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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
15 Pentecost - Proper 16
August 24, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
Keys  (holding  some  up)…  are  significant.   They  represent  much  more  than  
what  they  merely  have  the  ability  to  do  --  unlock  a  door,  start  an  engine.    A  
set  of  keys  can   bestow  a  rite  of  passage;  they  can  transmit  great  
responsibility  or  signify  the  changing  of  the  guard.  You  --  parents  out  there  --  
think  of  the  first  time  you  tossed  the  car-keys  to  your  eldest  child  after  he  or  
she  passed  the  driving  test.  That  was  probably  a  scary  moment.  There’s  power  
in  that  exchange,  from  parent  to  son  or  daughter,  handing  off  the  keys  to  the  
family  car  so  your  child  can  go  for  a  solo  drive.     Or  when  the  day  comes  
that  you  finally  retire,  or  maybe    just  leave  a  certain  job,  making  the  decision  
and  announcing  it  are  only  steps  along  the  way.  Nothing  seems  final  until  you  
hand-in  the  keys  to  your  office;  only  then  does  your  leaving  feel  official.      
Giving  someone  “the  keys…”   is  no  small  thing;  if  our  lives  were  a  movie,  this  
scene  would  be  accompanied  by  a  great  hush  and  a  weighty  pause  in-the-
action  to  mark  the  gravity  of  the  occasion.   

There  are  no  such  theatrics,  however,  in  today’s  Gospel  reading.   It  seem  as  
though  nobody  who  is  with  Jesus  in  today’s  story-from-Matthew  is  aware  such  
“keys”  exist   until,  suddenly,  Jesus  gives  them  to  Peter.  This  is  all  a  surprise,  
and  there’s  not  much  explanation  of  what  these  keys  are,  how  they  function,  
when  and  in  what  manner  they  should  be  used,  whether  there’s  a  rule-book  
we  might  follow…?   With  keys  as  important  as  these  you’d  think  we  might  get  
a  bit  more  instruction  on  how  to  use  them  properly  and  not  mess  things  up.   
Because  the  “keys  to  the  kingdom  of  heaven”  come  from  Peter  to  the   whole  
Church.   They’re  in  our  hands,  now.  /    Before  you  get  keys  to  a car,  you  learn  
to  drive;  before  anyone  gives  you  the  keys  to  an  office  you  demonstrate  that  
you’re  able  to  perform  the  job.    These  keys  are  far  more  important  that  car  
keys  or  office  keys.   Does  Jesus  really  know  what  he’s  doing,  giving  them  to  
Peter?  to  us?  

Back  maybe  4  months  ago  I  switched  purses  to  use  a  smaller,  cloth  purse  
that  I  have.   About  a  week  later,  I  lost  my  car  keys.  I  could  not  find  them  
anywhere.  My  apartment  is  not  big  and  I  searched  it  from  top  to  bottom  
several  times  over.  Finally  I  called  my  husband  – who  is  still  living  in  our  
home  in  Hickory,  North  Carolina  –  and  told  him  of  my  dilemma.  He  put  his  set  
of  keys  to  my  car  in  the  overnight  mail.   Of  course,  this  took  place  on  a  
Friday  evening,  so  his  set  of  keys  did  not  reach  me  until  Monday  at  noon.  I  
was  very  troubled  by  losing  my  keys.  I  couldn’t  imagine  where   they  had  gone.  
Sunday  evening  I  picked  up  that  cloth  purse  – which  I  had  emptied  several  
times –  and  my  hand  automatically  went  into  a  little  pocket  I  had  forgotten  
about  inside  the  purse.   There  were  my  car  keys.  I  felt  so  stupid.  // That’s  the  
thing  about  us  human  beings  --  even  when  we  don’t  mean  to  do  harm,  we  are  
careless  or  forgetful.  Our  minds  get  distracted  by  other  things,  sometimes  we  
have  a  bad  day  or  a  headache,  and  we  snap  at  somebody…  and  yet,   Jesus  
has  placed  the  keys  to  the  kingdom  in  our  hands.  

In  the  history  of  the  church  we  have  misunderstood  the  significance  of  these  
keys  in  both  directions.  On  the  one  hand  the  church  has  taken  too  much  
authority  from  Jesus  words,  and  thought  it  had  license  to  determine  who  was  
and  who  was  not  worthy  of  God’s  forgiveness  for  all  eternity.  During  those  
times  the  church  condemned  people  for  transgressing  its  rules  or  for  living  
outside  its  structure.  That  was  an  instance  of  over-reaching  our  authority,  of  
assuming  too  much  power  for  ourselves  in  Jesus’  name.   At  other  times,  
however,  the  church  has   not  under-estimated  its  authority  as  one  with  the  
“keys  to  the  kingdom  of  heaven.”   Instead  we  think  of  ourselves  a  nice  place  
to  worship  God,  to  gather  for  fellowship,   to  engage  with  others  in  helpful  
projects  for  humanity,  but  we  utterly  overlook  the  power  Christ  has  placed  in  
our  hands,  power  to  wound  and  power  to  heal.

