Matthew 16: 13-20 (NRSV) 13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Sometimes we just avoid this passage in the church, because it is connected to some difficult and rather embarrassing times in our history as the church of Jesus Christ. (under statement alert!) It is verses 18-19 of this passage that the Roman Catholic Church uses to claim authority and apostolic succession for the papacy. The doctrine of apostolic succession says that St. Peter, as Roman Catholics know him, was the first Bishop or Pope in the church and that he has been succeeded by an unbroken chain of MEN who have taken up the position of authority at the end of the reign of the one before him
In an obvious over simplification of the issues, the protestant church (that is Christians who align themselves with denominations that were formed in protest of what they believed to be abuses of authority in the Catholic church during the Reformation and beyond)…the protestant church denies papal authority and apostolic succession and understands Peter in this passage to be a stand-in for the church as a whole. The only problem with that is that there was technically no “church” at the time that Jesus is said to have made this proclamation. In addition to the different understanding of Jesus’ proclamation in this passage, Protestants have also often claimed that the apostolic succession was broken at some point during the Middle Ages.
This disagreement, which may seem petty and inconsequential to us today, has claimed literally tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of lives in church heresy trials, crusades, inquisitions, and wars dedicated to converting the infidel to a faith that was “true”. Lest we think that we can point to “them” as the guilty ones, these events were initiated and perpetuated by both sides.
So, let that soak in for a moment. People who profess deep and life changing faith in Jesus Christ, use that profession of faith as their sole motivation to attack, maim, torture, and finally kill, other human beings who profess deep and life changing faith in Jesus Christ as represented by a different group of teachers and a different set of doctrine.
In my second grave understatement of the day, I might call this adventures in missing the point.
Even with differing views on guns, war, and national and individual defense, I hope we can all acknowledge, in an age where people wear bracelets and t-shirts with the letters WWJD (what would Jesus do) that if someone asked the question Who would Jesus Kill (WWJK)? The answer would be emphatically NO ONE. That’s another topic for another day though.
For today, let’s focus on Jesus’ question, perhaps imagining that we are the ones being asked to answer, and let’s consider the implications of our own confession of faith. Jesus knows that there are all kinds of opinions out there about who is he and what he came to do, and he asks the disciples to put aside all that other people have told them, and to answer from the depths of their own hearts “who do you say that I am”. It’s an important question, because who we say that Jesus is has everything to do with who we are willing to be at Jesus’ beckoning.
We who are a part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) likely affirm Peter’s answer, “you are the messiah (or the Christ), the son of the Living God.” That is, in fact, our only creed. Because, really, it’s enough. We don’t have to agree on anything else to be church together. There’s an old saying that has been attributed to many people in the history of the church that says “in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.” Our common affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God is our essential, and that which brings us unity. It is what calls us together to be the church and what sustains us in being church together.
If only being the church could always be easy, and we always knew the best ways to fulfill our personal and communal calling, that would be great! But the truth is that we often get lost somewhere in our own adventures in missing the point. And even when we’re not missing the point, we often get stuck trying to figure out where to go from here, especially in the midst of changing culture, shrinking budgets, and aging buildings. And sometimes, partly due to our fear of the unknown, we become paralyzed by those challenges that we can readily see, and fail to see the opportunities that lie beyond.
Sometimes in the church, we prop up the form of the institution to the peril of it’s function.
At the very beginning of my college career, I was an architecture student. This was a short-lived and highly unsuccessful endeavor, which also is a topic for another day. But there was one concept that I learned there that has always stuck with me, and it’s an idea that seems to be in keeping with the ministry and teachings of Jesus. Form follows function.
Louis Sullivan was one of the most influential architects to come out of the Chicago School of architecture in the late 1800s. He is often called the “father of the skyscraper” and the “prophet of modern architecture” and conceived the most famous phrase ever to come out of his profession, “form follows function” (or, more accurately, “form ever follows function”).
Sullivan was teacher and mentor to my architectural hero, Frank Lloyd Wright, who took the idea even further to suggest that, if done well, form and function are one. If Sullivan was the prophet of modern architecture, Wright was the sage of organic architecture. It sounds so 2016, but Wright first used the term in an article over a century ago in the August 1914 issue of Architectural Record. He wrote that “the ideal of an organic architecture… is a sentient, rational building that would owe its ‘style’ to the integrity with which it was individually fashioned to serve its particular purpose”
I know you didn’t come here for an architecture lesson, so bear with me for a minute and I’ll tell you why I think this matters in the church today. In fact I want to read a description of organic architecture and substitute the words architecture and building, with the word church…
· Organic church is church appropriate to time, place, and people
· Appropriate to time means a church that belongs to the era in which it is created, addresses contemporary life, social patterns and conditions, and employs available materials and new technological methods resourcefully and honestly.
· Appropriate to place means a church in harmony with its natural environment—a church that in its proportions, materials and design, belongs to its site or community.
· Appropriate to people means a humane church in human scale.
I think Jesus calls us to be an organic church, ministering to the people and the situations that we find in our midst. He calls us to walk outside our walls and to look at the landscape, both natural and human made, and to respond with Good News. He calls us to walk with and not stand against. He calls us to know and love our neighbors. He calls us to adapt to the world around us without letting go of the relationship with God that calls us together in the first place. Jesus calls us to live out our confession of faith, not just in word on Sundays, but in deed, every day of the week.
And to equip us for that work, he gives to us, like he gave to Peter, the keys to the kingdom. He gives us the power to make a difference in the very world in which we live and work every day. Just having faith is powerful. Speaking out about our faith is even more powerful. But to act out of our faith is the most powerful thing we can do as believers in a living God who came to earth as one of us, and gave his life, so that all might live.
So you and I, and people all over the world who profess their faith in the living God, made known to us in Jesus; we hold the keys. They aren’t keys to a pearly gate in a faraway heaven, where the imagined task may be to decide who is in and who is out. They are the keys to a realm of God right here among us, a kingdom place, that Jesus told us was already at hand. And we get the honor of using the keys to open wide the door of the church to welcome God’s people in.
Holding the keys to the kingdom means we have an incredible amount of power. And with power comes great responsibility. Listen again to these words of Jesus…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
That’s powerful, and a little intimidating.
What do we do with that power?
What do we do with these “keys”?
What if we, the church, believed Jesus. Not believed “in Jesus”, but believed Jesus?
What if we believed him when he said that the kingdom of heaven was among us, here, on earth, and that our task was to welcome in those who didn’t yet know they were invited?
What if we believed Jesus when he told us that we had the power to bind and loose, and that whatever we bind and loose here, is bound and loosed in heaven?
What if we could bind hunger, and loose food security?
What if we could bind sorrow, and loose joy?
What if we could bind oppression, and loose equality?
What if we could bind our self centeredness, and loose service to neighbor?
What if we could bind injustice, and loose God’s justice and righteousness?
What if we could bind violence, and loose the peace that Jesus taught?
What if we could bind guilt, and loose forgiveness?
What if we could bind spiritual apathy, and loose spiritual fulfillment in relationship with the living God?
What if we could bind fear and hate, and loose love and grace and mercy and all of those things that Jesus modeled for us?
What if we could bind darkness, and loose God’s overcoming light?
What if we could bind the sting of death, and loose the power of resurrection?
What if we believed it, when Jesus said it, and then we acted out of that belief? What a powerful force we would be for the Kingdom of God!
Jesus said it, we say we believe it, now let’s live into it!
May it be so, even today! In the name of our savior, Jesus the Christ, son of the living God. Amen!