*This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO, on August 27. To watch it please go to http://www.bethanylive.org
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
3 For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4 Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;[a]
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
7 Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
you people who have my teaching in your hearts;
do not fear the reproach of others,
and do not be dismayed when they revile you.
8 For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my deliverance will be forever,
and my salvation to all generations.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 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.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e]
About a year ago I joined a group called Together Colorado. It’s an organization of interfaith, interrace clergy in CO. Each month we meet to discuss how we together as people of faith work to promote and further human dignity and human worth in our communities. It’s rich in diversity, not only religious and ethnic diversity but diverse thoughts on how to accompany one another. It’s completely non-partisan and so all voices are heard equally. Each time we gather we begin by reading together our credentials, that is our reason for being together despite our many differences. Together Colorado meets at a different location each time and looks at community needs to address: health care, education, housing, civil rights and anything else that calls to us needing attention. In this first year for me, I have mostly listened. As I arrive at someone else’s place of worship and community, I am aware that I am a guest on sacred ground. I am aware of my perspective that I bring, that I have much to learn and I bring my biases. So, I listen.
We met most recently this past Tuesday at a Seventh Day Adventist church in north Denver, a predominately black congregation in a predominately black neighborhood. Once again, I took a listening stance. I sat across the table at lunch from Rabbi Brian, from Temple Emmanuel, as he, with a shell shocked look on his face, talked about how he couldn’t even process what had been going on in our country the past couple of weeks, as he’s too busy facing the real fears of the people in his congregation. They are terrified of the rise of violence against Jewish people and some have been on the receiving end of hate mail. They wait in fear for what might happen next to them, a friend or a family member.
I listened as the pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church shared with us how he and his congregation discuss ways to meet racism with love and share the love of Jesus Christ even with those who look to hate them for no other reason than the color of their skin. I listened to the pain and fear of not knowing if their children are safe when they are away from home because of someone who believes that their lives don’t matter as much as their own.
I listened to a fellow ELCA clergy who is dying of a rare form of cancer and she can’t get the treatment that she needs with the gaps in healthcare. We laid hands on her and prayed for healing, but I received notification that she is now in intensive care.
Listen to me, God says three times in our Isaiah reading today. Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, listen to me my people, listen to me you who know righteousness. Listen to me. The word for “listen” in Hebrew is “Shema.” To hear, to take heed, to harken. The Jewish people refer to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as the great Shema, the great “harken” from God. Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one. Tell one another and the children of God’s great love, justice and redemption of God’s people when you are at home, when you are away, when you rise, and when you sleep. Put these words on your hand, on your forehead, and in your heart. Love the Lord with all of you heart, soul, mind and strength. Listen to God, listen to one another to hear what God might be saying to you through someone different than you.
It’s hard to listen. It’s hard to listen in world that sends us so many messages all day long. What do we listen to? Who do we listen to? What has authority? Who has authority? When we listen, truly listen to one another, my brothers and sisters, we can’t help but to be moved, to be changed, to wonder, and to even fear a little. I listened to all these stories on Tuesday and I will confess, I didn’t know what to think or say. I listened to a reality very different from my own and yet, I know that these stories that they tell are also true. These stories from other people are as authoritative as my own, but I feel myself getting caught in the need to speak my authority over and above someone else’s. This is where our gospel story today struck me. Jesus asks the disciples: Who do the people who have been listening to me say I am? Are they really listening? The disciples answer with the good Jewish answers of Jeremiah, the prophets, Elijah whom they believed would return. Then Jesus asks them, but who do you say that I am? Peter immediately answers “the son of the Living God!” Peter had been listening! And then Jesus goes on to talk about how Peter will be the rock upon whom Jesus will build his church and then the authority of binding and loosing. We listen to this and we assume that this passage is about WHO has authority. Indeed, much ink has been spilled over this question of the who of authority in the past 2000 years of church history. But listen again, Jesus isn’t actually worried about the who of authority, Jesus is concerned with the what of authority. The “you’s” in this passage are plural, not singular. All are given authority, the keys of the kingdom. Authority to bind and loose. In our Lutheran tradition, we call this the “office of the keys” or confession and forgiveness.
