ON JUNE 29th, 2008

Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Last Monday our Sexton, Homero, lost his keys – you can imagine what a worry it was for him and all the office staff. Flap would be an understatement of what everyone was going through! Homero has a key for every lock on our property – some of the locks even I don’t have keys for! So it was quite a consternation. And most of us have done that, haven’t we? At some stage we’ve lost our keys, and it’s one of the worst experiences we can have. Firstly we get angry! Secondly we wonder where we left them. Thirdly we realize we can’t get in to our house, or our car, or whatever. We feel lost and scared. We feel powerless. Keys give us power. I remember when I was a child we didn’t lock doors. My parents were both from country towns, and when i questioend him, my dad said: “If they want to get in, they’ll get in”. That is true – but there is no harm in making it difficult for them! And of course, we didn’t lock churches. Those days are long gone. I also remember when I was first ordained I would turn up at people’s door for a visit unannounced. Now you have to make an appointment, know their code, and speak into an intercom! I would imagine in the time of Jesus they didn’t have keys. So Jesus is talking about something more significant than a humble house key. That is revealed by what follows: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. And all this in context of the preceding verse: “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church”. Simon bar Jona becomes Peter, which means “Rock” – because this man, Peter, is the Rock on which Jesus will build his Church. And to help him be the Rock he is given the power of the keys. What does this mean? In the Old Testament, one of the names for the Messiah was “Key of David”. This implies the authority of David. He who has the keys, has the power. In this conversation Jesus firstly asks the apostles who do people say the Son of Man is. Son of Man is another term used for the messiah. Having got their answers, Jesus then asks them who do they say He is. Simon Peter immediately says “You are the Christ“. It is no coincidence that Jesus talks about keys, just after Peter declares “You are the Christ”. Jesus is connecting the Old Testament Messiah not just with himself, but with his Church. The Christ – the Key of David – promises this man Peter; that his Church will be built on him – who will be the Rock. And he will have the authority of the keys. But it is not the authority that King Herod enjoyed in his palace in Jerusalem. It is a spiritual authority, the authority to bind and loose. To bind and loose sins, and to impart forgiveness. I am sure that none of the apostles understood all this at that point in time. Even if they understood that Jesus was appointing Peter as their leader – they would soon be disillusioned by Peter’s denial of Jesus. Three times Peter declared that he didn’t even know Jesus. Peter, the Rock, became the man with feet of clay. That is when the power of the keys was shown. In that moment Peter identified with all of us. And after his Resurrection Jesus restored Peter in that moving occasion where three times he asked Peter “Do you love me?” Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times he was restored by declaring his love for Christ. Peter was acting out in his own transgression the power of the keys. In that moment Peter experienced the loosing of his sins – experiencing the gift of forgiveness. Even though Jesus had promised Peter this authority, he had to experience it first. On Easter night, Jesus appeared to the twelve and breathed on them saying: Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain, they are retained”. The authority to absolve sins was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. It is what the authorities used against him – for they could not accept he was the Son of God. Peter was promised a spiritual authority – the authority to pronounce the same forgiveness of sins that Jesus claimed. Today we celebrate the two great leaders of the Church, Peter and Paul. This feast tells us a number of truths: 1. Jesus established his Church to continue his mission.2. He founded it on people like you and I – sinners.3. He gave them authority to forgive sins – even though they were sinners.4. He left his Church Sacraments to enable us to be forgiven and to be strengthened. In our lives as Christians, we are part of the Apostolic Succession in the Church. As Episcopalians we claim that our bishops are the successors of the apostles through the laying-on of hands. But the Apostolic Succession is not a succession of hands – it is a succession of faith. The Catholic Faith which we profess as members of the Holy Catholic Church. Part of the authority given to Peter was to pass on the truth about Jesus Christ, to ensure that the Churc
h would be faithful to its apostolic foundation. Though some Episcopalians care to ignore it, we come from Rome. We are hewn from the Rock of Peter – the first bishop of Rome.
How ironic that today we celebrate Saint Peter & St Paul. In July the bishops of the Anglican Communion will meet in England at the Lambeth conference, which meets every ten years. Our own bishop will be attending. Recent actions of bishops of our Episcopal Church in America have created tensions. It is hard to say that our bishops are faithful to the unbroken teaching of the Church. Reconciliation is needed. This is the time for looking again to Saint Peter. He wasn’t perfect – but he was forgiven, and he was reconciled. That is the promise Jesus offers to his Church.

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