In two parts, here is the audio for Fr Paul's sermon on our Feast Day of St Peter, this 29 June 2014.
The printed text follows.
SERMON @ MASS @ ST PETER-IN-THE-FOREST
SUNDAY 29 JUNE 2014
PATRONAL FESTIVAL MASS FOR ST PETER – YEAR A
One reality of serving as parish priest here – as many places, I suspect – is that I haul around keys, and lots of them. My trousers pockets bulge with keys. My posture is off kilter with keys. Another year carrying around this many keys and I'm bound for a visit to a chiropractor to correct permanent back damage caused by excess key-itis.
Keys for this church building, keys for Peterhouse Centre. Within them, keys for external doors, internal doors, keys for the safe, further keys kept in the safe for other things. Keys for access to areas, keys to restrict and control access to areas. Keys hidden in strategic places throughout the church for those times when a Churchwarden, or Sacristan, or Server, or Flower-Arranger comes running up, asking frantically, "Have you seen my keys?"
Over at Peterhouse, Sarah – our Centre and Parish Administrator – and Peter – our Resident Caretaker – also hold lots of keys. So do numbers of our partners and tenants. It has been good, during this past fortnight, to issue three new sets of keys for three new partners in our project building, as we have signed new lease-agreements. Sadly, our capacity – and need – to do so, has been activated by our long-term partners, Age UK(WF) handing their keys back, after five years with us. Their funding has been slashed and, after laying off a number of their workers, they have been forced to amalgamate their organisation into a larger one and move into a smaller office-base. Our own finances thus have a big hole opening up in them...
Even sadder – but, necessary – has been that your Parochial Church Council, responsible (ultimately) for looking after all the keys, has had to inform caretaker Peter, this past fortnight, that we can no longer afford the luxury of a full-time resident caretaker – I suspect we may have been one of the only churches in the country to have had one for so long!?! At the end of July, he will have to hand back his sets of keys, both for Centre and for the flat therein, which has been his home for almost twelve years.
The PCC – trying to be the very best employer they can – will be helping Peter with this transition over the coming weeks: please be kind to him, if you see him during this time ahead.
Well, rooms will still need to be locked and unlocked, care will still need to be taken of the many people in our community sharing with us the use of our building. And, some of you may be called to hold the keys a little more than you have, heretofore...
Today is our Patronal Feast Day, the day in which we especially remember and give thanks to God for the example and witness of another Peter, our Patron Saint, the first of the Apostles to declare Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. It was he, who was born with the name Simon (or Simon-bar-Jonah, if you were in formal, telling-off mode) who Our Lord called petros (Rock, or ‘Rocky’), playing on the Greek word petra.
On his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus gave him the name, afresh. And also gave him keys, “the keys of the kingdom” of God.
These keys are given to each of us, when we make a true confession of God’s Glory and purposes revealed in Jesus the Christ...
In another sermon, I might pursue more carefully the Roman Catholic argument that when Jesus said “Peter, you are the Rock on which I will build my Church...and here are the keys to the kingdom” He meant, “You are to be the origin and focus of an institutional structure which is to be the sole arbiter of access to the salvation of God”. But, not today...
[Except to note in passing that when Our Lord asks “Who do you say that I am?” He uses the plural form of “you”. Even though it is Peter who articulates it, the question was on behalf of all the apostles – the question was, in Geordie-ese, “Who do youse say that I am, awhey man!??” The ‘rock’ was the truth grasped and expressed by Peter on behalf of all followers of Jesus, that Jesus is indeed the Son of the Living God...
I can't tell you how Peter felt that day when Jesus promised him the keys or how he felt a few days or weeks later, because I'm not Peter. Not only am I not Peter, I'm an Anglican. So, I'm not standing in line hoping to be handed the pontifical keys to the entire Church of Rome one day. In fact, as a Reformed Catholic Christian I happen to believe that I've already been given the keys and that's a major part of my problem. To the extent that you and I are key holders to the church of the risen Christ and provide some sort of access to the glorious realm of God, we've got a key problem and a much more serious one than how to haul all of them around. As keepers of the keys, we've got to figure out what do with them, what doors to open, what windows to unlock. That's the whole point, isn't it?
