At the Gate

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 6th of Second Month, 2022


Speaker: Sussie Ndanyi


Scripture: Genesis 28:10-17, NRSV




Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”


Jambo, Mirembe & Receive my warm greetings from whatever physical location you have joined us from.


I appreciate the Worship Committee for extending an invite to myself to share with you my faith, my experiences with my divine, within myself and my relationship with others, hoping that in this way, we encourage each other to remain steadfast on that narrow path.


Go ahead and extend a greeting to a friend this morning, send a text, wave into this little equitable box, of “Zoom world” we are a scattered community yet blended with technology, and after this session, I believe we will have more time to fellowship with each other. I would encourage each one of us today to intentionally make a phone call to someone you have not spoken to in a while.


And now, MAY THESE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THIS MEDITATION OF MY HEART BE PLEASING IN YOUR SIGHT, oh LORD MY ROCK AND MY REDEEMER. {PSALM 19:14).


I am grateful for the source that binds our spirits and hearts, this Source guided my steps from Nairobi Yearly Meeting in Kenya(NYM) to the Earlham School of Religion(ESR) & by extension into West Richmond Friends Church (WRF), where I have experienced Friendship. The strategic location to WRF, a walking distance from ESR is in such a way that you are the first recipient of International Quaker students and others coming in to join ESR who seek to be in community for worship. The rich International experience of your membership here enables you to receive us, dust us up and make sure we integrate into this foreign Culture. You have prepared me adequately for the extreme cold temperatures, offered meals, been patient with the distinct accent in language, and above all the joy we share in experiences, that deepen our interactions in meaningful ways.


I am a mother of three young adults, who nudged me to confidently leave them behind and come to ESR for study. I am the immediate former General Secretary of Nairobi Yearly Meeting, a duty I felt called to serve for 10 years in this way and enjoyed myself at it. The first female among the Kenyan Quakers to serve in this capacity and I am grateful for the USFW the women who started this outreach which grounded my spiritual practice, preparing me into leadership. Your giving in the various Quaker organizations like the Friends United Meeting (FUM), FWCC, USFW, QWSR, FTC, have enabled me to be here. I am a product of your giving into the Kenyan needs AND a lot more needs to be done, among my Quakers in Kenya.


I am excited at the privileged I have received to study at Earlham School of Religion and cannot wait to experience what GOD has in store for me at the end of this journey, as I draw my strength from the Quaker Values of equity, that the African Kenyan Woman can govern institutions when given an opportunity.


Enough of talking about my journey, I want to return to our theme today, that is relational to journeying and that is “at the gate”.


The questions I invite you to ponder with me are:

  1. Which Gate?

  2. Why specifically at the gate anyway?

In my country Kenya, we have a gate at every entrance into a building, be it a house, a public building, a church and they come in various shapes and sizes. Magnificent structures denote the affluence, the wealth and privilege that lie beyond the gate and on the other extreme scenario a makeshift barrier in form of a gate will reference the level of economic struggles one faces. (make reference to the picture on the bulletin today, wilderness beyond) I was surprised to see very few structures of gates here in Richmond and more shocked that public facilities, institutions, schools have no barriers/gates.


My desire today, is that we purpose to linger a little further, spend a little more time “At the Gate.” Listen, I said at the gate… not BEYOND the gate or THROUGH the gate but AT THE GATE.


This is the position of decision making.


As I had indicated earlier, in my country we have gates at every entry point, and at the gate we have an “ASKARI” a Swahili name for - a Security personnel. The role of these people who are armed with torch and a wooden club or baton is to wield off trespassers, they play the role of a check point. Many times, in order to have access to buildings, the askari needs to give you clearance. Therefore, at the gate to access services one would speak to the askari, depending on how the conversation goes, you either gain access into the building, or spend a lot of valuable time explaining yourself before any action is taken by the askari to open the gate for you. You have the option of giving up and turning back. More often than not the askari will judge you by your appearance, the car you are driving or lack of it… before opening the gate… yet… loaded with an attitude or enthusiastically open the gate or worse still shutting you out.


