The Rev. Brad Sullivan
St. Mark’s, Bellaire
August 27, 2023
Proper 16, Year A
So, I’ve been a huge Star Wars fan since I was a little kid.
When I moved into my office at Lord of the Streets, I brought my Mandalorian Naboo Starfighter LEGO set and the rest of my LEGO Star Wars sets first. The Darth Vader helmet looking over me on the wall. Then I eventually brought in the crosses for the walls and my ordination certificate.
So, right now is a really good time to be a Star Wars nerd. We've got the new Ahsoka show on right now, the Mandalorian before that. Baby Yoda, or as dorks like me know him, Din Grogu is from the Mandalorian show, and a catch phrase of the show is, “This is the Way.” That means the Way of the Mandalorian, a group of warriors and protectors, and the Way they follow is their code, their Way of life.
So, being a huge Star Wars nerd, I’ve been trying not to use “This is the Way” in a sermon or even in everyday conversations, and until today, I’ve been mostly successful.
Today, however, it just fits as Jesus told Peter, “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.”
Looking at the ideas of the keys and the binding and loosing, Jesus was talking about how we live out God’s kingdom on Earth. For the people of Israel, living out God’s kingdom was and is tied to how they live out and follow God’s laws. Following God’s laws is often referred to as walking in the way of the law.
Over the centuries, Rabbis have determined how the laws will be binding on people, and even which laws are binding on people’s lives and which are not. For Orthodox Jews, there are more laws that are binding on them than for Reform Jews. Their leaders have determined which laws are binding and how the laws are binding.
In Jesus’ day too, the religious leaders determined how the laws were to be lived out, and we know Jesus often disagreed with them, even saying in Luke that some were locking people out of the Kingdom because of how they were enforcing God’s laws. Think of last week, when the Pharisees insisted that Jesus’ disciples were doing things wrong by not washing their hands before eating, and Jesus was having none of it, saying that the point of the laws was not to follow them for the sake of following arbitrary rules, but the point of the laws was to heal us so that we would live in the way of love, the way of mercy, and the way of justice.
Justice, mercy, love…this is the Way of Jesus.
So, disagreeing with the religious leaders of the time over how and which laws were to be binding on people, Jesus told Peter, “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.” In other words, Peter and the apostles were given the authority to determine which laws were to be binding on the people and how they were to be binding. Peter and the apostles were to determine how people were going to walk in the Way of Jesus.
Very early on, in the book of Acts, we see the apostles determine that for the non-Jewish followers of Jesus, the laws of Israel were mostly not binding. Gentiles didn’t have to become Jewish in order to walk in the Way of Jesus.
Over the centuries, we’ve continued to have leaders determine what ways of life are binding on us in order to walk in the way of Jesus. We have our church councils, our prayer book, our church constitution, and our bishops who determine our Way in the Episcopal Church.
Our way is to walk in justice, mercy, and love. Our way is to spend time daily in prayer, to spend time daily in the scriptures. Our way is sacramental, having ordinary things become ways that God is being encountered in our world in countless ways. Our way is to forgive, to serve, to make do with less so that others may have what they need. Justice, mercy, and love.
Of course, for any of us to truly walk in the Way of Jesus, the Way becomes something that is internalized by us. Why do we pray and read scripture every day? “Because the priest said I had to.” No, we pray and read scripture every day because that’s our Way. Sometimes we may be doing it simply because it is our Way and we’re walking in that Way, but we keep daily prayer and scripture reading as our Way because that Way of life brings healing.
The way of Jesus is ultimately the way of healing. Why would any of us do with less so that others may have what they need? Because we see our brothers and sisters working and not making enough to pay rent. We see our sisters and our brothers getting sick for two weeks and then being evicted because those two weeks without wages kept them from being able to pay that month’s rent. These are the folks I minister with every day, and once folks end up on the streets, it is frightfully hard to get back.
When you don’t have daily access to a shower and don’t have a place to launder your clothes, getting a job is almost impossible. If you have any mental illness and don’t have a job that pays enough to have good medical insurance, and then enough for co-pays and prescriptions on top of that, then keeping a job can be frightfully difficult. There is a lot of suffering in our world, in our city, and our Way, the Way of Jesus, is to help soothe that suffering.
When we do, we also find that our own suffering is soothed as well. Times when we don’t quite see it, all we can do is trust. Trust in the Way of Jesus, trust in how Jesus’ way has been handed down to us in the Episcopal Church. Then there are times when we recognize the healing that has been brought by walking in the Way, and it becomes internalized by us. The Way of Jesus becomes our Way, the Way of healing, the Way of justice, mercy, and love.