When I was ordained 10 years ago, this weekend, the organisational life of the Church of England was, I think, quite a bit less complex than it is now, a decade later. Are we now a better church, a more orderly church, a more theologically sound church than we were back then? Maybe we are in some ways, but mostly we just have more organizational keys to lug around. And, we have them on a chain that often ends up choking the life out of us. The church spends years pretending that it's more important to keep keys safely under guard than to risk that they might open doors to people whom the church judges unworthy to be let in. So many keys slow the church to the pace of a turtle, making us careful lest we open the door to someone who doesn't look like everyone else around here, lest we open the ordination door, for example, and actually celebrate the gifts for ministry of those who are gay and lesbian and invite them to "forgive our hard hearts and to come back home." Or open the consecration gates to women and greet them as our bishops...
Forget for a moment whether Peter ever considered returning the keys. I wonder if Jesus ever regretted tossing the keys to Peter in the first place, if he didn't spend some sleepless nights afterwards like the parent of the teen who hands over the car keys for the first time. Why would Jesus give keys, not just to the church, but to the future realm of God to Peter anyway? According to Matthew, Peter didn't get the answer right because he was the star pupil. It was an inspired guess, a little divine whisper in an ear that was regularly stopped up. For Jesus to fish out Peter from the crowd was risky enough; turning over the holy keys to him was simply irresponsible. What was Jesus thinking?
Maybe Jesus never made good on his promise, never did give Peter the keys. After all, Jesus here is speaking in the future tense. Maybe he's like that parent who holds out a carrot, all the while knowing that the young person will never be able to grasp it. Maybe Jesus is just making Peter think that he'll one day be the keeper of the keys. Maybe so, but then that raises a whole other set of problems.
You know, the Greek in this story is really pretty basic stuff--not too many big words to stumble over for newcomers to the language and not too many difficult phrases for translators to debate. And yet, if you chew on this Matthean text for a little while, it can give you a bad case of exegetical indigestion. Even worse, this text can turn dark on you in the blink of an eye. Some have read this text and ended up exploding car bombs in Belfast to show who was the rightful owner of the keys. No wonder Mark, Luke, and John keep the keys out of this story. Keys cause trouble, wherever you turn.
Keys can and keys have caused a whole lot of trouble in the church, but that is certainly not why Jesus promises them to Peter. They are promised not as a cause for concern but as a reason for celebration and liberation. Read Matthew again, read all the Gospel, and you'll come clamouring back for those keys that you returned, come back begging for them. You see, the keys Jesus promises are more mystical than mundane, cut to holy precision to open up the grace-filled, doors-wide-open reality of God. Huge keys to open the most intimidating doors and razor-sharp keys to break loose windows that have not been open for years.
Read Matthew one more time and see what you and I can open with these keys. Some of the keys open the mysterious door to God's command centre for peace. Once you turn those keys and walk through that door you'll never again fall in love with the sirens of war or be lured into judging violence a virtue. Some of the keys open the window into God's anteroom of mercy. Look inside and you'll never again act as if God's mercy is in short supply, as if it's the church's job to dish out compassion meagrely and only to the deserving few and to keep the limited supply of God's mercy under ecclesial lock-down.
The promised keys even open the door into God's own heart. Once you turn those keys and open that door you'll never again mistake purity for living nice and proper and polite lives. But you'll see purity as living passionate and faithful lives that are undeniable signs of the reconciling love of the risen Son of God.
The keys Jesus promises Peter are meant to unlock the world's longing for celebration and liberation. The keys Jesus promises Peter were never intended to lock out undesirables from the church, to rid God's realm of the unworthy. If that were the case, he'd never have promised them to someone like Peter, and they'd never have landed in pockets like ours.
Actually, the more I've thought about it, maybe Jesus is much like that loving parent who hands over the keys to someone she loves dearly and whom she knows has not always fared well in training and has yet to be tested by the hurdles of real life. Knowing all this, Jesus still promises Peter the keys and says, "Use them wisely."
What a liberating gift! What a reason to celebrate! It's time to stop my complaining and with a heart of thanksgiving to pull out the keys. AMEN.