Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sermon, Ss Peter & Paul 2014

El Greco - Saints Peter and Paul

Zechariah 4.1-6a,10b-14
Acts 12:1-11
Matthew 16:13-19

It’s always lovely to be given a present, all the more so if it’s a surprise. But sometimes surprise presents can be a little unexpected, and as we peel off the wrapping paper and smile and say thank you, inwardly we might be wondering “what on earth can I do with this?” 
Today Peter gets a surprise present. He has just correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah. And Jesus says to him, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you...”
What? What might Peter be expecting at this moment? He’s probably feeling quite chuffed with himself, he’s gone out on a limb to identify Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus has said, “well done! you’re right!” Some reward must be coming. But, as we find out later, Peter’s idea of the Messiah is the one that was quite common at the time: a military hero, a leader of Israel’s armies, conquering and driving out the occupying Romans. Not to mention putting the corrupt Temple elite in their place. 
So, I will give you, Peter - what? Charge of my army, perhaps. Squadrons of angels to command in the forthcoming battle. At least, a sword and a suit of armour. (Peter certainly thinks swords will be part of the Messiah project, as he will use one on the High Priest’s servant when Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.)
Well, it turns out the present is none of those things. Jesus says, I will give you - keys. The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. A curious gift for a project of conquest. Perhaps Peter is a little disappointed. But after all keys are useful, perhaps to lock up your prisoners, or the booty of war.
And that’s what keys are about, isn’t it? They are used to lock things up - things we don’t want stolen, doors to keep out (or in) people we want to be protected from. 
So Jesus says, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”, and so far that might be what Peter expects, with a gift of keys. “And whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” That is not so expected. Keys are not about loosing things, surely, but about locking things up?
In fact, if you think about it, keys only exist because of sin. If people didn’t steal, or act violently, or break into homes, there would be no need for keys at all. So the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven has keys is a bit problematic. There is no sin in the Kingdom of Heaven, by definition, because that Kingdom is the rule of God’s perfect justice and righteousness. So why does it have keys, which only exist because of sin?
The key (as it were) is that these are keys of loosing as much as binding. They are not about locking anyone away, but are about opening up the Kingdom, undoing the locks and bolts that keep us from entering. The keys of the Kingdom are about undoing sin. 
Therefore, they are keys that are only needed if you are outside the kingdom, wanting to come in. Inside the Kingdom, there are no keys at all. The keys are given to Peter to undo the bondage of sin. Once they have done their job they are no longer needed. They are keys that are meant to become obsolete. 
True, they are also keys of “binding” as well as “loosing”. But this, as Peter will discover, is about being given authority to serve, not to lord it over people. It is not the authority to shut people out, but to look after the good order of God’s people. This does need a certain amount of discipline, but it is discipline for the well being of the Church and the propagation of the gospel. The key of binding is not about shutting people out of the Kingdom, but about keeping the way in clear of obstacles.
So the keys that Peter receives are rather subversive keys. They are keys to open the Kingdom and enable everyone to enter in. They are keys that only exist on the outside of the Kingdom, and then are left behind as we enter. The keys exist because of sin, but they exist to undo sin, and we will leave them behind as we leave our sins behind.
What does this mean for us? 
It means, firstly, forgiveness, freely given. The bonds of sin are undone in the gift of the keys, freely given to the Church in the person of Peter. The Church has been entrusted with the task of declaring God’s love, mercy and forgiveness to a world so much in need, so that the world might leave its sins behind and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 
It follows that the Church is not the community of good people, but the community of forgiven people, set free from sin and rejoicing in God’s love and mercy. The Church is the forgiven and forgiving community that is entering the Kingdom of heaven. 
It means also that the Church has the power to serve, not to conquer. Triumphalism and oppression are constant temptations in the Church, and in some times and places have almost obscured the gospel vision. Peter himself will exemplify this in parts of the gospel story, with his violent reactions and his resistance to the path of suffering that Jesus the Messiah will follow. That the Church fails in this way is always a call to repentance and watchfulness. 
Thirdly, it means that sin is what we are leaving behind. Not just our individual sins but the whole way of living and thinking that requires keys: possessiveness, rivalry, desire for what other people have, violence and conflict. All these things require keys and locks, to control them, as long as we are in the world of sin. But as we are entering the Kingdom, we leave all that behind.
Entering the Kingdom means God’s righteousness, justice and love becoming the governing principle in our lives. It means renouncing our rivalrous desires and learning to live instead from our deepest and truest desire, the desire for God, who himself will satisfy us eternally with his boundless generosity and love. And the keys that Jesus gives open up the way into the Kingdom for Peter, for all the disciples, and for all of us.

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