s054e99 Somerton Park 22/8/99 Sunday 21

"loosed in heaven" Mat 16.19

I understand from my high school days that the French language has a very small number of words in comparison to English, but the various subtleties of meaning come from body language. The British being generally more reserved in temperament need more words whereas the French being perhaps more demonstrative in temperament need less words. I was interested to find in our recent Auxiliary speaker - the words of her book came alive when she read them - far more than they came alive when I read them to myself.

One of the things about Internet communication is that there are various sets of characters which are used to express, in shorthand, the spirit in which something is said. So a full colon followed by a dash, followed by a closing bracket, make up a smiling face. The statement is meant to be funny not serious. If the colon is replaced with a semicolon, this denotes a "wink" - whatever a wink denotes. So there is an Internet way of making plain, what actually is a vital part of our communication, the spirit in which something is "said".

So the translation of the New Testament is not just a matter of a word in English for a word in Greek. There are cultural differences which colour the meaning. Sometimes I suspect we can never know precisely what Jesus means, because we don't know the tone in which he spoke when he said the words.

Sometimes the Bible tells us the manner of speech. So we are told that Jesus "sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah" - so we get a real indication of the importance of this. It is curious that we as the Church consider that, despite this sternness, we are exempt from the same prohibition.

When I have heard the words about the keys of the kingdom of heaven spoken in church, most often they have been spoken, conveying the magnitude of the authority committed to Peter, and thence to the Church. I have been left with the impression that I've got to do what the Church says, or I risk being locked out. I have to be extremely mindful of the directions of the Church - fearful might be a more appropriate term. To have the keys of the kingdom of heaven is to have enormous power. To be able to exclude others from the kingdom, is to essentially consign people to eternal damnation - this is an incredible authority to possess. As an aside, I wonder if a refusal to marry a couple, for whatever reason, is essentially to give them a license to live together? I suspect that it would often be interpreted as such by those so refused. Do we indeed have authority to command life long celebacy? I have no desire to aspire to such a state, let alone any confidence that I could live up to such a command myself.

Often however I "hear" the Church saying that the problem is that people who don't come to Church don't recognise the authority we have. We see a church, seemingly in decline, and lament that the "good old days" are no longer with us. "The good old days" when "Father" said "jump" and we responded "how high?" We yearn for the time when the Church was powerful, successful and people responded.

But I have to ask the question - did Jesus intend this? I recall St Paul has stern words about submitting to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5.1), and the sorts of attitudes which I have indeed been parodying, are forms of slavery. Certainly it is a slavery "for their own good", but it is a servitude none the less.

I point out that these words could also be interpreted as permission to be as prodigal as the father in Luke's parable (chapter 15).

Recently Catherine and I heard our Assistant Bishop preach at an induction service, and after the service, she said I could well emulate some of his techniques - like speaking more slowly and deliberately, and being more definite about my statements of faith.

And I take this second to heart as I reflect back on what I have just typed - "these words could also be interpreted as permission to be as prodigal as the father in Luke's parable". What I really mean is that these words can ONLY be interpreted that we must be as prodigal as the father in Luke's parable. If we are fearful of what the Church might think - whoever we are - then we as the Church have a real image problem - or perhaps we as the Church find it too comfortable to want to change the aura of fear that surrounds us.

A long time ago, I recall speaking to a very senior member of the clergy, and he chanced to say: "If you get your relationship with God right, healing will come." He said this out of the best of motives, and I now actually agree with the sentiments, not just because they are orthodox, but because they are real. However at the time they didn't build me up, but cut me down. I took them to mean he was saying to me that I had to do more - I had to be more devout or whatever. No, they are true because when we realise that our relationship with God is already present as a gift, and that we don't need to strive anymore, healing will come. The problem was his seniority.

So when Peter says to Jesus: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" he is saying that this person who spent his ministry seeking out and accepting the hospitality of saints and sinners and so of being as prodigal as the father in Luke's gospel - that this accurately reflects who God is and who God has been from the beginning of time. He is effectively authorising the ministry characterised not by aloofness and fear but characterised by initiating intimacy and acceptance.

And the choice is before us all. I do not call you to submit to an alien concept - I am not going to beat you or anyone else down with an orthodox creed - subscribe or be damned! The fact that Jesus is the Son of God means that we allow the fact that Jesus has already initiated intimacy and acceptance of us and of everyone else, and that this is what God wants for us and for all.

This is why Jesus says to Peter: "Blessed are you ..." - not: "Thank you for your kind affirmation of my person and ministry ..."

Simon the Pharisee, in that notable occasion when he invited Jesus to dinner (Lk 7.40), and extended such begrudging hospitality, was not blessed, because he made light of his guest. Peter, on the other hand, made much of his friend and companion on the road, and by doing so experienced that wonderful affirmation and prophecy of his own role in the future community of faith.

We ordain Jesus to bless our lives as we confess him as Lord, and we ordain others to bless our lives as we recognise and affirm the Lord in them. So there needs be no end to blessing.

Every time we recognise in someone else the presence of the Lord, and that they have a contribution to make to our lives, we ordain them to do so. Every time we look askance at another, and wonder what earthly use this person would be to society and ourselves, it is we who are the poorer - and of course ultimately society as a whole suffers in the long run too.

So perchance this is why Jesus "sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah" let alone "the Son of the living God". That would be to point to a particular presence of God in one individual, when we will be blessed as we recognise and affirm the unique presence of God in many individuals - in all those God has put around us.

This indeed becomes a way of life - but not just "in here" looking for Jesus in the worship and sacramental life of this community, but also, and rather more particularly "out there" where the lives and ministries of ordinary people need affirmation. For of course how will they be affirmed, how will the presence of God ever be recognised, unless we as the Church, the inheritors of the keys, have eyes to see and mouths to express this wideness of God's mercy, for us and for all.

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