Keys, keys, keys

Matthew 16:21-28, Romans 12:9-21
August 27, 2017
Isaac Villegas

“I got them keys, keys, keys / I got them keys, keys, keys / I got them keys, keys, keys.” That’s DJ Khaled. He’s a rapper, kinda. And when I hear Jesus in our passage tell us that he will give us the keys to the kingdom, I hear DJ Khaled’s beat, his keys, keys, keys—keys to unlock the secrets of the world, keys to how to live in this world.

He has a book now, too, a book full of practical advice, keys to life, he says, like this one: “Have lots of pillows,” DJ Khaled writes. “I have a lot of pillows in my bed. If I turn to the left, the right—if I turn my whole body, if my leg moves, it’s just pillows everywhere.” Because, he says, “You have to rest your greatness.”

The book is ridiculous, page after page of silliness, of absurdities. DJ Khaled talks about trivialities, Jesus doesn’t.

Pillows for example—that’s not really a theme for Jesus, although there’s probably a sermon about Jesus and pillows somewhere, somehow connecting the place where Jesus talks about how foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no pillow for his head. And there’s that intimate scene at the last supper, after Jesus washes the feet of his friends, when the beloved disciple rests his head on Jesus’ side, Jesus’s chest as a pillow. I’ll let DJ Khaled figure out how to preach that sermon.

For now, for us today, we have a different kind of absurdity, another sort of craziness. Jesus, the Lord and Savior, God made flesh—this Jesus gives the power of heaven to the church, to us. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says, “and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

There’s so much risk here—that Jesus entrusts us with heaven, that what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. There’s a wildness in this promise, heaven made vulnerable to earth, the kingdom of God at stake in our lives here at church.

I’m more comfortable talking about God transforming earth into heaven. I’m more comfortable when Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, saying, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I rely on God’s power; I don’t want Jesus to give us too much power, especially not the power of heaven, the power to shape the kingdom. Because, I mean, the church doesn’t have the best reputation. We’ve got a lot of baggage. We mess up a lot. The disciples mess up a lot in the Gospel stories—with the disciples falling asleep when Jesus needed them to keep vigil, and with Peter denying Jesus, with Judas betraying Jesus.

Seems like Jesus could have come up with a better plan than to entrust the disciples, to entrust us, with the keys to heaven. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

But this is the way Jesus is, the way God is—Jesus can’t help but share, to empower, to give away what God has. This is the opposite of how we usually think about power, how we think about authority, how we think about who gets things done.
Jesus doesn’t amass divine power inside his body, to hold onto it, to keep it, to use it for his own benefit, to accomplish what he wants, in total freedom, without constraints.

That’s how DJ Khaled thinks about the power of the keys—as a possession, as ownership, as enabling his freedom to do what he wants: “ ‘Til you own your own you can’t be free,” the rap goes, “ ‘Til you’re on your own you can’t be me.”

But, with Jesus, there’s no sense of possession, of control of power. Jesus shares it—power leaks out of him, like when the woman touches the hem of his garment, and God’s power flows out of him, uncontrollable, unruly, healing without restraint, wild grace, ungovernable mercy.

In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal came up with a theory for why we should believe in God, a theory all about weighing our options, deciding that it’s worth the risk to bet on God’s existence, that God is worth our bet—“Pascal’s wager” it has come to be called.

In our passage, Jesus bets on us—we hear about God’s wager on the church, that God decides to risk heaven to the disciples, to those unsteady friends of Jesus: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

That’s God’s wager. We are God’s bet—that our earthly life gives shape to what God’s reign looks like, that we are God’s life on display, that we are at work writing the story of heaven, spelling out what the life of God feels like, describing with our lives the heights and depths of God’s love. It’s almost as if Jesus thinks heaven is at stake in our lives here at church.

I wonder if you can name what you’ve learned about heaven here at church—how have you discovered yourself bound in God’s love, how has God been loosed into your life?

I’ve glimpsed heaven here, in your care for one another—the way you look after each other, with a meal, with a prayer, with a phone call, with fellowship, God’s love reaching out through your life.

And your joy, heaven looks like your joy, the way you enjoy being together—the way you share life, extending yourself through companionship. There’s a joy to the way you gather and stay with each other. There are Sundays when you linger for an hour or longer outside, talking and snacking, delaying the moment when you have to get into your car.

That’s what heaven must be like—the joy of companionship, an eternity of what we taste here, in our fellowship, in your love.

And this life is meant to be shared—we offer the world what we have received from one another: steadfast generosity and unending love. That’s what we learn from Jesus in the story. He doesn’t hold onto the kingdom, he doesn’t treat heaven as his possession. He’s got the keys and he gives them away, inviting a host of people into his story, into his life, into his work.

God has wagered heaven on us, as we extend the fellowship of the Holy Spirit into all the earth: to offer the mercies of God, as Paul says in our passage from Romans—the mercies of God offered in our living sacrifices for one another, and not just for us alone but for those abandoned by the world, the forsaken.

We are God’s love loosed in the world, God’s way of binding together earth with heaven in our lives. God has wagered on us to show that heaven isn’t a farce, that we will be Christ’s protest against the injustice trying to re-take the world, our lives as a protest against the gates of hell.

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