It was more than a decade ago now — the day the moving truck came and unloaded almost everything I owned at the home that is still mine. My mother had driven over to help direct the movers, ensuring, at least, that boxes and furniture got deposited in the right rooms. It had been a relatively uneventful day, marked so far by none of the usual crises that often accompany moving days. But the day got long. And Mother went upstairs to use the bathroom. I st down for a minute in the one chair that was not piled high with things that needed to be unpacked and put away. I closed my eyes for just a minute and when I opened them I looked at my watch and wondered at how long she had been upstairs. I had myself convinced that she had gotten distracted by some other task when I heard the sound of knocking and her muffled voice calling my name. I ran up the stairs, afraid that she was hurt or sick, but no… she was still in the bathroom. The problem was that she could not get out. Apparently, she had been fiddling with the doorknob for several minutes already, but to no avail. Well, after I tried it from my side and it still it would not budge, I went and found some tools and I proceeded to take the doorknob off. Only since it was still attached on the other side and there was no way to get a screwdriver to her? it made little difference.
I considered calling someone, but I was new in town and I didn’t feel as though I knew anyone here well enough to bother them so late on a Friday night.
For an instant I thought about calling the Fire Department. I’ve heard they’re good for things like that, but that seemed more than a little extreme for the situation.
And while it was so that she was in no real danger on the other side of the door, I couldn’t very well leave her there, so I did the only thing that came to mind. I traded my screwdriver for a hammer and told her to stand back and began pounding away on the hollow core door. I’d made some pretty good progress — that door was, by now far beyond repair. I paused for a moment. She tried the handle again. And this time it inexplicably worked. The lock gave way and the door swung open.
You’ve had this happen, I know. Times when you’ve been locked in or locked out and the key had been misplaced or there was no key at all. Maybe you didn’t go so far as to attack the situation with a hammer, but you’ve been there, we all have. If not with an actual door, then surely with an overwhelming situation which you simply couldn’t see your way through or around but you needed to get through or around and so you found yourself doing what you must.
I find myself thinking back to that night and my doing whatever I felt I must to get to the other side of that door as I sit with Jesus’ words in Matthew today. For he speaks to us — not of doors, necessarily, but of keys — keys which can presumably open up that which is locked. Keys which let us into places which have been barred to us. Keys to freedom and to hope for these are the keys to the Kingdom of God. And these are keys which are tied to God’s own forgiveness, which is not only ours to receive, it is ours to extend and to give away.
These are vitally important matters which are spoken of in Matthew’s Gospel, of course. For forgiveness, or the lack of it, carries consequences deep into this life and as we hear it now, far into the next. And oh, don’t you already know the truth of this? For if you have ever yearned for someone’s forgiveness and had it withheld, you know this truth that the key to your freedom is not tied to your own power of strength or ability or intelligence or wealth. You simply cannot make someone else forgive you. Indeed, with this locked door, taking a ‘hammer to it’ — even figuratively — will only make matters worse. Indeed, forgiveness is always a gift extended from the one who has been wronged to the one who did wrong, making possible wholeness and a whole new beginning.
It is ours to remember today that forgiveness is the church’s first calling and is perhaps our greatest gift to the world and to one another. The kind of forgiveness we don’t have to break down doors to receive for Jesus stands waiting to hand it to us.
- It is ours to receive as soon as we remember we stand in need of it.
- And it is ours to give away. It is always ours to give away.
I, for one, cannot think of a time when the world needed it more. And having been entrusted with these ‘keys’, we dare not waste them or ignore them or throw them away. For they are, quite simply, one thing which promises to make a difference in this world we inhabit together.
Now it is so that my heart has been following the news after the tragic events at Charlottesville, Virginia last week-end and it was there that I saw certain evidence of this. Along with many, I was shocked at the blatant display of racism in torches held high and Nazi chants bellowed — violent combinations of words we believed were long dead and buried. (And yes, I know my shock is a sign of my privilege. My brothers and sisters of other descents are not in the least surprised.) And so it was I followed along as various commentators sought answers to problems which seem to have existed as long as human beings have been trying to figure out how to live together in all of our vibrant diversity. For hate is, of course, nothing new.
There is one news clip which has been played several times and every time I see it, it gives me pause — especially now as I consider the gifts of this week’s Gospel lesson. It is that of an interview with former white supremacist. When asked how he was able to leave his old life behind, he replies simply , “Kindness.” Arguments would not, did not work. Violence only ignited his anger more deeply. But the repeated, intentional kindness of others pushed him to re-evaluate his life choices and today he can say the hatred he harbored so deeply is in his past.
Forgiveness is all over this story for it must be so that some of those who showed such kindness were those who had been among the targets of his hate.
And so again we hear today:
- You have been given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The keys to a door which swings open on God’s Forgiveness and our Forgiving One Another.
- You have been given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven — a Kingdom which is not only reserved for the next life, but is promised to you starting now.
And so, I do wonder now, what shall we do with these keys which lead to God’s Best Hope For Us?
- Whose life might you change forever? What difference might these keys, used for their intended purpose, make in your family, your congregation, your community?
- Or might it be your own life which changes with this very gift of God? Indeed, might it be all of ours?