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Losing What We Cannot Afford to Lose

Matthew 16:13-20

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 10, Proper 16, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 21, 2011 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Have you ever noticed how we lose things?  Maybe it's a sign of age, or, maybe it's just a product of being preoccupied with too many things, sort of the Martha complex.  When Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear Him speak, Martha raced around the house making last minute preparations for His visit.  "Martha, Martha, (Jesus said) you are worried and upset about many things."  I, for one, hope our propensity for losing things is more of a symptom of preoccupation than of age.  I recall a day, not too long ago, when I frantically searched the house looking for my glasses only to discover that I was wearing them.  You can't imagine how relieved I was to find them because I really can't read a thing without them. 

I recall a time too when my sister-in-law lost her keys.  You know how it is when you lose your keys.  You are literally stopped in your tracks.  You can't drive.  You can't leave the house unless you leave unlocked.  You can't do much of anything but search.  My sister-in-law looked and looked around the house for her keys.  She checked all the places where she would commonly leave them, her purse, her dresser, the kitchen counter, but, they weren't anywhere to be found.  Finally she asked her daughter, who at the time was about 3 years old, if she had seen her keys.  All Natalie would say was "I put them in the mailbox."  Not finding them in the mailbox my sister-in-law asked Natalie again if she had seen her keys, to which she replied, "I put them in the mailbox."  What my sister-in-law finally came to understand was that, to a 3 year old, the slot where you put the 8 track tape into the stereo is the "mailbox." 

We are prone to losing things, aren't we?  Why, I can even lose Dawn in a matter of minutes in Wal-Mart.  Unfortunately, our propensity to lose things isn't limited to the trivial and the mundane.  The truth is, the Church, of which Jesus says the gates of hell will never prevail, is not immune to the very human tendency to lose things either.  But, in the Church, the stakes are much higher and our losses become much more significant and troublesome.  Of course, I don't mean, in this case, the personal items that we are so prone to lose.  Obviously we Christians are every bit as forgetful and so forth as anyone else.  What I mean is that we in the church are not immune to losing the gifts that God has so richly and graciously given us in His Word.  Gifts like His real presence at the altar, His regenerative power in the water of baptism, His promise of forgiveness in absolution, even His assurance that what He says can, and, in fact, should and must be believed and trusted. 

In Matthew 16, the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus asked Peter "who do you say I am?" Even though there were all sorts of sundry viewpoints as to who Jesus really was, Peter confessed that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  Jesus then told Peter that the church would be built on the rock of his confession.  "You are Peter (He said) and on this rock I will build My Church." 

As it turns out, some lost the seed of Peter's confession before it even germinated.  Some, as you are no doubt aware, take Jesus' words to mean that Peter is the rock on which the Church is built.  In fact, it is from that mistaken understanding of Matthew 16 that the entire Papal system has been built.  Luther, on the other hand, reminded us that we should never put our faith in men, for, men and counsels err.  Indeed, "Trust not in rulers (we sing); they are but mortal; earthborn they are and soon decay.  Since mortals can no help afford, place all your trust in Christ our Lord." 

The Church is built on Jesus, the divine Son of God, and on her confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  The Church's confession, as to who Jesus is, is significant and dare not be lost.  Oh, it wouldn't happen overnight!  No, the process whereby the Church loses her confession is a slow, insidious process.  One day the question is asked whether it is important to maintain this or that doctrine, and then, perhaps 10, 20, or 30 years later, pastors are held in contempt for teaching that very doctrine that was once an inviolate truth of God's Word. 

As a case in point, let's consider this morning, the giving of the keys of the Kingdom to the Church, since its part of the Gospel reading in Matthew 16.  Jesus said to His disciples, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  The Church is literally given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, such that holy absolution is to be proclaimed where there is repentance, but, where there is no repentance, God's wrath and displeasure are to be proclaimed.  By the exercise of the Keys heaven then is literally opened and closed.

The keys are given, not to pastors, but to the Church.  You, therefore, are empowered by God to declare the forgiveness purchased and won by Christ to your brother or sister in the faith.  The exercise of the keys is your God given role as a Holy Priest of God.  Consequently, you possess something that no money in the world can buy.  Do you think we've lost that understanding of the exercise of the keys?  When was the last time you said to someone who was broken by the awareness of their own sin, "I, in the stead and by the command of Christ, forgive you!?"

The pastor, of course, exercises the Office of the Keys in a corporate setting, that is, when Christ's bride, the Church, comes together in the Divine Service.  We confess our sins.  Yes, Lord, "We have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves."  We stand before Almighty God bound, imprisoned by the stone cold hardness of our own hearts.  And, by the way, even if we don't feel it, it's still true.  Because of what we are, because of what we've done and what we haven't done, we have offended God, and that offense keeps us separated from Him, cut off from the glory of heaven and the promise of life.  And then God, in His grace and mercy, says to His servant, "I command you to forgive them!" "Speak, He says!" And let your words bring the full import of the Gospel, of the death and resurrection of My Son to bear on their souls.  Indeed, "I, in the stead and by the command of Christ, forgive you all of your sins!"

Now, beyond those words sounding too good to be true, they, no doubt, sound blasphemous to the uninstructed.  After-all, who can forgive sins but God?  And this is where the Church is so susceptible to losing its treasured gifts.  Rather than instruct God's people as to why these seemingly blasphemous words are spoken, some have simply given them up for something less offensive.  It isn't wrong, of course, for me to simply tell you that God gave His Son in death for you that you might be forgiven.  Still, it is altogether a different thing for me, for all of us as Christians, to exercise the keys that God gave us in Matthew 16.  We are privileged to not only talk about what Jesus did for us in Christ, but, to literally bring His life, death and resurrection to bear in the lives of those who cry out for mercy.  Conversely, when God's grace is presumed upon, when the sinner refuses to confess his guilt against better knowledge, he or she should have heaven's gate closed before his very eyes, thus imploring and persuading him to think better of his actions and the coldness of his heart. 

We lose all kinds of things, don't we?  Hold on, my friends, to the treasure God has given you through His Word!  Exercise the office of the keys among one another because it is your right, your privilege and your duty to do so.  And insist that your Pastor do the same!

Once again, gather together and assemble all of the horrors of your past in your mind's eye.  Consider what you did that you shouldn't have done.  Consider too all the goodness that you omitted, the evil word spoken, the unkind gesture, the prideful self-absorption.  See it all barring you from the Kingdom of Heaven, leaving you in a barren place of waste and despair.  Confess your guilt!  Own your corruption without excuse.  And then hear again what God says to you through His servant as he exercises the Office of the Keys.  "I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word announce the grace of God to all of you.  And in the stead, and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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