August 24, 2014 | Pastor Sara Wolbrecht
Using the Keys to God’s Dream
Matthew 16:13-20 READ
So – I wanted to start this morning with a brief, one question, pop-quiz. But then I got thinking how I don’t want you to remember me as the pastor that made everyone take a test in her first sermon. So instead, I will just ask whether you would have had an answer if I had in fact asked you to take just a one question pop-quiz. Ok? Are you ready? Here’s what the question would have been: What is the Kingdom of God? God’s Kingdom. Often called the Kingdom of Heaven. So – that would have been the question. Would you have had an answer to that question?
I know for me, growing up in the Lutheran church we didn’t talk much if at all about the Kingdom of God and what that was and why it mattered for us here and now as folks who follow Jesus.
And yet, what I have grown to realize is that the Kingdom of God – knowing what it is and how it is a part of our life and faith – is so central for us. It is something that we pray for together every Sunday when we say the words, Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
So in order for us to press into the importance of our gospel text we need to tend to a bit about the Kingdom of God, to get us all on the same page.
So what is the Kingdom of God? Or the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s Kingdom. Desmund Tutu has used the language of “God’s Dream” – which is helpful language for us, that God has a dream for what the world should be. And that dream resonates with what we see as we look both backward and forward throughout time – a look back to how God created the world originally, as good. That was God’s dream, the way it should be. And a look forward toward how the world will in fact one day be. There also is God’s dream, God’s Kingdom. And we’re right here in the midst of the dream becoming a reality.
So what does that dream look like? How do we know it when we see it? We know that throughout the gospels Jesus describes to us what the Kingdom of God is. He does it in his teachings, particularly in an obvious way in his parables when he says: “The Kingdom of God is like this…” And uses metaphor and story that weave this picture of God’s Kingdom. Pretty obvious there.
But Jesus also describes God’s Kingdom in his actions, in everything that he does.Just pay attention to what Jesus did – he shows us a place where sickness is healed, where the outcast is brought into the fold of community, where the religious people don’t just try to follow rules but to actually live in relationship with the living God, where generosity rules over scarcity. Where the broken are made whole. The lost found. The hungry fed. Suffering and pain are no more. Where there is no oppression, injustice, loss, fear. God’s Kingdom, which is also heaven, is God’s way, God’s desire, for the world. The way the world should be.
Jesus shows us all of this and Jesus began to help God’s Kingdom break into our world now. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for God’s Kingdom to come here on earth as in heaven, because earth and heaven are in the process of becoming one. Again, Jesus began that process – of renewal, redemption, restoration, new creation. History is on the trajectory of moving us toward the time when heaven and earth will become one. The dream realized.
Ok, are you still with me? This is central stuff to understanding who God is and what Jesus has done, and maybe you’re in a place where you already totally have a grasp on that. But I know it can feel a little disorienting, too, if you haven’t fleshed it out that way. You good?
You see, we need to cover all this back story in order to hear how weighty our gospel text is for us today.
Let’s take a closer look at our gospel. Jesus asks his disciples ‘who people say he is’ – and finally asks them, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Simon Peter responds: Jesus, you’re it. You’re the one that prophets have spoken of, the one we’ve waited for, the one who will set this world right. The Messiah. And Peter doesn’t pull any punches – I want you to notice this. There is no qualifier like, “Well, I think you are Messiah…I’m pretty sure…I have a good feeling about this.” But BAM, Peter just full-on goes there. …Peter points to Jesus as the Messiah.
Then, what Jesus says as a response makes this passage the most talked-about, controversial, studied part of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus says: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
There is much we could say about Jesus’ words here. For today, we’ll focus in and notice how it’s kind of a big deal that Jesus says to Peter then and to followers of Jesus throughout time: I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
So this means that you, YOU, have been given the keys to the Kingdom. Jesus was opening up the world to the Kingdom of heaven, and he hands it off to Peter, and to all his disciples throughout time. You hold them in your hands, you access the Kingdom with your life. You have the ability to open up the world to God’s Dream.
Here’s why this matters: God’s Dream becomes reality here on earth through you. Through our willingness to use the keys that are in our hands. It’s up to us (us, yes, working together with God, but God needs us). That’s why this matters.
If you’re like me, as you hear this (remember this) your first response might be – Wow! That God chooses us to do this with Him! But followed shortly thereafter by a few questions.
A first possible question that may come up… how do I actually use these keys? How do you actually use them? What does that mean?
Let’s remember and name. We live in a world that is not the way it was intended to be. We experience that discrepancy between reality and God’s dream for the world all day every day. Every day we experience signs of a broken and aching world – in our own bodies (our own circumstances), in the lives of those we love, in our neighborhoods and schools, and the wider world we see around us. Ferguson, MO – we ache at the stories coming from that town, we know God aches with us, for this is not the way the world should be.
To use the keys God has given us – it begins by paying attention. Noticing by holding and asking the question: Where does the Kingdom of God need to come? Not letting ourselves grow numb to the pain of our world. We choose to see the places where God’s Kingdom needs to come, to dream Gods’ dream for the world. We notice.