“Whatever  you  bind  on  earth  will  be  bound  in  heaven  and  whatever  you  loose  
on  earth  will  be  loosed  in   heaven.”   We  needn’t   take  those  words  literally,  in  
the  sense  that  you  and  I  decide  who  receives  God’s  final  mercy  and  who  
does  not.  Certainly  that  decision  is  not  ours.  But  regarding  the  effect  that  our  
words,  our  actions  can  have  for  “binding”  people  here  on  earth - because  we  
are  “church” -  binding  people  so  that  they  feel  as  though  God  has  rejected  
them  in  heaven…  in  that  respect,  we  want  to  hear  Jesus’  words  clearly  and  
consider  them  carefully.   People  do  not  always  distinguish  between  what  we  
say  and  do-in-relation-to-them  and  what  God  has  to  say  about  them.    

The  congregation  accepted  Anna-Mae,   but  they  also  knew  she  drank  too  much  
and  that  when  she’d  been  drinking  she  did  not  communicate  well.  /  The  day  
she  searched  out  Father  Scott  for  some  counseling  was  during  a  very  
stressful  time  at  the  church.   Father  Scott  was  overloaded  with  work.  Anna-Mae  
had  been  drinking  and  Father  Scott  was  late  leaving  for  a  meeting.  She  began  
talking  about  her  situation,  but  nothing  she  said  made  any  sense.  The  Father  
really  needed  to  get  going  so  as  he  asked  her  to  try  once  more  to  tell him  
clearly  what  she  needed,  but  his  words  came  out  more  sharply  than  he  
intended.   Anna-Mae  was  stunned.  Because  he  was  her  priest  and  they  were  in  
the  church,  she  was  hurt  far  beyond  what  she  would  have  been  had  her  next-
door  neighbor  said  the  same  thing.   It  was  a  long  time  before  Anna-Mae  came  
back  to  church;  Father  Scott  and  a  few  members  had  to  work  to  heal  that  
wound.  

In  the  church  we  can  bind  people  with  misspoken  words,  with  unkind  
gestures,  or  with  perceived  slights   - some  that  were  never  intended  and  some  
that  happen  because  we  are  human.   But  regardless,  we  are  the  Church;  we  
represent  Jesus;  people  come  here  to  encounter   God.   We  sometimes  forget  
that,  as  “church,”  we  have  great  power,  great  responsibility.   Like  the  time  Dr.  
Young,  an  African-American  Lutheran  pastor  and  scholar,   spoke  at  a  Lutheran  
convention  in  Minnesota.    Afterwards  he  squeezed  onto  a  crowded  elevator  
with  others  from  the  meeting.  Traditionally,  if  you  don’t  know,  Lutheran  
heritage  is  German  and  Scandinavian…  so  on  the  elevator  people  were  
thanking  Dr. Young  for  his  inspiring  talk,  commenting  on  it’s  faithfulness  to  
Martin  Luther’s   teachings,  when  one  woman  joked  “now  if  you  just  learn  to  
like  Swedish  meatballs  you’ll  be  a  real  Lutheran.”    There  they  were,  stuffed  
into  this  elevator,  his  the  only  black  face  among  a  sea  of  white  faces  and  her  
joke  implied  that  for  him  to be  truly  Lutheran  he  had  to  become  Scandinavian.    
She  hadn’t  meant  to  single  him  out  or  to  make  him  feel  uncomfortable  or  to  
insult  his  heritage;  she  was  just  trying  to  be  funny.    

As  the  Church  we  have  much  more  power  than  we  realize  --  in  our  gestures,  
in  our  words,  in  the  way  we  witness  or  fail  to  witness  to  the  love  of  God  in  
Jesus  Christ.   We  make  blunders  without  ever  meaning  to,  causing  harm  to  
people  that  it’s  difficult  to  repair.   So  part  of  what  we  hear  in  Jesus’  words  to  
Peter  today   is  a  warning…  “I  give  you  the  keys  of  the  kingdom  of  heaven,  
and  whatever  you  bind  on  earth  will  be  bound  in  heaven…”   We  represent  
God,  more  than  we  might  understand,  even  in  this  very  secular  age,  and  our  
words,  our  attitudes,  our  actions  can  inflict  wounds  that  will  be  a  long  time  in  
healing.   We  need  to  take  care  with  what  we  say  and  how  we  say  it;  with  how  
we  interact  with  the  world.

