The Rock and The Keys


We have several different things in our texts, including the chance to jump through several rabbit holes of questions, answers, and discerning what the text is trying to teach us in our time and place.

I want to focus on two significant images/symbols in our texts: the Rock and the Keys.

The “Rock”:
In Isaiah 51, we’re told to look to the “rock” from which we were curved out of or came from, and then it talks about Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in faith who witnessed to God, who God is, and God’s power throughout our history. We think of this “rock” as a foundation, which is strong and unmoving.

In the Gospel, we see the “rock” again. During the biblical times, the power of a name was extremely significant for you named a child after qualities you hoped the child would have. In our Scriptures, there are times when a person’s name is changed because who they “are” is not necessarily who they are being called to be. We witness this in our Gospel.

Simeon, a fisherman, was called out to from the shoreline by Jesus the Christ to follow him. Simeon leaves his family, his profession as a fisherman, and his belongings and we witness his great faith throughout Christ’s public ministry. People love his spirit and desire to be at Christ’s side, but we do not always recall Christ changing his name from Simeon to Simeon Peter… or Peter.

Why is this name change important?
Peter means “Rock”.

Although this is often a reference to the firm foundation of his faith, or trust, in Christ, we sometimes like to joke that he is also as dense as a rock. We all can be, if we’re being honest.

This is Peter, who is recognized as the first Pope of Christianity and the “Rock upon which the Church is built”. This is because of our text today. We often think of Peter as the “Rock”, but I read the Celebrates’ introduction to our texts and had an “aha” moment.

It is not Peter that the Church is built upon, he is not that “rock”; it is his confession in this moment, a confession that cannot be taught but only revealed.

Let us think about the question Jesus asks: “who do people say I am?”.

The disciples respond that people are saying Jesus is or is like a great Prophet of old, naming John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah.

Then, Jesus responds: “okay, that is what others are saying but who do YOU say I am?”.

Listen to Peter’s confession:
“You are the Messiah, our Christ, our Anointed One, and our Savior but beyond that you are the Son of the LIVING God”.

It is this confession upon which the Church is built: Jesus is the Christ, our Messiah, our Savior, our King, and the Son of (the Living) God.

What is the significance of the “Living” God?
At this time, the Caesars (Roman Rulers) were considered to be the Sons of Apollo or other Roman Gods. Peter’s bold confession is describing these Gods as “died” and unchanging, while Jesus the Christ is the Son of God who is not dead, is not static but alive, transforming and renewing God’s community, God’s assembly, or God’s Church.

I will return to this in a moment, but I want to switch to the Keys.

The Keys:
Previously, I would look at Christian art and think ‘this is pretty but I am clueless to who or what is being depicted’, therefore I struggled to fully engage the artwork. That was until I took a course in Christian Art (Iconography), where I was taught about the symbols which were the ‘keys’ to unlocking the mystery of the Icon (image).

In Christian art, there is a man (usually depicted as older) with keys in his hands or attached to his belt. This is always Peter, because Peter holds onto the “Keys”. This is why Peter stands at the gates of Heaven, serving as the “gatekeeper” because of this text.

This has not always been a comforting thought to me. In fact, I often say ‘he who holds the keys to Heaven, rules the world’. It is powerful. If you can convince one that you control their afterlife/fate, you can control their life in the here and now. This is a scary reality as we have seen this power used for good and bad throughout human history.

SO, I have a love-hate relationship with the “Keys”.

I, again, had an ‘aha’ moment reading the introduction to our Gospel. It referred to the “Keys” as mercy and reconciliation. These do not sound scary and it encouraged me to think about what the “Keys” truly unlock.

You may or may not know, but priest/pastors hold “the Office of the Keys”.
It is deceiving in our Lutheran theology.

During Confession and Absolution, in Roman Catholicism, the priest can either grant absolution of your sins (“loose them”) or not; thus, “binding” the sins to the practitioner until there is a change in behavior.

