Bryan Cones Sermon - Pentecost XI

Bryan Cones

Pentecost 11A

Matthew 16:13-20


“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,

and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”


Binding and loosing—the two sides of the church’s mission

            here in the gospel of Matthew,

            the charge placed on those who profess

Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.

To be a part of the church Jesus calls forth

            is to have a share in that binding and loosing

for the sake of the reign of God.


The “binding” part we Christians seem to have down pretty well.

Every subgroup in the Christian movement

has its own special brand of binding:

The Orthodox have the holy synods

and the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

The Roman Catholics have the papacy and a well-defined hierarchy,

            councils, canon law and the catechism.

The churches of the Reformation have their confessions

and books of discipline.

The monastic movements all have their “rules” that bind them.

Anglican churches for centuries had the Book of Common Prayer

            —often a particular version produced in 1662—

and we Episcopalians bind ourselves

through the baptismal covenant, among other things.


So binding we get—

the basic meaning of the word “religion” is to bind, after all.

That’s a bit curious to me, since as I read it,

all Jesus actually binds his followers to

            is love of God and love of neighbor,

            which seems rule enough to live by.


Loosing, though, Christians seem to do less of.

I sometimes wonder what Christian churches would look like

            if we led with “loosing” rather than “binding,”

            if we saw our vocation as primarily unbinding,

of freeing humankind of everything, save the command to love.

I wonder what church would be like if we saw our job

            as unleashing the creative potential

of everyone and everything around us,

so that love of God and love of neighbor could flourish

in ways we can’t imagine.


I’ve been thinking a lot about binding and loosing this week

            as the events in Ferguson, Missouri have been unfolding.

So much of what is being said about it seems unhelpful,

            but when I mute all the commentary

I am struck by how much “binding” I see:

the police all strapped together,

            bulletproof vests and shields and helmets and armored cars,

and the protesters, some with their faces bound in masks,

some eventually bound in handcuffs

or restrained by the police.


Those visible “bonds” though are the sacraments

            of the real bindings that are holding Ferguson,

            holding all of us,

all that equipment is the visible sign that points to and enacts

            the distrust, the anger, the lack of opportunity,

            the racism and oppression,

all the diabolical forces that continue to hold our society bound

            in injustice, in violence, in sin, in death.

In my more pessimistic moments I fear that,

whatever happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson

            that resulted in Michael’s death,

those two men were already bound so tightly by these forces

            that what happened between them was almost inevitable,

with the consequences falling most heavily, fatally,

on a young man of color,

            as it so often does both there in Missouri and here in Chicago.


What would the church, our church, any church, be like

if we took as our primary calling to loose these powerful bindings?

What if each of us, or a few of us together, or all of us,

chose just one of those bindings, just one buckle of it, or one lock,

            and dedicated ourselves to working on it,

            to gnawing at it, to cracking it,

so that humankind and creation might be just a little freer,

            just a little more able to live under grace,

to experience just a little more the love of God and neighbor?


Those aren’t easy questions to answer;

            I’m not sure I have answers for myself.

But I am convinced that our faith in Jesus,

            a faith lived as love of God and love of neighbor,

binds us to answer them,

binds us to working on them,

binds us to unbinding, to setting free.

Perhaps the “keys to the kingdom of heaven”

that Jesus has bequeathed to us

have something to with unlocking whatever holds us bound

to the destructive powers that drive the suffering of the world.


Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,

loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,

and respect the dignity of every human being?

It is to those words of our baptismal covenant

that we bind ourselves

Sunday after Sunday, day after day.

It is after all the privilege of those who are baptized

            to partner with God in unleashing

            the love of God and love of neighbor

for the sake of everyone and everything.

And Jesus has given us not only the authority

but also the grace to accomplish this mission.


How we enact that grace,

how we perform it,

how we embody it

            in this place, in this church,

is a question left to us to answer.