The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven

A Sermon for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah xxii:19-23: Ps. cxxxvii(cxxxviii):1-3,6,8 Romans xi:33-36 Matthew xvi:13-20

Perugino Keeper of the Keys

Perugino, Christ Giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, Sistine Chapel, 1481-83, fresco, 10 feet 10 inches x 18 feet (Vatican, Rome)

We’ve been away a bit recently. It’s been really nice – a good break, in different settings, a chance to catch our breath a bit. But, of course, there are always things that need to be arranged. We were delighted to receive an unsolicited offer to feed the cat while we were away for one of those weeks. You know who you are – thank you. The offer came from someone who we were quite happy to give a set of keys to. You know the drill – if you go away, it’s a good idea to leave a set of keys with someone reliable and trustworthy. Some people leave a set of keys with someone as a matter of course, in case of an emergency – but the rule remains the same. It’s always someone you trust.


We learn in our first reading that Shebna, King Hezekiah’s palace official, didn’t come up to the mark, and so he is replaced by someone who enjoys the king’s confidence – Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, who was to prove completely reliable.  And Isaiah writes of him: I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open. There is confidence here, and a great repository of trust. In the gospel Jesus says to Peter I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Both Eliakim and Peter have demonstrated that they are worthy of trust, that things won’t go astray under their stewardship – that the Master will return, and find that everything is in good order.

In Peter’s case, it appeared for a time as if that trust had been misplaced. His threefold denial of Jesus to save his own skin: the scattering of Jesus’ inner circle at the first sign of danger. It was to hands such as Peter’s that Jesus entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom. It was to the frailest of people. In fact, the whole band of apostles don’t really stand up to scrutiny.  A while ago I came across the following.


Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop


Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.


Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,
Jordan Management Consultants.

That’s what the church is. Full of frail people. Frail people in whom God has invested his trust, has given the keys of his Kingdom. He asks you and me to participate in this task. We are as frail as any, because we are human. But the whole point is that we don’t do these things for ourselves, or in our own strength. We have the promise of Jesus to be with us until the end of time. We have the promise of his peace. We have the promise of his strength. We have the promise of his Body, or love and companionship, of togetherness and loyalty, of compassion, of joy, and the grace to achieve far more that we ever thought possible. Jesus brings us the message that – apart from how loved we are – that we are trusted, trusted with the most responsible task of them all – as doorkeepers of the kingdom of God.

If you’re paying careful attention, you’ll have raised an eyebrow by now. You may well be thinking that the Keys of the Kingdom stuff is about – well, about Bishops, and Priests, and Deacons, and that’s part of the responsibility of being ordained, and in a very important sense, you’re right. But the keys of the kingdom rattle louder than that. Do you want other people to enter the Kingdom of God? Do you want others who live round here who aren’t here to be here? Do you want them to join in this perpetual dance of love, grace and service, and a life that is eternal? Because each one of us is a key holder, a door keeper. It is up to us who we invite to join us, who we welcome when they come through the door, who doesn’t find that they are welcome despite wanting to find out what all this is about.  Just as surely as you have a key to your house, you have a key to this church, this Jesus, this Kingdom.

This week’s homework. Think of three people. Three people you know, in this community. If it will help, write their names down. Commit to praying for these people – ask God to bless them, to open eyes and hearts to his love, and to draw them to himself.  And them invite them to join us at something – whether it’s a social, or worship, whatever. That is what we are about. We have been given the keys of the kingdom, not to lock people out, but to include other people in. 

A prayer of the great Bishop Thomas Ken, then, in our endeavours:

O God, make the doors of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, not to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.

O God, make the doors of this house the gateway to your eternal kingdom. Amen.

Preached at The Most Holy Trinity, Ettingshall, on Sunday 27 August 2017.


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