Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
I am glad to be home; it is good to be back at Epiphany. I missed you, and the way we worship God together. I have been on a far-off continent, a long, long plane ride away. The world is a big place. But here is the weird thing: to return home, to step onto this campus, and to see you all again was to be reminded that it is not the world that is a big place, but the kingdom of God. For me, coming home to you was like stepping into a space bigger and more dramatic, with more possibility and joy, than the great big world I’d returned from. It is like that image at the end of C.S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle, where the children of Narnia step inside a stable only to find the space on the inside bigger than the space they left on the outside. That is what it feels like to come home to Epiphany.
I want to pick up today where Kate left off in her sermon last Sunday, pulling on a thread she left dangling around how the way we see the world actually changes the world. She used Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, as the model for how seeing ourselves as beloved children of God changes us, and how seeing our neighbor as beloved children of God changes them. How we see the world impacts the world. I’d like to tie these ideas of how we see the bigger space on the inside, together with this image: Jesus Christ gives us the keys. Jesus gives us keys to walk through a door into a space that is bigger than the one we left behind, and, how in this space we have the power to bind what is bad and to loose what is good. This process of binding and loosing starts with how we see a situation.
The image of keys reminds me of an incident from our vacation this summer. We went to London and Paris as a family, after which time Kristin and Desmond returned home. Margaret, my 15-year-old daughter, and our 21-year-old cousin Mattie, and I traveled to Wales. There we visited Cheryl and Brinley Morgan. They picked us up at the train station, and on the way to their home we stopped by an ancient church they attend. We walked down a mowed path and entered an alcove. Brinley pulled up the rug and picked up a key to the door. Now I could have found that key even if I wasn’t looking for it; I probably would have tripped over it. It was this big (like 14 inches) and probably weighed a pound and a half. Brinley handed the key to Margaret and said: “Give it a try.” Margaret took the key, turned it upside-down, put it in the lock, turned it, and opened the massive door. Brinley was surprised. “How did you know to turn the key upside-down,” he asked? To which Margaret replied, “Because nothing in the church works like you would normally expect it to work.” (And I didn’t think she was paying attention.)
Jesus and the disciples had recently been on a vacation as well. They were returning to Galilee via Caesarea Philippi. It was a city that sat at the foot of Mount Hermon, and was a spiritual center in the Greco-Roman world. There was a large cave in the mountain, from which, at least during Jesus’ time, a tributary of the Jordan River issued forth. When Jesus and the boys arrived the city was under construction. Herod Philippi was building a massive palace and had recently completed a temple to Pan, the Greek god of the forest and the underworld, Hades.
So there Jesus is sitting with his disciples in the midst of pagan shrines, and here he does what he often does when he is teaching his disciples; he uses the context in which they are placed to support the point he is trying to make. Imagine Jesus pointing to Mount Hermon and saying to Peter, “You are the rock.” Imagine Jesus pointing to the cave where water is bubbling up from the underworld, the realm of Pan, and saying: “I will build my church on you, and against it the gates of Hades will not prevail.” Imagine how real that felt to the disciples. The power of Hades, the realm of Pan, the rising water, the chaos… and Jesus’ words, “these will not prevail against you!” Maybe they had some doubts. But Jesus continues. “Here is why you will prevail, because I will give you the keys to the kingdom and what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”.
Jesus gave the disciples the keys and they have passed them onto you and me. It makes me wonder. What door should we open? What do we need to bind up? What do we need to let loose? It makes me wonder particularly given the summer we have had. It seems like the prevailing forces of Hades have smashed the gates and flooded the world with chaos. There is ISIS terrorizing people throughout Iraq and Syria. There is the Gaza and Israel mess and the Ukraine is under assault. The missing girls of Nigeria are still missing. Ferguson is a train wreck. And Jesus has given us a set of keys. It is tempting to imagine we can go inside the church and lock the door behind us. But that is not what happens if the church is like Epiphany, where the inside is bigger than the outside. When we go inside we find that we are closer to Ferguson, Mosul, and Gaza than we ever imagined. We’ll find we are able to have more impact than we previously thought possible.
There is a key right under the mat you are standing on. Pick it up. Turn it upside-down, put it in the lock, turn the key, push the door, and step inside. We step inside to engage, not escape. To push the door open and enter is to prevail against the gates of Hades. Now that we are inside the question is: “How do we see?” Not “what do we see,” but “how do we see now?”
How do we gaze upon Gaza and Mosul and Ferguson from a kingdom of God perspective like Elizabeth did?
Now we have established the inside is bigger than the outside, and that we have keys to get into this connected space. Now that we are on the inside, what do we see and how does that impact the world? Our work here is built on an assumption given by Paul in his letter to the Roman’s today, “We are one body.” We are connected. We are unified. Gaza and Mosul and Ferguson are towns in our neighborhood, filled with people like you and me who are beloved children of God. If they are God’s children, they are our brothers and sisters. This is a fundamental idea in the kingdom of God. We are connected. We are connected in many ways but one way we are connected is by how we see each other.
Science gives us a useful analogy. Quantum mechanics teaches us the uncertainty principle developed by Heisenberg which states that there is real coherence between the seer and what is seen. To see is to connect with that which is being seen. So how we see a situation may have real impact on how that situation plays out. That was the lesson Kate taught us last Sunday through the eyes of Elizabeth.
So let’s ask ourselves this question. How do we see Gaza, Mosul and Ferguson? Do we see them with judgment, contempt and distance? Or do we see them with compassion, heart-break, and hope? Are they foreigners or are they family?
Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upwards talks about seeing. He calls it “contemplation.” Contemplation, he says, is to see through competition, conflict, conspiracy, condemnation, and contrary evidence to a place of connection and coherence and redemption. Contemplation is to gaze upon the cross and see resurrection. Contemplating the gates of Hades is enough to hold them closed; but it takes a more if we want to lock them shut. It requires we contemplate our own actions as they are reflected in the actions in Gaza, Mosul and Ferguson. They are connected. If we see what is happening there we are connected and have impact.
Yes, it is true, we are not breaking people’s bodies like they are in Gaza, but we do have broken relationships. It is true we are not holding mock trials as they do in Syria, but we do condemn people in our hearts. It is true we are not throwing rocks at people because of skin color, but we do judge by our own prejudices.
There are things in our lives that we can bind and we can loose. We can bind broken relationship and condemnation and prejudice. And we can loose compassion and charity and love. We can have an impact on places that seem far away by the way we choose to see one another here at home.
That doesn’t seem intuitive, so again let’s return to quantum mechanics for an analogy. There is something called quantum entanglement which teaches us that how a particle on one side of the universe moves has impact on how a particle on the other side of the universe moves. Now I don’t know if there is a one to one correlation between quantum behavior and human interaction. But I do believe that what is revealed in science gives us ways of thinking about our interactions with our neighbors and with God. So I extrapolate from quantum entanglement to say: What we bind and loose in our own lives has an impact on the lives of our brothers and sisters who also live with us in the kingdom of God. We have been given the keys to the kingdom. What we bind on earth will be bond in heaven; and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
It is a hard thing to contemplate places that seem so far away, that seem so sad, and torn by strife. It is easier to judge, because judgment gives us some space, some buffer. But if they are suffering in Gaza, Mosul and Ferguson, we are suffering as well here inside this big space we call the kingdom of God. They are our brothers and sisters, beloved children of God. How we see them matters, especially if how we seen them moves us to be more compassionate and charitable and loving here at home.
We hold the keys to the kingdom. Jesus has given us the power to bind and the power to loose.