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Aug 27, 2017

On This Rock, The Keys to the Kingdom…Really?

On This Rock, The Keys to the Kingdom…Really?

Passage: Matthew 16:13-20

Speaker: Father Will Lowry

Series: All

Category: All

During my junior year of high school my parents decided to go out of town for an extended weekend. They had gone before, but only for a day or two days max. This time they would be gone for four full days. 

Before my parents left, they gave me the rules, and I answered them like I knew they wanted me to and said I would be good. However, in reality as soon as I found out they were going, I started planning a party. 

Just before my parents left, I found out that my cousin, who was 28 or so at the time, and was in town visiting my aunt, had agreed to stay a few extra days and keep an eye on things. 

The day my parents left my cousin stopped by to see me and after some brief chit chat he got to the point. “What time does the party start”, he asked? I was only a little bit surprised that he knew and asked. 

After a few seconds I casually said, “About eight o’clock.”

“Okay," he said. "I’ll be by about then."

And sure enough, he did show up. 

Now, let’s just say that this party was a success, at least for the time being. The next morning just as the sun had broken over the trees my cousin was back at the house and was waking me and those who stayed the night up. 

Very soon after, we were outside, lined up picking up the trash left over from the party that had been strewn about the yard and had actually made it over into the neighbors yard. 

And that was it. Nothing else, until my parents came home a few days later… For the moment, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what happened from there. 

In our Gospel story today Jesus and the disciples are in Caesarea Philippi, a place known for its worldliness and secularization. It had a large military presence and had a pluralistic population, it was a melting pot for people from all over the world. 

It was also a city that had a large center of worship dedicated to the god Pan. And those followers were greatly influenced by all of the fertility talk and mythological implications you might expect to be associated with Pan.

It was in this setting of pluralism, militarization, and sexuality that Jesus asked his questions to the disciples. To the first question, “Who do people say that I am?” he receives answers that are not surprising and almost sound rehearsed. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.

And then Jesus gets personal. “But who do you say that I am?”   

And Peter, who has sort of bumbled his way through things, get it right this time. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And his reward? The keys to the kingdom! 

Now, this is Peter Jesus is giving keys to. Peter! Whose track record is, frankly not very good. Peter! Who might as well have been as trustworthy as I was back during my junior year of high school. 

Peter! Who always talks before he thinks. The one who is constantly missing the point of all those parables Jesus tells. The one who in just a few more verses Jesus calls, “satan” for setting his mind on human things instead of heavenly/divine things. Peter! Who later will deny Jesus three times.

How does Jesus give the keys to the kingdom of heaven and build the church on someone as irresponsible as Peter?!

Clearly this authority given to Peter is not based on his being an excellent student or his unflappable loyalty, so what is it? 

Back at the beginning of the passage Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am”? Their responses, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah – their response seems to follow their own particular preferences – the faction they were a part of perhaps. 

Today, if asked, we might be tempted to answer – John Wesley, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or even Thomas Cranmer. 

But when Jesus gets personal, somehow, some unexpected way, Peter has the answer. 

It sounds like Peter gets a big time promotion for his answer too; if there were any doubt about his standing among the disciples, that is over now.

So what is it about Peter that gets him his new gig? What is it that Jesus is seeing that the rest of us might not? 

For one thing, Jesus is not responding to Peter’s particular strengths. He is responding to Peter’s declaration that Jesus is THE Messiah, the one sent by God giving us a path to be reconciled and united with the Holy One. 

It is not so much Peter’s character, but his witness, of who Jesus is. 

As I alluded to before, handing the keys of the kingdom over to Peter, or any one of us for that matter is a bit like leaving a teenager alone at home for a long weekend. You just kind of know something will run-a-muck. 

The temptation of the Church has always been to attempt to “shore up” its authority through external means, whether it be by doctrine, tradition, or experience. 

The authority given to Peter is not about Peter anymore than it is about John the Baptist, Elijah, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or an Archbishop, Pope, or a Presiding Bishop. Instead, it is about Peter’s testimony, which recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the one who comes bearing the Authority of the Father. 

The Church, the body of Christ, is only as strong or as fragile as each of us in our own faith. This Church exists daily in the midst of tension between power and powerlessness. 

I think how Presbyterian minister Jin S. Kim puts it makes a lot of sense. He asks, “Jesus questions each of us, ‘Who do you, say that I am?’ ‘What is your testimony of me?’ ‘What is your experience of the living God through my own witness and presence?’”   

Like Peter, OUR experience, OUR faith, OUR witness to Jesus’ presence in our lives is the ROCK on which the church has been founded and continues to stand. 

When my parents got home, I heard some words I never thought I’d hear my Dad say. My Mom was disappointed in me, which if you don’t know is worse than mad.

But, a few months later, after some of the disappointment and anger faded, crazy as it sounds, they left me at home by myself again. They loved me, and wanted to trust me even though I didn’t necessarily prove I deserved it. 

You see, God relates to the Church not like a coercive ruler, but like a loving parent who entrusts to a fragile and immature teenager the power to do right and wrong and to be faithful and sometimes to drift away. 

It is precisely that relationship, that bond that allows us to return to the righteousness of God. When we move past our particular political, theological, ethnic, and cultural loyalties we can then begin to speak truthfully about the impact of Jesus Christ in our lives. 

Gathered together, sharing the witness of Jesus Christ, we become one body – united to the Father.

This is the Rock on which the Church will go forward and the keys will be entrusted to. 

Amen.