Gates are defensive in nature, not offensive. Gates do not attack, gates defend against. So when one finds themselves at the gate, what do you do?


Let me share with you an experienced that I had when visiting a patient in hospital past the designated visiting hours. I approached the gate with confidence with my mind fixed on spending time with my friend who was admitted in hospital, the ASKARI did not slow me down, maybe I would have passed for a doctor on call, but I believe my demeanor, my confidence in walking having fixed my mind and thoughts on my goal, I therefore accomplish my mission of visiting my friend past designated hours despite the presence of the askari at the gate.


A man stands before a gate seeking entry into the Law. The gate is open, but at its side is a gatekeeper who refuses his request to enter. The man uses every strategy that he can think of to gain the gatekeeper’s permission, but every attempt fails.


Alternatively, had the man simply strolled up to the gate without asking permission to enter, would the gatekeeper have stepped aside?


What we can say is this: entrances are complex; they can be simultaneously open and they can also be inaccessible. And there are portals that we are meant to enter, and yet we fail to do so, through a combination of factors within and beyond our control.Gates prevail when they prevent entrance or escape. Fortress gates, prevail when the enemy is kept out; prison gates prevail when the prisoner is kept in.


Why ask for the gates to be opened precisely at the moment that they are to be closed? We know that the gates must now close but we ask for a few more moments to be heard.

Perhaps we have been spiritual sleepwalkers, inattentive throughout the day to the open gates around us. It is only at day’s end when the gates begin to close that we open our eyes; it is only now that the gates are truly open for us. Are we too late? We pray that it not be so.


We stand at so many gates struggling to gain entry. Yet in those same moments we can be oblivious to other gates that open themselves to us, waiting for us to step through them. Maybe we are standing at the wrong gate. Maybe we need to open ourselves up and search for the gate that is meant for us.


I will further draw our attention to a great African leader, the late Nelson Mandela, and borrow his words when he said…


As I walked out of the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be a prisoner”


This leader received a realization when walking out of the door towards the gate in the year 1990… the realization at the gate was to leave his bitterness behind and walk towards freedom. We ALL know he later negotiated on behalf of the South African people to end apartheid, a racist political and social system that was in existence.


At that moment, AT THE GATE, he had a choice to hold onto his anger and bitterness, to seek revenge or let it go and seek for freedom in his heart and for his people. He chose to let go of anger and negotiate with the white rulers at that time and seek freedom.


Let us now turn our attention to the numerous gates offered in the Hebrew writings. Leviticus 3:2. One such gate is at the entrance to the tent of meeting where an offering of well-being was made by way of slaughtering an animal at the entrance/ the gate. At the entrance is translated at Mishkan-the dwelling place of divine glory. It is both an entry and a checkpoint. As a point of contact between humans and the divine well-being. It is the site of much of the sacrificial service that is to be done “before the Lord.” Yet the entrance also demarcates the restricted realm of the holy. Few are allowed beyond this point, and only to perform specific sacred tasks.


Here, we clearly are reminded of ancient traditional practices where the entrance defined the spaces where man could interact WITH the holy, where man needed specific actions done, like slaughtering animals as a way of sacrifice to get to those spaces.


Bringing our thoughts back to today’s text, that is Genesis 28:10-17. A very different narrative is told, that of Jacob at Bethel.


Jacob has just been sent away from home by his father -Isaac, against a backdrop of conflict with Esau his brother. Isaac pronounces a blessing over Jacob to be fruitful and increase in number until he become a community of peoples.


Jacob sets off from Beersheba and sets out to Harran, feeling blessed but alone, he knows where he is going, that is to his uncle Laban in Paddan Aram . I imagine he was alone, pondering how he will step into his new unfolding role. Remember he is running away from family conflict, sibling rivalry at its best.


Jacob encamps at Bethel for the night on his way to Harran. It is at this point that he receives a dream.


In his dream he sees both a ladder connecting heaven and earth and hears God speak to him. When he awakes, he proclaims, “Indeed, God is in this place and I did not know . . . this [p