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Keys of the Kingdom
Revd Sue Lucas, Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Keys are a very palpable and real symbol of power; they open doors – literally, and metaphorically.  And in recent days we’ve heard again – and shuddered – at  just how many keys Jimmy Savile had, and just what doors were open for him; those with wealth and power can gain access to much, and we can all at times be blind and unaware of what wealth and power and flamboyance hide – indeed, in our own time, deliberately hide; the French ‘situationist’ thinker Guy Debord wrote of ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ – his book of that title so accurately atomised the state we are in now – yet it was written in 1967.

So Peter is an unlikely character to be given the keys of the Kingdom – he is not one of the great and the good, the wealthy or the wise.  Like his brother Andrew, he is a fisherman who left his nets to follow Christ, eking out a precarious living from the equally precarious waters of Galilee, to which he periodically returns; by tradition, he is in the only disciple to have been married and to have had a mother-in-law!  He recognises Jesus as Lord, and Messiah; reaching that conclusion through God’s intervention – just as well, since he is too stupid to work it out for himself!  Just a few verses ago, he is described as being ‘of little faith,’ yet here he is given the keys of the kingdom, with all the connotations of power and influence.

And yet this image of power and influence is subverted as soon as it is introduced.  Peter recognises Jesus as the Christ, the Lord of all – the one to whom all earthly powers – even the seemingly inexorable power of the Roman Empire must submit.

And it is not insignificant that this takes place at Caesarea Philippi – a city on the way from the Northern Galilean region to the Southern centre of power, Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city where the prophets have always spoken truth to power.  Caesarea Philippi was named for the Emperor Augustus and was part of the network of cities the Romans built in their conquered lands – a network that was a means of enforcing Roman power militarily – since it meant troops could be deployed quickly at the first sign of dissent; economically, since it made for an efficient way of collecting taxes, and ideologically, since cities were a symbol in stone of the power and magnificence of Rome.  This too shall pass – says Jesus – like the cloud-capped towers of Prospero’s speech, the might and spectacle of Empire are not inevitable in the face of God’s Messiah; and indeed, they are challenged in the story of Peter’s release from prison in our Acts reading.  The Roman narrative of might as right was always vulnerable at Passover, the great feast of God’s liberation of his people; here, the might of Rome swoops with ruthlessness – and still does not prevail.

But also, Simon Bar Jonah – which, by the way was a moniker that possibly identified Simon as a terrorist – but that is a sermon for another time! – becomes Peter, the Rock of the new Ecclesia.  In the Graeco-Roman world, there were three sites of participation in the political – the oikos, the household – from which of course we get the word economy – the agora, or market-place – and the ekklesia or assembly; cities like Caesarea Philippi were ruled by such assemblies, usually of Sanhedrin; poodles of Rome, they oppressed and controlled ordinary people with the double whammy of punitive taxation and unsustainable, punitive religious requirements.

So Jesus does know what he is doing in giving Peter the keys of the kingdom; this is God’s strange justice, God’s peculiar power, God’s odd mercy; the new ekklesia becomes the Church, the community that is the sign of God’s kingdom, the community that does things differently, the community that overthrows the old rule of empire with its injustice and oppression – and instead shows a certain preference for the ordinary, the everyday, the marginal, the lost, the estranged – and that in showing a preferential option for the poor, allows all people to attain their full humanity in Christ.

So today – the Feast of Peter and Paul – truly is a feast of the Church, of that new community that lives by the values of God’s covenanted love; it is a time when ordinations happen – indeed, it is the anniversary of my deaconing, 6 years ago.  But the first ordination is baptism – we, the new community, with Peter, are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people; not in wealth and power; not in influence and force; but in living in justice and mutuality and love with one another.  In that way – we become the living stones of the new temple – the temple that is Christ’s body and the city of God, not of Rome – the body on which we feed in the sacrament, and into which we are being built – that we might be the signs of that which both is now, and is yet to come – the justice and generosity and peace and relentless committed love of the kingdom of God.  Amen.

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