First Lesson: Exodus 1:8 - 2:10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 124
Second Lesson: Romans 12: 1-8
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 13-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In recent years, a popular trend of American society has been to make the Devil into a cartoonish/mythological figure no different than the Easter Bunny. As we turn on the news this week, the big stories came from Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson reveals the worst of human nature as anger, violence, retribution, and demagoguery are all on display. The news in Ferguson harkens back to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain looked at his brother Abel and got mad. The reason that Cain got so mad is because he felt that all the problems in his life were of Abel’s doing. Cain would rather take his brother Abel’s life than be willing to admit that he was part of the problem.
Father Dwight Longnecker over at Patheos described the culture of scapegoating in this country quite well when he said “Who is to blame? The rich people say the indigent (lazy) poor are to blame. The poor say the greedy rich are to blame. The blacks say the (racist) whites are to blame. The whites say the (criminal) blacks are to blame. The Jews blame the Palestinians. The Palestinians blame the Jews. The Protestants blame the Catholics. The Catholics blame the Protestants. The young blame the old. The old blame the young. The men blame the women. The women blame the men.”
As we come unto an election cycle, the Republicans say the Democrats are to blame, and the Democrats say the Republicans are to blame. All this mindset does is keep spinning our wheels as the world gets more and more of its axis.
Probably each and every one of us in this life know people that if they weren’t complaining about other people than they wouldn’t have anything to say. Once a scapegoat emerges all rational, nuance, or potentially compassionate analysis of the situation goes out the window.
The issue in Ferguson isn’t whether there are cops out there influenced by racism (I’m sure plenty are) nor is the issue whether Cops or any other human being always displays the best judgment (they definitely don’t like any other human being). The issue in Ferguson goes even beyond whose version of the events is right or wrong. The real issue in Ferguson has to do with how we respond to those wrong us. The real issue in Ferguson has to do with who is responsible for all of society’s ills. The issue in Ferguson has to do with charting a course forward from a tragic loss of human life.
The Ferguson Riots bring us to today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew the 16th chapter. It’s a relatively famous Gospel lesson as Peter receives from Jesus the gift of the keys to the kingdom. Catholics have long used this passage as a justification for their adherence to the Pope. Something else is going on here that is way more important than the role of the Pope within the world. Jesus gives Peter a certain authority. Jesus states to Peter,“ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
These two keys that Peter receives speak to the entire message of the Christian church as it gathers on Sunday morning. Peter is given the power to use these two keys by either binding sins by declaring that one’s sins shall have consequences for one’s life. Peter is also given the ability to loosen sins or declare that we have been set free from sin’s consequences by the power of our Gospel.
Jesus is giving Peter an awesome responsibility within our text in that Peter can either withhold this forgiveness, or Peter can forgive the sins of the world around him. Christ in this text is giving the same responsibility to us.
We wonder how should these two keys work together in our lives?? For many people out there like those protesting in Ferguson, can only see the world working in terms of the first key of the Law. The Ferguson response makes sense since the first key of the Law is the common everyday human experience. As you talk to people about their everyday existence, you constantly encounter troubled burdens beaten down by their day to day interactions. For the truth about our lives is we cannot escape the Law in our life. Divorce is Law. Broken relationships are Law. Guilt is Law. Death is Law. The first key which Christ gives Peter of the Law is the only key that many of us know. So, we naturally assume it’s the solution to all of life’s problems. We experience judgment, so we need to rationalize judgment; we need to cast judgment upon those who sin differently than ourselves since its often the only way we know how to solve problems.
A number of years ago, GK Chesterton who was a famous Catholic philosopher was asked to write for The Times of London regarding “What is wrong with the world?” Here was Chesterton’s letter in its entirety. “Dear Sir: Regarding your article 'What's Wrong with the World?' I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”
G.K. Chesterton in this letter dared to do something that very few people today would have the guts to do in that he took the blame. The very first step to going forward as a world is finally admitting that our sin is just as responsible for its downfall as anybody else.
Perhaps the most beautiful story of confession within the Christian gospels occurs in Luke the 18th Chapter the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. One man, a Pharisee, admitted that he had sinned, but wanted to qualify the situation. The Pharisee’s sins weren’t that bad; they weren’t as bad as the sins of the Tax Collector. Contrast this to the Tax Collector who couldn’t even lift his head as he prayed out “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner.” What made the Tax Collector’s words, so poignant is that he didn’t shift the blame, but rather he took the blame. The Tax Collector admitted that the world was a big, colossal mess for which he was responsible. The only way out would be forgiveness and understanding.
