When Christ Church Episcopal was built on the corner of Maryland Parkway and St. Louis in 1961, Las Vegas was a very different place. The world was a different place. This was a gracious residential neighborhood. I suspect that the church was seldom, if ever, locked.
I know of very few churches today that remain unlocked, and that’s a very sad statement. If any building should remain open and welcome people to wander inside for prayer and meditation or just to sit and rest a while, it is a church.
But I’m a realist and understand the need to balance both the need to welcome the stranger and to practice good stewardship of this wonderful old building.
The result of balancing those twin imperatives is that I carry around a lot of keys, and I know that our sexton Steve Finnegan carries around even more keys.
Today’s gospel reading is about a question and a set of keys.
The question is, “Who do you say that I am?”
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked Peter, and that question still hangs in the air and echoes in our ears, because Jesus didn’t just ask Peter that question, he still asks each of us that question.
Do we see Jesus just as one who saves us from our sins but then leaves us stuck in our complacency? Our do we see him as the Lord of our lives who commands us to follow him into the struggles he is still engaged in here in this time and place?
Do we see him just as one who speaks soothing and kind words to us but does not challenge us to rise up and follow him?
Do we see him as a prophet challenging injustice? Do we see him as a king whose rule over our lives transcends every earthly kingdom? Do we see him as a priest who stands in our midst connecting every part of our lives with the very life of God?
A few years ago the singer Joan Osborne asked the question, “What if God was one of us? … Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.” Of course, she was right. That’s exactly what the New Testament says, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
The Christian faith tells us that Jesus is fully human and also God incarnate. The phrase “God incarnate” means that everything that God is came to reside in a human life.
Jesus’ humanity was no different from our humanity. I believe that the idea of the incarnation also means that God can be present in our lives, too. God can be present in us. God’s light can shine through us. God can use us to build the kingdom.
Several years ago I heard the chief piano tuner for Steinway pianos tell the story of going to Carnegie Hall to tune a piano for the great pianist Arthur Rubenstein. He brought along his young son who had just begun to play the piano. After he had tuned the piano, his little boy asked if he could play it, and his father gave him permission. So he sat down and began to play a simple piece. At that moment, Rubenstein came out of the wings and sat down beside the boy. The child had no idea who Rubenstein was, so he just continued to play. And Rubenstein started to improvise an accompaniment that turned the child’s piece into something extraordinary and beautiful.
That is what can happen when we allow God to work through us, allow God’s light to shine in our lives. Our efforts can be lifted up and made a part of God’s work. Our words can be given wings. Our lives can be transformed with divine energy.
That is what I hope and pray happens at Christ Church – that we will let God live in and through this community, that we will let God’s work be done in us in this time and place.
Then when Peter answered Jesus’ question correctly, Jesus handed him a set of keys: “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."
Keys have two functions. One function is to lock things up, to keep out the bad guys, to protect what is ours. The other function of keys is to open up, to let people in.
I suspect that we mostly think of the former function of keys, that is, to lock things up and keep people out. However, I’d like us to think mostly of the latter function: to open up and let people in.
I believe that the primary function of this great old church is to be as open as possible, to let people in, to welcome the lost and lonely, the broken and hurting, the hungry and the homeless. And I believe that with all my heart.
Today is the day of our annual meeting, and it is a good day to think about our mission, our purpose. I believe you could chart the story of Christ Church through the years in terms of how we have progressively unlocked our doors and made this place more and more open to all kind of people.
In the 1960s we opened our doors to African Americans and began to evaluate people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
In the 1970s we unlocked the doors of ordination and began to welcome women into the ministries of priest and bishop, offices closed to them for almost 2000 years.
More recently we unlocked the doors of the church and said bienvenido to our Latino sisters and brothers.
And this last year the sacrament of holy matrimony was unlocked and we began to invite our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to have their relationships blessed and honored.
Throughout the year we free people from the burden of hunger when we feed them through our Epicenter and our Amazing Grace dinner. We unlock our doors and welcome the homeless when we host Family Promise.
I believe we are at an important turning point in Christ Church’s history. This year we are in a wonderful place with our finances. We began last year with a big deficit, but we ended the year with a surplus. We begin this year with a balanced budget. It would be tempting to sit back and enjoy being in this comfortable place, but I believe we need to challenge ourselves to do more – to expand our staff and programs, to reach out to the community in new ways…
I want every one of you to unlock your imagination, to free yourselves up to dream and imagine what Christ Church might become over the next year, the next five years, the next ten years, the next fifty to one hundred years. Dream big. Don’t let anyone tell you that your dream is impossible or impractical. Don’t even let me do that, because I might! If you are dreaming a dream that God gave you, then do everything in your power to make it come true, and don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.
Tomorrow we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King knew how to use the keys that Jesus gave us. His whole life was about unlocking doors, freeing people from the chains that bind them. But he also knew how to dream.
“I have a dream,” Dr. King said, “a dream that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
My dream for Christ Church is that we will unlock our doors and welcome all of God’s children – black and white, Anglo and Latino, rich and poor, gay and straight. My dream for Christ Church is that we will be a place where people are freed from the chains of despair and given the wings of hope. My dream for Christ Church is that we will be a place where burdens are lifted and people are made whole.
What is your dream for Christ Church?