In our Milestone ministry here at Bethany, I teach the office of the keys to our preschoolers. I teach them about two sorrys. We say sorry to God and we also say sorry to the person whom we need to seek forgiveness. I tell them that we will mess up with each other and need to say I’m sorry. That’s life with people, but God always forgives us and so we forgive each other out of this great love. I have them make a fist and tell them that this is their heart when they are tight with feeling sorry or guilt. But when they say “I’m sorry”, and they hear God and the other person say, “I forgive you,” it’s like a key that unlocks their heart to be opened up to receive more love and joy.
Jesus says, you, all of you (that means us!) indeed have authority to open our hearts and the hearts of others. You matter, but not for your own gain, comfort or status. You have authority to give your authority away. Jesus is the prime example of this giving away of power. Just as the Israelites bound the word of God on their hands and forehead, we bind ourselves to God and the people of God. Bind yourselves together and listen, listen to one another seeking righteousness, right relationship with one another. This kind of relationship can only come when we quit worrying about who has the authority or if we have enough authority or power and worry more if we can use our authority for justice for our neighbor. Is. 51:4 “my justice for a light to the peoples.” God sent Jesus, the Son, to be this light of justice, to show us how to do justice, how to live justly so that the lowly are lifted up, the sick receive care, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the Canaanite woman is seen, a Samaritan is called good, demon possessed people are brought back into community, lepers are healed and restored, the powerful of the Roman Empire and the Temple are challenged and all people are given dignity in the body of Christ.
The Son of the living God to all peoples, binds us together in God’s love as one body needing each other and looses us from whatever keeps us from God and one another, which is sin and death. Jesus looses us from the stories that the world tells us to listen to, so that we hear the story of who we truly are, all created in God’s loving and diverse image. Whenever we, or our neighbor, hear a story that tells us that we are anything less than this image of God’s love, we have the authority and the obligation to say no. Now, this kind of authority won’t make us popular, but Isaiah 51:7 tells us to not be dismayed when we are reviled for speaking this truth. This proclaiming the truth of God’s way of justice for all people, not the Roman Empire or the Temple’s way, is what got Jesus killed. The truth of this justice calls us to this same binding and loosing in Jesus’ name. We bind together in order to loose our brothers and sisters from the sin of racism, from the sin of intolerance of different faith traditions, from the sin of violence, from the sin of homophobia, from the sin of sexism, from the sin of economic disparity, from the sin of disease, from the sin of fear, and from the sin of hate.
Listen to me, God says. Listen to me my people. My beloved people. You, all of you, are too precious to listen and to be bound to any other story than the one of forgiveness, love, reconciliation, shalom, justice, freedom and joy. Listen to the story of the empty tomb and know that anything is and will be possible with me, says God. Listen to the stories of each other and hear my voice from the lips of your neighbor. Speak words of mercy to each other.
And so Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the ways that I don’t loose those around me from my own bias and judgements. I’m sorry for the ways I don’t use my authority for the sake of loosing my neighbor from the sin that keeps them from having justice and from being seen fully as a child of God. I’m sorry for being afraid and looking the other way instead of engaging in God’s righteousness. This is why I’m grateful that each time we gather here, at Bethany as God’s people, we confess our sins, our omissions, we say we’re sorry to God and to one another. And I’m desperate for the words from God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that tell me I am forgiven. I am loosed from sin, I am loosed from my story, I am loosed from death but I am bound to God and to you, the beloved community.
Brothers and sisters, let’s bind ourselves to God and one another and loose ourselves and our neighbor from sin and death, to listen for God’s words of tender forgiveness and to open our hands and hearts to more fully receive the joy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.