Sermon – 08-23-20 – Proper 16 – Cycle A
Scriptures – Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 1:13-20
Sermon Title: “Who Has the Keys”
In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter that Peter is being given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Your might have seen cartoons that showed St. Peter standing at the gate of heaven with the authority to let people pass through or not.
Jesus seems to be talking about more than Peter being a gatekeeper from a list that he is holding in his hands. It seems that Jesus is giving Peter the authority to welcome or deny entrance to the earthly kingdom of God.
Before being given the keys, Jesus calls Peter the “rock” of the church. This is strange in that we usually think of Jesus being the rock or foundation of the church. It seems that Peter is being assigned the position of “lead disciple.” He shall get the church started. And for a while, Peter will decide who is welcome in the kingdom of God on earth.
Peter was originally called Simon. He was a fisherman. He became Simon Peter or just Peter in this passage. “Rock” and “Peter” are basically the same word in Aramaic, which was the popular form of Greek in the time of Jesus.
The three opportunities Peter had to use the keys were to accept Jews (Acts 2), and to accept Samaritans (Acts 8), then Gentiles (Acts 10). It seems that Peter got the church started in this giant way and then sort of faded from the scene but not before writing some letters, two of which are in our Bible. Do you know that Peter died on a cross but head-down? Talk about suffering and losing one’s life! We believe, of course, that Peter is in heaven and we may meet him one day.
I also expect to find my Jewish friends in heaven. I hope to meet Samaritans too. I think we will not be labeled in heaven. I think we will all be considered as children of God, regardless of background, regardless of skin color, regardless of bank accounts or social status we may have had on earth. There will be no low-income housing. If there are mansions, they will be open to everyone.
I don’t expect to see Peter standing at the gate. There will be no gate in my picture of heaven. What is your picture of heaven? If everyone will be equal in heaven, why should we use our God-given gifts on earth? Because we want to please God. God created us with certain gifts, certain talents. God wishes for us to use them in holy ways. The world will not help us in this endeavor. It is the Holy Spirit person of God who will help us. It is the Holy Spirit who will form us in certain communities. It is the Holy Spirit who will mold us by fitting us together like a puzzle. The more each of us uses our special talents, the more we will be like a well-tuned motor to glorify God..
I am always disappointed that Paul does not state more talents in his letters, in his exhortations to new Christians and to new churches. Let’s see where my list can take us. As I list talents that a church community needs, mentally check the ones that are already revealed in our Zion United Church of Christ in Womelsdorf. We may have all of these talents now. Think of persons who fit the description. Let’s see how this goes.
The church community needs people who are natural at unruffling feathers. The church community needs a person who cares about history; a person who is naturally good with detail; teachers, preachers, and prophets. A church community should be gifted with a healer. A healer?! We need healers who heal by the Holy Spirit, who know natural substances that heal; who have a gentle touch and a gentle tongue; not to take the place of doctors and science but to accompany science and doctors.
A church community needs leaders; people with sound ideas, who stay attuned to God in their daily walk; who use pleasant language; who know how to motivate followers and how to work with other leaders. A church community needs pray-ers. On the practical side, a church community needs a person who is passionate about cleaning and order. Also, a person who has a flair for quiet, but beautiful, non-cluttered decor is an asset. Definitely a church needs persons who care about repairs and structure.
Can an attitude be considered as a talent, a skill, a gift? What kind of attitudes are needed? An attitude that everyone is welcome is a good start. Right! So a questionable person walks through our door along with everyone else. What is questionable? Dirty, smelly clothes comes to mind, unwashed hair, dirty beard. We shrink in dismay. What shall we do? At that point, I would desperately wish that we had a shower and a washer and dryer and good soap.
Let’s try another questionable person. Brown or black skin or purple hair? How about a person whose life we know and we instantly put on our judge robes and our arrogant attitudes and say, “No way. God will not be pleased!” Do you remember the words of Jesus, “You who are without sin, shall cast the first stone!” Then again, what one person identifies as sin, another person would not identify as sin. Where does our church community lie in these dilemmas?
We are all sinners! Let’s think about our level of kindness, of being careful of our language, of deeds not done, of our tone of voice, of our patience level, of our encouragement practices, of our sacrifices for the good of someone else. Will Peter’s keys keep us out of the kingdom on earth and then the kingdom of heaven?
No! Peter’s keys opened the door to all races. Jesus opened the door to everyone by his death on the cross. That is what the cross is all about. We can wait until we are at death’s door to ask God for forgiveness and we would be welcome to cross the threshold. Or we can choose to ask forgiveness as we go. Each experience of forgiveness in our lives can bring us more deeply into the kingdom of God. Now, forgiveness is one thing. Being a useful part of the kingdom of God on earth is another thing.
That is why we need to pay attention to Paul in his letter to the Romans. We need to use our own forgiveness as a rock, as a foundation to serving God with the talents God has bestowed on us. Are we already doing this to the maximum or do we have room to grow? Amen