13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And 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.18And 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. 19I 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.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
I was reading this scripture this week, and my thoughts turned to one of my favorite movies of all time: Ghostbusters. As some of you may recall, New York City was being terrorized by these ghosts that were floating around the city. Ultimately, a group of three, nerdy, unemployed scientists gathered together, found themselves a fourth, and called themselves the Ghostbusters. What they discovered was the possible end of the world as we know it; the Sumerian God Gozer was about to be released on the world if the Gatekeeper was to unite with the Keymaster…
Do you remember this scene?
[Dana, possessed by “The Gatekeeper,” answers the door]
Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver): Are you the Keymaster?
Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray): Not that I know of.
[She slams the door in his face. Venkman knocks again]
Dana Barrett: Are you the Keymaster?
Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes. Actually I’m a friend of his, he asked me to meet him here.
Ghostbusters may not have been talking about the keys to the kingdom, but it does shed light on an important theme for us in the Church today: as Christians, we have been given the keys not to unleash Gozer the Gozerian, but to the Kingdom of God to share the Good News of Christ with the world.
Last Spring I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland as part of a continuing education program. My plan was to make a pilgrimage, a sacred journey, to the island of Iona. See, since I first started talking about my upcoming trip, my friends and colleagues, and even strangers told me about how spiritually powerful this island is. After all, their unofficial mascot is the ‘wild goose’ who represents the Holy Spirit here on earth. I was not just on a trip; I was on a pilgrimage.
I spent the next few days traveling through the cities, highlands, and countryside on my way to this ‘thin place’ as those of Celtic spirituality would call it; a place where heaven and earth, the sacred and the profane, seem to meld together. After taking an airplane, then a bus, then a ferry, then another bus, then another ferry, I arrived with other pilgrims on this holy site.
We were led through the town streets of Iona’s nearly 100 residents. We passed through the gothic remains of an old nunnery that was once active hundreds of years ago. And finally, through the mist of a Scottish Spring rain, we were there. We had arrived at an ancient monastery complex called the Iona Abbey. It was here where Saint Columba is said to have traveled from Ireland to established the first-ever Christian community in Scotland in the year 563CE. We had arrived at what many consider one of the most sacred places on earth.
But something within me began to speak over the next few days as I worshiped, walked, prayed, and shared in the communal life of the Iona community. I had traveled all of that way to have this life-transforming experience…and nothing happened. Well, nothing dramatic at least. Yes, the island is absolutely gorgeous, with grassy hills, clear blue waters, and a peacefulness that leads one to reflection and worship. But as I looked around, the people I met who were members of this community were just… normal people. The church where we worshiped was cold, and the chairs were uncomfortable. The air smelled the same as it did in many other parts of Scotland. Yes, I was relaxed, I was energized, but I wasn’t transformed the way people built it up to be. I was there to experience the Holy Spirit, and what I experienced was normal life…and lots of sheep.
Was there something wrong with me? Was I not tapping into the right Holy Spirit energy? Was there something wrong with that particular week I was there? Was I not with the right people?
And then I began to understand something about the Holy Spirit, and about what Jesus was teaching while on Iona, and I began to understand a little more about what the Iona Community is. Yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit will move in dramatic ways that people will talk about for ages like that of Pentecost. And other times… most times, the Holy Spirit moves quietly and slowly, and we may not even notice it. I didn’t need to travel half way around the world to experience the Holy Spirit; it was within me the entire time. I already had the keys to the kingdom.
The Iona Community believes in this as well. They are a dispersed community. They are not a community like the traditional monasteries we think of where people walk around with bad hair cuts in robes and chant all day. This is how they describe themselves:
“The Iona Community is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship.”
They understand that while the island of Iona itself is a special place, the Holy Spirit is not contained only there. In fact, the Spirit is moving throughout, and we are called to share it with the world…we are the keymasters…
When we look at today’s scripture readings, we hear similar messages coming from very different people, in very different situations.
We pick up with the larger them of the passage in Matthew: Who is the Son of Man? Who is this Jesus?
Peter responded with an affirmation that goes beyond any of the other disciples previous responses; ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus responds in v. 17 ‘…For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ There is a theme of God’s Word versus that of the world. Paul’s letter to the Romans also captures this sentiment in 12:2, ‘2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Jesus talks about the foundation of the Church coming from this understanding: God revealed to the world Jesus as the Christ; this is the beginning of a new way of understanding not only Jesus, but of God as well.
Jesus then gives Peter a bit of a surprise; he hands him the keys! Not to the car, or the house…but to the kingdom of heaven!
This gift, however, does come with consequences: whatever we bind (or create) will be bound in heaven; whatever we loose (or destroy) will be loosed in heaven.
We are given the keys to the kingdom; so what do we do now?
I don’t think Peter or the other disciples were expecting what will happen in the coming days with Jesus, as he will be arrested and ultimately executed by the authorities. I’m thinking Peter was pretty happy at the time to have received the keys…and then things changed. In what must have felt like an instant, their leader Jesus was gone, and they were now in charge. Who is supposed to lead us from here? Will there ever be anyone like Jesus again?
They must have felt like they were treading water. As other followers left their group. As they continued to have infighting as to the direction for this group to go. As they wondered what was next?
These questions were eventually revealed by the resurrected Christ. We read the stories in the beginning of the Book of Acts; or as some call it the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
We hear again and again a message of God’s Word for us, versus the world’s. And we are given the responsibilities, the keys, to share this message with the world.
But here is the thing: the keys are not for one location! The Keys to the Kingdom of God…is within us.
And this is a different understanding of embracing the Divine than those of even the Jewish faith would understand in the time of Jesus. Many Jews understood that God was experienced in the temple; this is where God wanted the Jewish people, in Israel, and the temple represented God’s presence here on earth. And this is why even today there is so much at risk for those who associate such ideologies with the land of Israel and Palestine in the Middle East.
But Jesus shares a different message. We have been given the keys, and the kingdom of God is all around us, and within us.
The early Christians embraced this message as they began to form their new churches in the poorest parts of town, where it was unclean to go. The Apostle Paul shared this message of God’s Spirit within us as he reminded to not live by the rules of the world, but by God’s law within us. The Iona Community lives this message out as they are a dispersed community, sent out into the world to share the message of Christ. And we are reminded when we hear Jesus’ words this morning.
The good News is that God has given us the Holy Spirit to share the message of God’s love in Christ with the world. We have received the keys to the kingdom. We are the key masters. Christ is the gate keeper. The kingdom of God is within us!
What we do with it; well, that’s the next part of our pilgrimage; our spiritual journey. Amen.