Who Gets the Keys? Matthew 16:13-19

A Sermon prepared for St. Paul's Anglican Congregation, Kingston, Ontario, to be preached on August 25, 2002 by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca))

When a door is locked shut, only a person entrusted with the key can open it. And in our Gospel reading we see that Peter was given some keys to open doors that were locked for the world-wide church. Jesus said to him "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

So let's look at four totally unexpected doors that Peter was able to open. These doors are described for us in the Book of Acts. If Peter had not used his keys to open these locked doors, the church would have remained a small Jewish sect.

By the end of the fifty days from the first Easter to the Day of Pentecost about 120 persons were meeting in Jerusalem as disciples of Jesus (Acts 1:15). By then Peter had no doubt that Jesus was alive. Jesus had met with him and the other apostles, and eaten with them (probably on successive Sundays, see "Eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost"). There was also the astonishing fact that Peter had been forgiven after the most terrible failure when he denied he had ever known the Lord.

But how was this wonderful good news of the resurrection and forgiveness going to be made known to the thousands of Jewish people in the city? On the Day of Pentecost Jesus said to Peter "look, the Holy Spirit has got them interested. You just open the door and let them in."

It is hard for us to picture how totally unexpected this was. "Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about 3000 persons were added" (Acts 2:41). I would certainly be surprised if 3000 people from Kingston arrived this morning, and Jesus said "You've got the key, just let them in."

But the ones who were baptized that day were all orthodox Jews. They attended their synagogues and read and prayed in the ancient Hebrew language. What about the thousands of Jews all over the Roman world who only speak Greek? So the Lord said "why don't you let them read the Bible and worship in their own language. You've got the key, just open the door for them." In Acts chapter 6 you can read about the door being opened for the first Greek speaking Christian synagogue in Jerusalem. That was as unexpected as Pope John XXIII calling the Second Vatican Council which let people use English or German or French, or the language of their own country instead of Latin.

The next tightly shut closed door was the Samaritan people. Jesus had told a parable about a Good Samaritan, and he had spoken to a woman of Samaria. But Peter couldn't imagine those half-Jews having their own church. Samaritans could believe in Jesus but you wouldn't trust them to run things. That was the way some of the early missionaries felt. "These people are not ready to be ordained till we send some of their educated people to seminary in the United States.

Then there came news that Philip the Evangelist had preached in the city of Samaria, and he had baptized a large number of those uncivilized people. Then this is what happened. "When the apostles heard that Samaria had accepted the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-15). As soon as Peter turned the key in this locked door the Holy Spirit gave the Samaritans all the gifts they needed to run their own church.

The fourth door that Peter opened in Acts 10 was even more tightly shut. He had a strange vision of killing and eating all sorts of animals which were not kosher. And the Lord explained "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." Immediately after this a message came from a Roman Army Officer asking Peter to come to him. Romans soldiers were uncircumcized raw heathen, and they were ruthlessly occupying the country.

But this man and his whole family were obviously believers in Jesus and they were ready to form a congregation of the church in the big city of Caesarea. Peter decided to go for it, and he opened the door. This very bold radical step made it possible for churches of the Holy Spirit to be formed among all nations. If Peter hadn't put his key in to open the door of faith for other nations, the people of Europe and North America would still be heathen tribes.

So we ask "Who gets given keys for the Kingdom of Heaven?" Obviously Jesus, the Lord of the world-wide church, does not give keys to disciples who have no idea of what he has in mind. You don't give the keys of the family car to a boy who never took drivers' education. After a couple of years as a disciple of Jesus, it finally dawned on Peter who Jesus really was. "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus then said "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."

This wasn't just ordinary head knowledge like people who learn a catechism or say the Creed. It is the Father who sends the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus, and that is what had happened to Peter. Once Peter's heart was open to the Spirit and he could be taught by the Spirit, he could be trusted to be moved by the Spirit in opening the four doors which we have thought about.

This means that as soon as you and I begin to receive the wisdom and guidance of the Spirit we are given keys to open doors for the Kingdom of Heaven. And often it is very unexpected. Suddenly we find ourselves thinking, "Now that's something that needs to be done." And Jesus says, "Go for it, and open that door."

I have now been 50 years in Christian ministry. And I could tell you of many occasions when that has happened to me. Let me mention two of them. I had been an atheist in the army during the war, and my first week at university I became a disciple of Jesus. I belonged to the university dinghy sailing club, and we raced every Sunday morning. But a friend said "You can't do that. You are meant to be in church Sunday morning. So I gave up sailing, and imagined I would never do it again. Then a friend and I were teaching a boys' Bible class and he said "let's take them out for a week's sailing." That sounded like a good door to open. By next year to my astonishment I found myself in charge of the Otters Sailing Camp on the Norfolk Broads with eight sailing boats and six boys in each boat, plus a skipper and mate. After a day learning sailing, the boys were ready to hear about Jesus in the evening. I believe that sailing camp may still be going on and hundreds of boys have come to faith.

A second quite unexpected open door for me was when I was at St James on the Campus of Queen's. The students were talking about computers, and I thought I had better learn how to use one. I am now on my fifth computer, and a quite unexpected door has opened up for me. I write for my a web site, which averages 400 people coming in every day. Last week's sermon and this sermon this Sunday are already been read all over the world. I certainly never expected that.

Now let's see how this might apply to you. Each of us has different doors to open for the Kingdom of Jesus. I have never let in 3000 people in one day like Peter or begun churches in Samaria and Caesarea. And you may not be starting a sailing camp, or writing for a website. But if you have experienced the Holy Spirit teaching you and moving you, you will already have keys and doors to open. Here are some of the keys I have seen you using in this congregation:

A neighbor comes, and you invite him or her in for a cup of coffee.

A neighbor calls in trouble, and you go round and visit.

You have a chance to invite somebody to come to a service or a church lunch with you.

You take the trouble to make a hospital visit.

Fern Kennedy takes care of paying the bills - a lot of bills for that new roof

Larry and June have so many doors to open we couldn't count.

Marion Sullivan had a key to become a warden.

Marg and Al Simpson found an open door to build our new nursery.

This fall we will have children welcomed in the new nursery.

Children love to hear a Bible story.

Mollie was invited by Gerry Downey to begin a Bible Study at 381 Bagot Street.

That is just a very small part of the list of keys you have used to open up doors here in the congregation of St. Paul's. And I have left most of you out from that little list.

But be careful. If you let the Holy Spirit work in your life, you will have some keys to use, and you don't know what will open up next. It could be very unexpected. Just remember what happened to Peter the fisherman from Galilee:

"Who do you say that I am." Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:15-19).

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