“Are You the Key Master?”
We, Not Me: Part 4
Matthew 16: 13-20; Matthew 18:15-20
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
February 3, 2019
It’s almost 35 years since it swept the nation. Millions watched it in theaters as Venkman, Ray, and Spengler fought ghosts in New York City. The country talked about getting slimed and we never looked at the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man the same again. Its theme song was so catchy people couldn’t help but repeat its refrain, “who you gonna call?” (Ghostbusters!)
A piece of that phenomenon was Rick Moranis’ character who goes from being the nerdy neighbor to becoming the powerful Key Master. Sigourney Weaver’s character looks for him throughout the movie because only he can open the door to another dimension. Famously, when a ghostbuster comes to her door and she asks, “Are you the Key Master?” and he says “No” she slams the door in his face. Only the Key Master will do because no one else can open the way.
I don’t want to ruin your image of the disciple Peter but he and Rick Morani’s character have a fair amount in common! Peter goes from hot head nobody, your neighbor next store, to become the Key Master. That is what Jesus makes him. He says to Peter, “You are Rock and upon you I will build my church…I give you the keys of the kingdom; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Peter now has the authority. He holds the keys. We like to tell jokes about Saint Peter at the pearly gates but those are not the keys Jesus gave him. Peter held keys to use on earth. Whatever he bound on earth in his life was to be bound in heaven; whatever he loosed on earth in his life was to be loosed in heaven. He was truly the Key Master.
Only Matthew talks about “binding and loosing” and he does it in two places. Here in chapter 16 and just two chapters later when he talks about how to handle problems between Christians. The Reformer Martin Luther said that chapter 18, this second case of “binding and loosing”, he said it shows that Jesus has moved on to making house keys and now he is passing them out.
For it’s not just Peter anymore. Yes, he has keys. Jesus gave them to him. But so do all Christians. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus says to his ordinary followers, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. And whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” It is an awesome thing to consider. And it means that if Sigourney Weaver, or anyone else for that matter, asks you if you are the Key Master, you need to say yes. Yes, you are.
Over the last few weeks we have been taking a closer look at what the Church is called to be. We are the ekklesia, the ones who go out, which is a crucial calling. Even more of a task than that, we are the Body of Christ, showing the world what Jesus is like. And it doesn’t seem like there could be anything more overwhelming than that except that we—the Church—we are also the binders and the loosers. We hold the keys.
Christians have never been completely sure what this means. Some have said it means we have the power to say who is forgiven and who is not, what is permitted and what is not. Some have said that it means we have the power to bind or loose Satan. No one is completely certain. But we can know this for certain: when Jesus gave keys to Peter, when he gave them to the Church, he gave us authority. He gave us the right to speak for God. He gave us the power to let in our lock out, to forgive or to dismiss. He gave us the keys!
Some of you may be thinking, I don’t feel comfortable with this. Only Jesus has power. I am no Key Master, I’m better suited for the role of nerdy neighbor. And sadly we do know that the Church has, at times, used its keys—its authority—to do horrible things, like keeping people enslaved and, most recently, exploiting children. In the face of such failing, we may not want to hold these keys, we may not want the authority to bind and loose. Except that Jesus gave us this title and he made extra sets of keys and has passed one set to us. As much as we must not abuse it, we also should not deny it.
So, how do we hold these keys? Jesus gives us several clues. Later in Matthew’s gospel he chastises the religious leaders and teachers of his day by saying, “How terrible it will be for you hypocrites! You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You don’t go in yourselves and when others are going in, you stop them. How terrible it will be for you…” That feels pretty clear. First, with our keys we are to open doors to God, not lock them out, nor slam them in people’s faces.
Second, we follow the pattern he sets for Christians in conflict. What we read in chapter 18 is that we are to take sin seriously and we are to take forgiveness even more seriously. These are grave sins Jesus is talking about addressing. We know that because there are other cases of lesser concerns that he handles differently than this. So these are deep and wounding transgressions, things that hurt the whole community. And yet, even in those cases, what are we to do? We are to still go back, again and again to see if we can reconcile.
Again and again, we are to set aside revenge or malice and look instead for restoration whenever it is possible. After Jesus describes this process Peter speaks for the group and says, “Just a question: how many times am I supposed to go through this process with them? How many times should I seek to forgive?” And Jesus says, “70 times 7 times.” It will not always be possible but, second, with our keys we seek reconciliation whenever it is possible and even when it seems impossible.
Finally, the only way we can hold these keys is if we hold tightly to both authority and humility at the same time. Think about it: whatever we bind here on earth will be found to be bound in heaven. How can that be? Is it because God is our bellhop who cannot wait to do our bidding? No. Whatever we bind here will be bound in heaven because God will not stop forming and reforming his Church until we match his will. We are not “playing” Church. We are really and actually and presently being shaped and formed and used by God to do his will until what we do here on earth matches what happens in heaven. These efforts are not solely our own. God is at work here. When we trust that, we hold the keys with authority.
Along with this Jesus ends his teaching with these famous words, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” And we hear them as words of comfort and strength. I have even offered them to you from time to time in this place as words of comfort and strength. And they are. But they are also a warning. Jesus says, “Whatever actions you take here on earth matter to God. You are the binders and you are the loosers. And never forget, whenever even a couple of you gather, if you invoke my name, I will be there.” The actions we take as the Church are speaking for God and Jesus is watching what we choose. It is not just authority we need to hold tightly to in order to hold these keys. We need humility too.
This is not a title we probably feel very comfortable with—to be binders and loosers in this world, to have that kind of responsibility. But we are the Church. And Jesus has given us keys. We way we hold them well is by opening more doors than we close, by forgiving more times than we can count, by preserving both authority and humility. Jesus can use other people, other routes, other ways. But he wants to use us. Whether we feel up to it or not, Jesus wants us to be a route to grace in this world. It is the route he wants to use. So when he stands at the door and knocks and asks us, Are you the Key Master? He is waiting to hear our answer. He is waiting to hear us say, Yes. Yes, Lord, we are. Amen.