Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, August 27, 2017, Pentecost 12, Proper 16, Year A, Matthew 16:13-20
“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.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is good to be back with you today. While I was away on vacation, I spent some time reflecting on our last year together. Partly because this month, we entered into our second year together, but partly because I needed to search my heart and soul and see if any of this has mattered in the last year.
The 50 or so times we gathered around this table to break bread and sip wine, the dozen or so times Vestry has met and deliberated the important matters that affect our common life, the recitation of the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer, over and over again.
I had to ask myself, am I any different today than I was 13 months ago? Different from praying in this space, with these folks, with these words?
I had to ask myself, has any of the scripture we’ve steeped ourselves in, as a community, changed our spheres of influence, even in the tiniest of ways?
I had to ask myself because this is what I do. This is the job that I do as your priest (as one of your priests), to create space for you to come and pray with me… to come and pray as a unified body… to pray for our parish, our world, and the Universal Church. My job is help time slow things down, even for an hour or so once a week, for God’s people.
So that hearts can be opened, and softened, to God’s dreams for humanity. My job is to administer God’s grace through the sacraments of the church, to empower you to carry out the mission of the church.
My job is to be available for you, where you are when you need to know of God’s loving embrace. This is my work, and it is holy and sacred and daunting and wonderful and frustrating and different…every single day.
And I love it. And it does matter, to me. It has changed me. Holding people’s hands to pray with them as they enter into the nearer presence of God, on behalf of the church, is a holy privilege that I do not take lightly.
Listening to hurts and pains and frustrations in my study or over coffee or on a couch…are holy privileges that I do not take lightly. Presiding at Vestry meetings to tend to how we will steward these gifts given to the Church in thanksgiving for all of God’s mercy, is a holy and sacred honor.
This week, especially, I reflected about how these practices we employ as a body affect us, change us. I wondered what you guys think about how breaking bread and praying ancient prayers, singing ancient hymns, has changed us.
Certainly, it has. But in what ways?
Are we a body who employs more mercy to our neighbor after consuming God’s body and blood? Are we a body who is more generous with our assumptions about humans in our midst after praying the Lord’s Prayer, week after week?
I hope so.
Because if these past few weeks have taught us anything, it is that we, as the body of Christ, the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement in Northern Michigan, it is that these things need to shape us, they need to change us, they need to transform us.
Matters of the heart that plague our world…sins like hatred, hunger, violence, bigotry, racism, sexism…need the people of God to discern what will be bound and what will be loosed.
In this morning’s gospel, Matthew’s Jesus was teaching the community about whom he was transferring the trust of the kingdom to. As a post-Easter community, the Matthean community was now entrusted with, not as individual silos but as a body…together…what the commandments meant for them…in their day.
You see, Binding and Loosing, in scripture, is generally understood by people way smarter than me, as “the practice of determining the application of scriptural commandments for contemporary situations.”
Some even say that it would have been understood by the Matthean community, that this practice was THE business of the church, that this was its mission.
Their work was in discerning how the commandments Jesus left them were going to apply to them.
The work WE have to do, as the church, is to determine, as the body assembled as St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, a parish of The Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, in Beulah Michigan, is to determine (or “discern”) how it is, that our community is going to bind or loose on earth … to love our God and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Let’s break that down a little further.
You have heard scripture say, “Love your neighbor.”
If we bind that piece of scripture on earth that means we commit ourselves to applying that commandment to our life and ministry, our mission in the world.
And Paul teaches us in his first letter to the people in Corinth that…
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)”
And when we have to apply that to our neighbor…who does that include?
For Matthew’s Jesus, our neighbor also included our enemies. The people who are diametrically “other” from us.
As a parish that is a part of The Episcopal Church, we’ve been in this practice of binding and loosing scripture for centuries. Our church takes very seriously, scripture and what God’s intent was in providing this eternal word for our community. The words we say together each week, come from the Bible, not just the readings, but the prayers, the hymns, all of it. All of it is here to help us in our work of discernment about what each of God’s commandments, of how to love God and how to love our neighbor, will shape our belief. How our prayer is supposed to seep down into our bones so that when we are in the car, behind someone who doesn’t know their way around, we can recall the words of a particular hymn or prayer or piece of scripture, and find a morsel of mercy for ourselves and others.
That’s why our people are so involved with organizations like Benzie Area Christian Neighbors, and City Council. Why our people sit on boards and clean fish to give to BACN. That’s why our parish puts diapers and formula into the hands of our neighbors in need and why we hold Reading Camp…And…it’s why we elect Vestry members and delegates to our Diocesan Convention. Why we change lightbulbs and dig graves. Why we buy fair trade coffee and press the linens for communion. Why we pull weeds and put away chairs. Why we take out the garbage and pour over the finances. Why we sing hymns from the years 325 and 1658. Why we pray prayers that Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray.
It’s all connected, my friends. We’re all connected. What we do, what we say, and how we treat each other and our neighbors, very much matters.
This is our incubator, our laboratory for how to apply the scriptures we read and hear.
Then we take it out into the world and practice it all week long.
You, we, are the beloved children of God, St. Philip’s. You, we, have been called to very holy work. Whether you are just visiting today or come here week after week. Your voice is now a part of who we are and we are a part of who you are. The world needs to hear how our hearts have been softened to love more freely those who are most vulnerable. The world needs to see how our prayers shape what we believe and how we respond to their needs.
May you be embraced this week with the words we pray today, may your hearts be softened from the meditations of our hearts today.
May you have the courage to be kind and the audacity to hope for a better tomorrow.
May you always know that you are God’s beloved and you are Christ’s hands and feet now and always. Amen.