But  that’s  not  all…   we  also  have  incredible  power  to  bless.  This  is  a  pretty  
secular  age  and  many  people  don’t  notice  the  church,  don’t  put  credence  in  
what  we  hold  dear,  in  the  truths  that  guide  our  lives.   By  giving  us  the  keys  
to  the  kingdom,  Jesus  has  left  with  us  the  awesome  responsibility  of  
unwrapping  our  treasures  before  others  and  showing  them  what  we  have  --  
these  things  that  are  so  precious  to  us…  liturgy,  ancient  prayers,  hymns,  Bible  
stories,  relationships  built  on  mutual  faith,  turning  to  God  in  the  full  knowledge  
that  we  ourselves  are  not  sufficient  but  that  God  gives  us  all  we  need…   
priceless  treasures.    Jesus  has  left  us  the  “keys  to  the  kingdom  of  heaven”  
so  that  we  can  share  the  gift  of  life  in  Christ  with  other  people.

A  story  on  the  radio  told  about  a  priest  who  had  recently  begun  to  serve  at  
an  inner-city  church.   Several  tough,  neighborhood  youths  had  been  breaking  
into  the  church  and  vandalizing  things  --  spraying  paint  on  the  pulpit  and  
lectern,  pulling  off  the  altar  linens  and  leaving  them  in  a heap,  throwing  
hymnals  around  the  room – writing  in   some  of  them,  smashing  altar  candles.   
The  priest  got  angry.   He  caught  one  of  the  boys  and  called  police.  As  things  
worked  out,  the  priest  developed  a  tenuous  relationship  with  this  boy,  then  a  
couple  of  the  others.  Their  punishment  was  to  clean  up  the  damage  they  had  
caused  and  to  do  community  service  for  that  church.   The  father  wasn’t  sure  
where  to  start  so  he  took  the  boys  into  the  nave  and  began  to  explain  to  
them  each  of  the  things  they  had  ruined  and  its  importance.   When  they  didn’t  
quite  understand,  they  might  ask  a  question.  He  supervised  them  as  they  
cleaned,  telling  them  the  significance  of  the  processional  cross  they  were  
polishing,  and  the  torches,  and  the  altar  Bible  lying  there.  Eventually  he   
showed  the  boys  how  to  carry  those  things  in  procession,  demanding  that  
they  do  so  with  reverence  and  dignity,  practicing  again  and  again  until  they  
got  it  right.  He  explained  Holy  Eucharist  and  taught  them  to  handle  the  
communion  ware  with  respect.  Things  went  on  like  this  for  months  until,  one  
day,  some  of  the  boys  joined  the  church.   They  became  acolytes  and  then  
servers  at  communion.     In  the  midst  of  what  was  intended  to  be  punishment,  
the  priest  opened  the  treasures  of  the  church  to  these  boys,  shared  with  them  
the  mysteries  of  faith,  and  God  revealed  his  Son  to  them.   It  changed  their  lives.

“…whatever  you  loose  on  earth  will  be  loosed  in  heaven,”  Jesus  said.   We  
have  wonders  to  share  with  other  people,  our  tradition,  our  worship,  the  “keys  
to  the  kingdom.”  -  Just  as  we  have  been  hungry  for  the  presence  of  God,  for  
the  assurance  of  God’s  love  and  the  support  of  a  strong  faith,  so  are  others  
hungry  for  what  we  have  received  through  Jesus  Christ.  We  have  these  to  
share  because  God  has  richly  blessed  us.   Someone  brought  us  into  God’s  
house,  helped  us  learn  the  liturgy,  encouraged  us  to  sing  the  hymns,  taught  
us  the  stories  of  God and  God’s  people  in  scripture.  We  are  able  to  rejoice  in  
because  someone  told  us  about  Jesus,  and  God  revealed  to  us  the  truth  --  
that  Jesus  is  our  Savior,  God’s  own  Son.   We  rejoice  today  because Jesus’  
love  and  lordship  is  revealed  to  us  again  in  every  song  we  sing;  his  presence  
is  here  in  our  gathering  with  friends  in  the  faith;  his  mercy  heals  us  when  we  
eat  at  his  table.       What  a  treasure  God  has  placed  in  our  hands;   may  God  
help  us  share  the  gift-of-life-in-Christ  with  others,  so  that  they,  too,  will  know  
the  joy  of  the  kingdom  of  heaven.                                        amen.
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20