Let your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
I might have to move. I don’t really want to move, but I might have to. Lately I have been thinking about all the things I’ll miss if I do move. It turns out that one of the things I’ll miss a lot is the key to my office. It’s gold, you see. That’s right, there is real gold on the key to my office. It’s a little thing, a small, petty, maybe even a stupid thing, but it makes me feel so special. I mean, do any of you have a gold key? Is it real gold? This is the first time I’ve ever had a gold key, and it will likely be the last time too. My own money goes for other things like food and rent. But, for now I have a gold key.
You have probably guessed that I am leading up to taking about the keys to the kingdom. Sometimes when you see a picture of Saint Peter he will be grasping a pair of keys. Those are the keys to the kingdom. Sometimes they are gold. Usually there are two of them, one for binding and one for loosing. When I was a child I thought they were the literal keys to Heaven. They are not.
As usual, we mustn’t get too wrapped up in things like literal keys, and literal kingdoms. These are signs, clues that might lead us to something true. Of course, as always, there are lots of ways to get lost.
In the book of Isaiah there was talk of giving a symbolic key to Eliakim, the finance minister. It was a sign of authority. It was said that, “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” When it was time for a new minister, the old minister had to give the key to him. The key didn’t belong to anyone, it was just a sign of authority. The person with authority was entrusted with the key. If you didn’t have authority, but somehow came into possession of the key you still wouldn’t have any authority. You would just have a key. Lots of Christian leaders these days claim to have keys, they love to jangle their keys, but they have no authority. They are easy to spot.
This is the key that Jesus is talking about. It is this kingdom, the enduring kingdom promised to David, that Jesus is opening up for his followers. He gives us the keys.
Jesus goes on to say that, “…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” That is similar to the verse in Isaiah we quoted above that says, “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” It means that God is on the side of the one who has authority.
Binding and loosing means to disallow something or to allow it. It was a perrogative reserved for those in authority. The disciples would have been familiar with this term. Jesus invested them with the authority to say what is allowable and what is not. They could decide issues of law such as who can be divorced, or what it’s OK to eat, or how things would go in the world.
We have this authority today. Christians today have decided to allow poverty, hunger, and deprivation, especially among children. We have decided to allow rape culture to flourish, we have allowed the abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable, especially of children, the undocumented, and the elderly. We have decided that bullying is alright as long as our team wins. Basically, we have made some poor decisions about what to allow.
If you want to speak in terms of angels and demons, and lots of people do, you can say that we loosed the spirit of the antichrist by electing officials who refuse to care for the needy, hoard resources for the rich, and generally abandon the world God made and loves. Our keys jangle, but we have no authority. We gave our authority over to demons and called it government.
We have lost sight of who Jesus was, and is! If only we could see him, we would be more like him. We need some special glasses that can help us focus on the kind of authority Jesus exercised. It was the kind of authority that feeds everybody, stays up late to heal all comers, honors every person. The authority of Jesus can raise the dead and cast out demons, but it is tender enough to handle eyes, and ears, and even hearts. We have been given the keys to this kind of authority, but somehow we have gotten in the car, turned over the engine, and driven straight into a brick wall instead. The keys are jangling, but the car is crashed. Christianity is almost dead.
At first glance this is a very optimistic reading, isn’t it? How, then, did it get so negative? I suspect that has more to do with me than it does with Jesus. I am feeling pretty negative about the state of the world these days, and you might be too. So, let me tell you the good news. God has never asked us to change the world. The world is likely to hobble on through history, sometimes better and sometimes worse, with us or without us. What we have to do is much more difficult. We have to change ourselves. Or, let ourselves be changed. Jesus did not say “Go out and change the world!” He said, “Be transformed.” The main recommendation for this is by renewing your mind. I used to think that that meant sitting around and thinking real hard…you know, with my mind. That was back in the days when I believed Saint Peter had the literal keys to a literal kingdom. I have learned a few things since then.
There are other ways you can be transformed. You can change your actions. That’s the fake it ‘till you make it school, but it works. If you want the kind of world that doesn’t allow rape culture, then confront it whenever you see it, every time, out loud. Don’t just confront it in your mind, use your mouth. If you want a world where everybody has enough to eat then volunteer at the food bank, or write a check, or write your congressman, but do something. If you’re against the war in Afghanistan then make peace with your neighbor across the street. Here’s why: What we do in our own lives — what we allow and disallow — is part of what is allowed and disallowed in the world. Here’s how Mathatma Gandhi said it:
“We If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”
That kind of power flows from the authority that Jesus gave to his disciples and to each one of us who follow him. You don’t need a key with real gold on it to exercise that kind of authority.
This passage is a call to action. What can you do to bring about the change you want to see? Can you make peace in your workplace or neighborhood? Can you find a way to make peace within yourself? Because everything counts. Can you take some food to a family that may not have enough at the end of the month? Or, can you do something to feed your own spirit? What can you do? Even the smallest little thing enters the flow of allowable and disallowable. As we choose for our own lives, we are choosing for the planet and for one another too. Choose well, and may your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.
Linda McMillan lives in YangZhong, China — Home of the Pufferfish
Image: Grace Church Astoria – keys for the sermon
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Isaiah 22 talks about the keys to the David’s kingdom.
1 John 3:2… We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is.
Romans 12:2… Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The idea of car keys and using the keys to drive a car came from my friend, Ann Fontaine.