And frankly, those opportunities come all the time in the everyday situations we face. For example, we just move from in the Bay Area of California, where we lived across the street from Al and Vicki. Both retired, and Al was a Vietnam Vet. Al had a lot of health issues and on multiple occasions an ambulance came to their home to take Al to the hospital. The first time we experienced this, it was around the dinner hour on a Tuesday evening, our daughter was 2 at the time. So it was very entertaining for her to watch the fire truck and ambulance right in front of our house. As I watched with our daughter, I felt deeply for Al and Vicki, obviously, and I felt nudged to go and see if Vicki needed anything. I went over and found her as Al was being loaded into the ambulance.
I found Vicki, I asked her if I could do anything for her – she said no. And then I realized – we had just finished our dinner. I said, “Vicki, I just made a ton of spaghetti and asparagus – can I bring a plate over for you right now?” Her eyes grew wide: “Yes! I haven’t eaten all day!” she said. Let me also name that it was nothing short of a miracle that I happened to have a whole dinner to offer her on a Tuesday night as I was about to run back to church for a meeting. Miraculous. After I ran the spaghetti back over to Vicki, I asked if I could pray for her and for Al. We prayed, she ate her fill, she went to the hospital to be at Al’s side.
…What happened to me in that moment? What had I noticed? A place where the kingdom of God could touch down – with God’s nudging I noticed and I responded. That’s how we use these keys – letting God lead us, we notice and we act. And God sets loose the kingdom of God through a plate of spaghetti that fills a hungry belly, through a moment of healing prayer as someone heads out to hold vigil at the hospital. A blessing for Vicki to have been a part of that – yes, but also most certainly a blessing for me to be used of God in something so simple yet powerful.
Spaghetti and a prayer – the Kingdom of God comes in the everyday stuff of our lives, and in our willingness to let God use our everyday moments. Our reading from Romans gets at this, too. Eugene Peterson has written The Message which is a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible. The Message puts the beginning of Romans 12 this way: So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
And so for us, to take our everyday, ordinary life—our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. In moments that seem like no big deal – an interaction with someone in line at Safeway, a moment with a coworker, a conversation in the car with our kids. Those keys are in our hands just waiting to let God’s Kingdom come.
Another question that may come up for you… What keeps us from using the keys? The biggest hindrance? We don’t realize that they have been given to us and we miss the opportunities. I will be first to confess that I miss opportunities to use the keys and collaborate with God, all the time. All the time. And for me, I miss those opportunities because my hands are filled with other things. We all find at times, that our hands are filled with others things. A pastor friend shared the story of how she was hiding chocolate from her children and her hands were filled with these candies and so she couldn’t actually open the door. Our hands are often filled, too. Not with chocolate but with the things that keep us from using the keys. For me it’s when I’m over-busy, I’m distracted, I’m preoccupied with my own needs or other things that just don’t matter in the long run. Or I’m in a hurry – our culture of rush and hurry keeps us from so much. We must keep asking ourselves: Are we holding on to things that keep us from holding what Jesus is trying to give us?
Another final question that may come up for you… How does grace fit into all of this? Are the keys just something that is demanded of us (because that doesn’t sound like grace and we know Jesus is in the business of grace)?
Oh, there is grace, too. Jesus gives us access to the Kingdom of God because God knows that we need that healing and restoration in our own lives, too. Jesus places those keys in our hands to free us from the other things we may be holding on to. Because maybe this day your hands are stuffed full with grief or they have grown tired of trying to hold together too many things in your life that have been falling apart. On a day like that the keys are not only a tool to be wielded but a gift of grace to be received. I know I need that grace today – I have a four month old who hasn’t slept through the night in a week, a new home, new job, new community, new everything – and I am tired. Today I know because of Jesus, the Kingdom of God can touch down right here. That there is grace enough for today, enough energy to preach three sermons today. And that I can watch and see how God can not only carry me through this day but there will be incredible gifts in this day. I trust that to be true. The keys are there for us to grab hold of when we’re in a place of desperation, too. Is that you today? Then grab hold of God’s Kingdom.
And as we grab hold we find again and again that this is not obligation but gift – a gift to be given away. Keys are placed in your hands as an invitation to live beyond yourself. To share in the creative and healing work of God – work that not only brings blessing and restoration through us (if you are willing) but work that will actually bring about blessing and restoration in us, if we let it.
How rich is this good word when we also consider why I am here and the keys that have been given to this church for a new church in Rose Hill. That we, together, get to open up that place to be a community where young people can belong and then in turn become people who wield the keys and help bring about God’s Kingdom. Pretty awesome stuff that we get to be a part of together.
So… you did not have to take a pop quiz today, but I do want to offer you a challenge. It is simply this: use the keys this week. Who is someone in your life who needs God’s Dream to be dreamt with them and for them? Who needs prayer, or spaghetti, or friendship, or encouragement? Who needs someone to stand with them and for them in your life this week. The challenge for all of us is to notice and to respond in that moment. Jesus has placed in your hands the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Grab hold of that grace for yourself, grab hold for the sake of those in your life who need it. And watch and see as God’s Kingdom comes here on earth as in heaven. Are you up for that challenge? Then pray with me…
Jesus we thank you for trusting us with your work, and for the incredible invitation to use the keys of the Kingdom and partner with you in seeing our world restored and made whole. Stir us with your Spirit, lead us, and fuel us for this week ahead – that we may see your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven. All this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.