Jesus and the disciples have been traveling. They have come into the district of Caesarea Philippi. They have journeyed far and are likely now resting.
Perhaps here to find a spot of shade and a drink of cool, fresh, clean water. It is believed that they are standing near the cave that is the source of the Jordan River. This cave was once a place where people came to worship pagan gods. Outside the cave sit statues of deities in niches.
It is in this place Jesus asks,
"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
What isn’t clear is if they knew he was talking about himself or if they thought he was saying something along the lines of,
“This Messiah y’all think is coming, who do folks say he is?”
Regardless, they answer,
"Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Remember John was often mistaken for the Messiah, Elijah was taken into heaven, Jeremiah prophesied disaster. What is revealed is that the disciples are for the most part clueless about who Jesus really is. He is their teacher, friend, fellow traveler. The Son of Man? Surely, not this man who has broken bread, laughed, walked, and wept with them.
He then makes them think about that as he asks,
"But who do you say that I am?"
And Peter, our friend who is the first to jump in without thinking, answers
"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
The one who is so quick to speak without thinking, to run away when things get tough, the one with whom most of us identify, says without missing a beat that he know that Jesus is the Messiah. The one everyone else thinks is still to come in some sort of mighty display of power and strength to free the people from oppression. Peter for one moment gets it.
We then get the famous interchange in which Jesus says he will build his church upon the rock. Many of us have been taught that Peter is the rock. Yet even though that is what his name means, Jesus is actually referring to himself. Jesus is the rock upon whom the church is built. Think about it, he is the cornerstone, the foundation. It is he, Jesus, upon whom the church is built. That is good news when you think that it was to us the church has been entrusted. How else would Christ’s church have lasted 2000 years with people caring for it? In spite of our frailties and sinfulness, the church exists still.
Jesus reminds us that even the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church, so even we cannot destroy it. That gives me hope.
Speaking to all the disciples, and yes to us, Jesus says he will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. If you think about artistic portrayals of Peter there is usually a set of keys in the depiction. Even our jokes show Peter standing at the gates of heaven as a gatekeeper.
But what if the keys are not a literal thing like we have been taught?
What if the keys are in fact living into our call as disciples?
What if the keys are heeding the call found in the words of Paul, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but 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.”
Doesn’t that change everything? To be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God? Not to have some magic set of keys, a set of rules, certain behaviors that mysteriously open the gates of heaven but rather living a life that is acceptable to God.
What would that look like, feel like?
Most of us have a hard time just living into our roles as parents, workers, students, children, friends. But to live a life as a person transformed to that place that we are able to discern the will of God? To where we are holy?
How would our world, our lives be changed if we remembered that our enemies are a living sacrifice to God as well?
Would it make it harder to turn away from the homeless man resting under the bridge? The mentally ill woman walking the street? The one dressed differently than us? The one who talks using words we don’t know? The discourteous driver who gets our parking place? The “friend” who can’t hold fast to a secret? The one against whom you hold a grudge?
How do we do that? We certainly cannot do it of our own free will nor in solitude. Perhaps that is why the church, built on the rock of Christ, exists. Our catechesis teaches us that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ as we pray, worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love.
We are called to come together to seek after God, to be refilled, renewed, and refreshed as we remember each week the sacrifice and offering of Christ. To be reminded that each of us is called to live as a living sacrifice to God. To see others as holy and acceptable to God.
It is only on that rock that we can let go of those things that keep us from living into our call to be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.
It is only on that rock we can loose what needs to be loosed and bind what needs to be bound.
It is only on that rock that I may see you as holy, that you may see me as holy, and as we strive to that spiritual worship, it is the rock that transforms us and leaves us able to seek the will of God.
I will share my keys, if you will share yours.