Sunday Worship, Binding & Loosing

. 6 min read

23 Aug 2020, Christ Mountain Top, Online, during COVID-19
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 124
Kids, Exodus 1.8 – 2.10 (focus on 2.1-10, Moses’ mom)
Message, Matthew 16.13-20 (keys, revealed, binding/loosing)

This week’s theme:

Binding and Loosing. In the language of Jesus, binding and loosing are the things you do with keys. You bind something – lock it up. Or you loose it – set it free. You bind something – you prevent access. Or you loose it – you open it to all.

When a couple first exchanges keys. When you give a key to a neighbor to take care of your critters when you travel. When they have a parade in your honor and give you the key to the city.

On the other hand … when you walk through the house before bed making certain all the doors are locked. When you set up security cameras or a video doorbell. When you are fired, give up your keys, and are escorted off the premises.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus uses the binding and loosing themes to talk about binding the “strong man” who oppresses, to loose pain and bitterness so that reconciliation can take place, and to give the little ones access to the kingdom.

Our psalm prays over and over, “If the LORD had not been on our side.” It puts the LORD on the side of the oppressed and rejoices that the kingdom is theirs. Our Scripture from Exodus has the midwives and the mothers bound by Pharaoh’s law to kill newborn Jewish boys. Yet, they choose to loose the children to live. The LORD is on their side.

And Jesus tells us that the vocation, the calling, of the church is to use the keys of the kingdom to bind up oppression and loose people to live. Or, in the words of our baptismal vows, “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” and to celebrate “the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, races, and languages.”

Locking a family friend out of their own home.


I often say this, because it is true: There’s a lot in this passage. The Scripture is rich, full of meaning and insight.

  • This particular text invites us to reflect on the identity of Jesus as Messiah, Son of the Living God, the one who comes to deliver the people of God, the one who comes to bring the family back together again.
  • This text invites us not just to know about Jesus, to be familiar with what some people say, but to know Jesus personally, to be able to answer the question Jesus asks, “But who do you say the Son of Man is?”
  • This text reminds us that knowing God, and knowing Jesus, is a gift that God gives, something that is “revealed,” not something we figure out because we are so smart.
  • This text calls us to reflection on the battle between heaven and hell and on God (not humans) who builds the church.
  • This text puts us in the middle of a long-running argument in the Christian tradition: Exactly how to interpret the phrase “on this rock”?
  • And this text calls us to ponder the nature of Christian unity, which is based not on brand name or on every detail of doctrine (and followers of Jesus believe all kinds of really funky things) – but on a common affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Guess what? We’re not going to focus on any of those really fascinating themes. Instead, we are taking our theme from what Jesus calls the apostolic work and the vocation of the church in Matthew 16.19: “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” (NRSV).

Too often, this calling has been read in a one-dimensional way, focused on the way it is echoed in Matthew 18.18 in relation to the process and work of reconciliation in the church. “Now if your brother sins against you, go and correct him, you and him alone.” It is a good and healthy process. Handle it personally and directly, no triangulation. If that doesn’t work, bring a couple others. If that doesn’t work, then go to the elders. If that doesn’t work, then treat him like a tax collector or outsider. People talk about this as “church discipline” and some Christians practice the final step as “shunning.” I think we forget how Jesus wants us to treat tax collectors and outsiders! And, in our focus on the final step in the discipline, we forget that the process is not about discipline but reconciliation. Only when we read it as about reconciliation do we read it well.

When Jesus talks about “binding the strong man” in Matthew 12.29, he is commenting on his work of exorcism and healing, a work in which the powers of the devil are tied up so that everyone oppressed can be delivered from the devil’s house and brought to the family table of the kingdom of God. That’s reconciliation.

When Jesus chews out the religious experts, he does so because they bind huge burdens on people, in the form of rules that no one can live by (Matthew 23.4). Any of you have experience with religion that acted like that? One big set of DON’Ts. Jesus told them that they locked people out of the kingdom and refused to enter it themselves (Matthew 23.13). Instead, Jesus tells us that his “burden is light” (Matthew 11.30). Instead, Jesus tells us that the “kingdom is near” (Matthew 3.2, 4.17, 10.7) and he holds the door open for you and me to come in. That’s reconciliation!

In October 2006, Charles Roberts entered an Amish school in Nickel Mines and did unspeakable things. The families of the victims of the set up a fund to bless the family of the perpetrator and visited with the family to extend their forgiveness personally. That’s the keys of the kingdom at work. That’s reconciliation!

My friend’s wife died in an auto accident when a man under the influence forgot to, or neglected to, secure the box spring he was transporting in the back of his truck. He was traveling north, she was headed south, on a two lane country highway, a combined speed over 110 mph, when the box spring got loose. Months later, my friend and his family were seated across from this driver in court and formally extended their forgiveness. That’s the keys of the kingdom at work. That’s reconciliation!

A married gay man, long ago rejected by his family and his church, dies of cancer. A group of Christian people who never met him provide a funeral service and meal because they are convinced that the door of the kingdom must be held open to all. That’s the keys of the kingdom at work. That’s reconciliation!

A father is struggling with anxiety over the future for his child, around their mental health struggles, around things that the father cannot control. A sister in Christ reminds him, “He is not your child, but the Lord’s.” Tough words to hear, but words that free from the need to control and make it possible to live in peace. That’s the keys of the kingdom at work. That’s reconciliation!

A woman says that God will never forgive her. She doesn’t believe God’s promise to forgive, doesn’t believe that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1). She is invited to remember that “the LORD is on our side” and to step into the freedom of the children of God. That’s the keys of the kingdom at work. That’s reconciliation!

And it is the calling of the church in a culture that is bound up with bitterness, constipated with condemnation, fixated on fault. To learn what it is to be God’s forgiven people. To let loose those things we cannot control anyway. To hold the door to grace open to people, all people. To forgive those who have hurt us the most. Get out the keys, church. It’s time to get about the work of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. They are his keys after all.

Conversation starters

  • Share a story of being locked out (or in). What did it mean to you for the door to be unlocked?
  • Share a story of forgiving someone else. What was most difficult about it? Have you ever been surprised by a need to confirm that decision to forgive?
  • Share a story of being forgiven. Did you resist the gift?
  • Share a story of being judged or rejected. Was there someone who stepped across that judgment and made you feel welcome and loved?
  • What do you believe God is calling you to do with the keys of the kingdom?