Martin Luther got rid of that notion, therefore it is significantly different for Lutherans than it is for Catholics. However, people still think I hold the power.

In fact, one day my ex-husband and I were joking around when he made some comment that I do not remember. As the smart-aleck I am, I said “Damn you, damn you straight to Hell”.

Suddenly, he said “Don’t Do That! You actually have the power to do that!”.

My response was “Whoa, whoa, you need to go back to catechism because no I don’t!”.

We tend to ‘think’ we have the power, which I think is more about safe-guarding a treasure that was given to us, not simply to the Church (institutional) or the priests/pastors, but the Priesthood of All Believers (each one of us). This gift, which we have been entrusted to share, is FORGIVENESS.

The “Keys” to unlock this treasure is GRACE, MERCY, and REPENTANCE. Repentance is significant, because it is our desire to change our sinful behaviors. [Side note: seeking forgiveness is inauthentic if the (sinful) behavior remains unchanged]. These are the keys that unlock the treasured forgiveness for ourselves and for us to share it with others.

In Seminary, it was taught and explained that any Baptized Christian could say the Words of Absolution. Why is this powerful?

In Roman Catholicism, Confession and Absolution is a Sacrament (Priestly Responsibility).

In Lutheranism, we have two Sacraments known as the “Means of Grace”. These are tangible and physical moments that God has promised we will ALWAYS experience God’s grace, love, and mercy. This is in the waters of Holy Baptism. This is also the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

BUT, Martin Luther really, Really, REALLY wanted Confession and Absolution to also be a Sacrament. In fact, he has an entire writing about the Sacraments of the Church. He begins with three Sacraments (Baptism, Communion, and Confession/Absolution), but after defining a Sacrament he concedes. Confession and Absolution does not match the qualifications of a Sacrament, but he suggested it be held to the same esteem.

Luther was a tormented soul.

  • He was known to go to Confession multiple times a day.
  • He was known to physically beat himself until the verge of passing out as punishment for the sins he had incurred during the day.

Luther was a tormented soul until he dug deeper into the Scriptures and realized that the core of the Gospel was a message of forgiveness/absolution rooted in God’s grace, mercy, and love.

I am standing up here and the one speaking the Words of Absolution, only because we all need to hear these words. It, however, would not be different if it were Bill, Boyd, Chuck, Jan, Jaws, Joel, or any one of us because we all need to hear that word of God forgiving us.

It is simply a reminder.
It is NOT that I am doing ‘it’.
It is NOT that anyone of us is doing ‘it’.
It is that we are serving as a MOUTHPIECE proclaiming God’s GRACE and Mercy. 

The Rock & The Keys: Why Does this Matter?
The Keys and its treasured forgiveness is one of those promises built upon the foundation of Peter’s confession, the one upon which the Church is built.

I think (and fear) WE have forgotten our calling as a Church to share that treasured gift. Perhaps, especially in our current time and place:

  • in a time when our world is (increasingly) polarized…
  • in a time when hate and violence is running rampant…
  • in times when we are discouraged or heartbroken about the state of our world…

We need to remember (and be reminded) that WE have been given the KEYS of GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE to work towards REPENTANCE and RECONCILIATION not simply with God but WITH OUR NEIGHBORS as well.

My hope/prayer is that WE (as Church, as Community, as Individuals] remember that the “rock upon which the Church/Assembly is built” is: (1) our trust in the promises of God and (2) our confession that God is a Living God who is working in, among, through, and even despite us to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

My hope/prayer is that WE hold the KEYS of Grace, Mercy, Repentance, Reconciliation, and Love in order to unlock and open the treasured gift of Forgiveness that we have been entrusted to share. May WE do more of that in the days that lay ahead. Amen.

The Scriptures were Isaiah 51: 1-6, Romans 12: 1-8, and Matthew 16: 13-20.
Originally preached 27 August 2017 at Gloria Dei (Kelso, WA).

2 thoughts on “The Rock and The Keys”

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