How should the world respond to the situation in Ferguson? I think back on this day to the story of Nelson Mandela. Mandela grew up under a system of governance where the black majority, was brutally suppressed by the white minority. Mandela’s protest of the situation led to him spending twenty-seven years in jail. During Mandela’s years away in prison the situation worsened, even his wife Winnie was taken away from the children for eighteen months. I know how many people would have spent the nights that Nelson Mandela spent in a prison cell, they would have spent these nights plotting out revenge, and they would have spent these nights praying for the destruction of their enemy.
As Nelson Mandela is set free from prison in 1990, his response was different, in that Mandela wanted to forgive those who wronged him. Mandela realized that the anger never helps to soothe the pain of a particular situation of injustice.
At the moment of his release for prison Mandela said the following “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. In 1995, South Africa played in the Rugby World Cup. The rugby team had been hated during the years of oppression as they were seen as a symbol of white authority. Mandela dared to become the rugby’s team most vocal supporter to the shock of many people within his homeland. What guided Mandela’s beliefs is that he believed in a Messiah, who chose not race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, rather he believed that his Messiah chose all of an imperfect humanity.
If Nelson Mandela walked to Ferguson today, I believe his response to injustice would have been very different from what we have witnessed. If Jesus were to walk into Ferguson, he would not be shouting with anger. Jesus would rather be praying for those who persecute, Jesus would be extending compassion to those like Officer Darren Wilson, who may feel like the whole world is out to get him, and Jesus would be grieving with the family of Michael Brown. Jesus would encourage us to pray that whatever prejudices exist in the human condition that we may acknowledge them so that we may begin to let them go.
I want to give you two promises this morning. The first promise is that people will wrong. This world will spit you out and swallow you whole. Your spouse will disappoint you; your children will disappoint you; your friends will disappoint you, and the general state of the world will disappoint you. The world will probably make you mad.
We can do one of two things with this information. We can either choose to retain people’s sins against them. We can seek to hold onto hurt so that it defines and ultimately wrecks our lives. We can find plenty of people who will behave this exact way.
Win Jordan, who is a writer, recalls leading a Bible study one day when someone asked the following question “How was Jesus such a loving figure, yet so many people wanted to kill him?” Jordan answered that people hated Jesus’ message of forgiveness because it is an offense to our warped sense of right and wrong; we have a hard time embracing forgiveness since we can’t stand anything that goes against the idea of that which should happen, not happening.
For we can be different, we can speak words that make us uncomfortable. We can look towards, our own day of healing and restoration made known on a cross. The hardest thing to know in life is what to say in those moments when life grows increasingly complex, when we have to tread carefully on our every word as walk a fine line between when to bring the hammer down, when to overlook, enable, forgive, and love. For often in life, we are going to be called to do things that are going to eat us up inside especially as those go against our very nature. As Jesus gave Peter the key to forgiving people’s sins, he was giving him the ability to change one’s entire human experience with just four magic words “Your sins are forgiven.”
The second promise given to us on this morning is the promise that is given to Peter on this day. “I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.”
We are told on this day that the powers of death and damnation are not as strong as the powers of God nor will those evil powers win the battle. The powers of death and evil are all around us whenever we turn on the nightly news, but these evil powers are not stronger than the church and its power of God, who guides it. The promise we are given is that evil will lose out!!!!
The promise that Christ gives Peter and gives to us on this day is one of freedom. Jesus is promising unto Peter a gift of life. Jesus is promising to Peter that the old self shall one day be put to death, only to rise again anew three days later. We leave this place with the hope that the sins of the whole world don’t rest in our hands; they rest in the hands of our Lord and Savior. Amen
 Longnecker, Father Dwight. “Our Ferguson Problem”. Patheos. 19.Aug.2014. Web. 19.Aug.2014
 Matthew 16:19
 Story recalled by Longnecker, Dwight. “Our Ferguson Problem”.
 Luke 18:9-14
 Jordan, Win. “The Idiot Forgiveness of Nelson Mandela”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 6.Dec.2013. Web. Aug.19.2014
 Trimmer, Micheal. “Nelson Mandela and His Faith”. Christianity Today. 10.Dec.2013. Web. Aug.19.2014
 Jordan, Win. “The Idiot Forgivenes of Nelson Mandela.”
 This is based on a Mandela quote as laid out by Trimmer, Micheal in “Nelson Mandela and His Faith”
 Jordan, Win. “The Idiot Forgivenes of Nelson Mandela.”
 Matthew 16:18