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Keys and Gates…

August 26, 2017

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading about the keys to the kingdom of heaven made me think of the many doors I have either taken pictures of or walked through. This particular door is to a church in Ireland. Doors can be used to keep people out or they can be what we open to allow people to enter into our fellowship or our home. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus said that he was standing at the door and knocking. If anyone hears his voice and opens the door, he will come in and eat with that person and they will eat with him. It makes me wonder how we open doors for strangers to come in and feel welcome as a community and as a church.

I continue to struggle with the hatred and vitriol being spewed in this country and in the world. On Social Media and on the world stage, hatred seems to be the norm. I actually witnessed (in writing) someone attack a very dear friend of mine and retort that it is perfectly legitimate to run down a protester in the street and kill them. This person also claimed to be a christian (yes, lower case is definitely intentional… especially in this case). These are the sorts of folks who give religion a bad name for heaven’s sake!

Isn’t it interesting that racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, and every other vile treatment of the other gets a pass? Yes, I say “interesting” with all the sarcasm I can muster. Yet that is exactly what is happening at the highest levels of our government either by words or by silence!

You may be wondering where this comes from in terms of the totality of the Gospel reading. As I reflected on the reading this week, in and amongst everything else that was going on in our community, I kept coming back to verse 19 — ” 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.”

This week has been a time of doors opening and closing. On Wednesday, we lost two very dear members of our congregation mere hours apart. Jan passed away unexpectedly in the hospital and Ken died suddenly while hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Both of these dear people had become good friends over the course of the two years I have been the pastor at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. Indeed, as I think about it, they were a part of the community which opened the door of welcome to Denise and to me when we arrived on August 27th, 2015.

As we sat at Jan’s bedside during her last few hours on this earth, we shared stories and prayed… we watched, prayed, and waited… the moment the door opened for Jan to move on, we knew we couldn’t follow her. It was hard to let her go and yet it was also a blessing to see her finally at peace and to know that she had become perfectly whole. Ken was hiking in Rocky and doing what he loved to do best. Not only did he love spending time in Rocky, he also loved spending time mentoring other hikers and climbers just as he had been doing when he died suddenly.

Today it seems that the church is becoming known in some quarters not as a place of sanctuary that opens the doors to all of God’s children, but rather as an exclusive club with barred doors and windows. Love is not the password to get in either. No, it is proper doctrine or hating the same people that the god they have created in their own image hates. When I think about how the church has misused and abused this particular passage of scripture throughout the generations, it breaks my heart.

The door pictured above is from a church in the Republic of Ireland. The history of Ireland hasn’t always been positive to say the least. The feuding between Catholics and Protestants which was often fueled by the British Empire led to much violence and bloodshed on both sides.

A dear friend of mine, was an Irish Catholic Priest and Air Force Chaplain. Jerry and I were stationed for a brief while together at my first duty station before he was murdered in 1991. We had long talks about the “troubles” as they were called… he was ordained in Belfast as bombs were going off… yet a strange thing happened. His nieces and nephews had a great love of music. They began getting together with other kids to play music together and to enjoy the music. They didn’t check religious identities at the door… their friends and band mates were Catholic and Protestant. The music brought them together and overcame the sectarian hatred and violence perpetrated by their elders. A new generation had begun to learn that Love Wins!

Personally for me, it was when I began to make friends in the African American community in the military and later in the Florida Panhandle, that I was able to overcome my own fears resulting from my own mugging in November, 1985. It was also as I was able to truly get to know members of the LGBTQ community in Seminary, in the Air Force, and and in my ministry since then that I saw the foolishness of the hatred they experienced on a daily basis. Once again, #LoveWins!

Certain sectors of the church and nation want us to fear. They thrive on fear. This sinful mix of fear and hatred was what fueled the horror that unfolded in Charlottesville. It is what fuels the idiotic drive to build a wall on the Mexican border! It is what fuels attacks on African American churches, Jewish Synagogues, Muslim Mosques, and LGBTQ gathering places. Yet when you look at the ministry of Jesus, it was more about breaking down barriers than it was about building walls.

As I reflect on the Romans passage, I am drawn to the picture of transformation (…be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:2) and to the concept of the body of Christ as a diverse, yet unified whole. What a concept! We are so focused on what divides us and making ourselves feel superior at the expense of another in this world that we miss the point.

Often times when I pray after the tithes and offerings are brought forward during worship, I ask God to take our lives and these gifts and use them for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. What does that kingdom look like? Frankly, I don’t look at it as golden streets and jeweled crowns as much as I look at it as a body made up of diversity and uniqueness all wrapped up in the love of God. The kingdom of God here on earth should look like a place where #LoveWins, not where correct doctrine trumps all else.

Jesus said whatever was bound on earth would be bound in heaven in the Gospel reading. I approach that concept very carefully… if we bind and loose on our own… if we play god… well, we might just find ourselves bound up by a god made in the image of hatred instead of loosed by a God of love! God help us, dear reader, to be that difference in this world of hatred and fear. May we be more about opening doors and living out love than building walls and slamming doors in the face of those who are “different” from us! After all, aren’t we all made in the image and likeness of God?

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