By Paul Koch –
I love maps. But, I don’t think we often use maps these days. Remember when you used to have an L.A. freeway map in your car so you could navigate the impossible web of intersecting arteries to arrive at your destination? Today you simply use Google Maps or Waze or some other app. But maps, good old difficult to fold maps, are still great resources. In fact, part of the curriculum that we use with our own children has a cartography component; they learn to read and navigate using a map. One of the first things that they learn to make sense of a map, is they must understand the key. Every map has a key that tells you what the symbols on the map mean; from distances, to road types, to values of elevation gain on a topographic map. A map without the key loses its precision and its reliability. The key is crucial.
But of course, there are keys to more things than maps. There are keys to puzzles and riddles, keys to life dilemmas that can open up a whole new world of understanding and enlightenment. There is even a key to this place, a key to a church. I’m not talking about the key to the front door. No, there is a key that changes this place from one type of building into something else altogether.
I asked the group gathered at our Wednesday night Bible study to think about what this building means to friends or family members that have come here over the years. What does this place mean for one who is not a child of God, one who is not yet a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ? What do they find when they come into this church? Well, they said, some may notice the beautiful painting along the wall, perhaps they will be captivated by the clean lines of the architecture, or the symbols upon the pulpit, altar, and lectern. They might be impacted by the sound of the organ or the or the chanting of our cantor. This place, for them, will be a place to see and not experience, a place to visit and perhaps admire. But there will be not much more to their memory of this place. That is because they have come here without possessing the key, that thing that unlocks the mystery and wonder of this place.
Perhaps the key is something we take for granted. For it is the type of thing that once you have it, you don’t recall what it was like to not have it. The key to this place is your faith, your confession, that you are sinner in need of a Savior, and a Savior you have! The key is to confess that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone. And with such a key this place opens up into something wonderful, something even magical. For in faith you are given to see far more than the paintings or the symbols of the church. In faith, you are given to see that eternal gifts are given here. That time and eternity seem to meld together as the death and resurrection of Christ are given yet again to you, and the victory of the last day is tasted for a moment. This is a place of eternal promise and assurance, of hope and life, and it is through this key of our faith that we see and hear and feel and even taste it.
Now this key is a gift. It is something that you have received. It is by its nature something that you did not and could not figure out on your own. However, these days it is popular to speak about most things only from our own subjective point of view. From politics, to human sexuality, and even gender identity, we are encouraged to find the key in our own self-identification and understanding. And so it is with faith. Your faith is an intensely personal thing. Yours to figure out on your own, to chart the path, to discover the key that best suits you.
And so, it should come as no shock that we become the key to our own faith. Instead of receiving something from outside of yourself, you are encouraged to look within for the answer. Instead of being given they key, you fashion your own. And when this happens, everything becomes about you. Even the Word of God, that shining light to guide you through this age, becomes all about you. Your interpretation, your feelings, your impression of a text is all you need. As a pastor, there are a few predictable conversations that I go through on a regular basis. One is whenever someone meets me for the first time and finds out that I’m a pastor. Though they confess to being a Christian, they also haven’t been to church in ages. So, they always want to assure me that it’s all okay because they read the Bible at home. Now, I used to be nice about it. I used to just smile and say, “Well, that’s good”. But I no longer feel like lying; so nowadays I just say, “Oh yeah? Well I bet you read it wrong. In fact, if you want to check up on how faithful your reading is, you can always come to church and we’ll help you out.”
You see, on our own we are going to make the Bible all about us. It is our answer key to hard decisions and our guidebook for moral quandaries. But here’s the truth of it: the Bible isn’t about you! And if you don’t believe me, just listen to the story of our Lord’s appearance to those two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
These two disciples are talking about all the things that had happened: about our Lord’s suffering and death, and even about the rumors of his resurrection. Jesus himself, our resurrected Lord, catches up with them on their journey. Now he keeps them from being able to immediately recognize him, but he seems interested to understand their interpretation and understanding of the things that have happened. When they tell their tale, when they recount his passion and death, and the claim of the women and the empty tomb, Jesus says, “’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
Now, that is one Bible study I wish we had today. Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, our Lord opens up the Word of God showing them that it was all about him. The key to understanding the Scripture, the key to the life-giving blessings they deliver, is Christ himself. With Christ before our eyes we read the Word rightly. With his blessings, his love, his proclamation of forgiveness in his blood and sacrifice the Scripture come alive and the blessings of God flow out to you. St. Paul says that all the promises of God have their yes in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). He is the key that changes everything. And you, like those disciples on the road, are given this key.
When they arrive at their destination they urge him to stay with them. And what does he do? He sits with them at their meal. He takes bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it them. It was right then, right in the breaking of the bread that their eyes were opened. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And so, the key is still known to you as he comes again and again through the giving of his gifts. We gather here every Sunday and we hear those same words, the taking, blessing, breaking and giving and we know our Lord in his gifts.
He turns your eyes away from yourselves, away from your own ideals and understanding. He turns you toward his life, his death, his resurrection. He opens you to receive the key to Word and Sacrament and life eternal. He says, “You are forgiven in me. You are cherished by me. You are the victorious saints of God.”
And so life and hope now open before you. Daring and boldness mark you path. For in Christ you are not left to decipher the clues. You are not groping around in the dark. No, in Christ alone you have the key. The key to life itself.