a storm that rages around us, we can’t function the way we want to, we can’t do the things we would like to be doing and we might even do things we shouldn’t.

We need to be able to recognise these attacks and ward them off in the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is always on guard for us.  He is there to protect us from all harm and danger, he has restored us to full working order to live in his kingdom and for life eternal. 

The best way to prevent malicious software attacks is to only open things from a known source, someone who is trusted and computer savvy, who won’t be fooled by hackers and virus writers.  The best way to prevent attack in our own lives is to know Jesus, the one who came that you may have life and have it abundantly.  He is your gate to the kingdom and abundant life, a life where even though things might not go your way, he is there with you to call your name and guide you through, to be the best that you can be in his name, and be restored to holiness through him.

Amen.