God Runs a Bar – Confession, pt 2

Just this past weekend I was reminded of an item called a “church key”, a term used for a certain type of bottle opener. According to at least one source, this name came about because the bottle opener’s rounded opener looked like the ring on one of the large skeleton keys used on church doors. 
While it’s not the same kind of church keys, we confessed what we believe about church keys this past weekend:
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 
The office of the keys has nothing to do with opening bottles, but there is a way in which the bottle cap metaphor is apt. The Church has the “key” to open the bottle of grace and let it pour, or the key to keep that bottle of grace closed for a good reason. This is, however, somewhat of a controversial thing. There are some Christians who do not believe that the Church should have the ability to “shut off grace”. Even Luther took issue with the way this was being used in his day. Certainly it seems dangerous to not forgive the sins of someone given our Gospel reading from last week with the unforgiving servant.
But the Office of the Keys is something that the Church is given administration over. We are the keeper of the keys. When I was a bartender, I was the keeper of a “church key”.  I was the only person in the room who was given the responsibility to open drinks. I didn’t deliver bottles or cans to tables unopened. Patrons were not encouraged to bring their own bottle openers. In fact, if memory serves me, there may have even been a state law that precluded me from delivering an unopened drink to a table.
So as the “opener of bottles”, I was also the person who kept bottles closed. Nobody comes to a bar to get a closed bottle, just like nobody comes to a church to get unforgiveness – but in order to be an opener, you also have to be a closer. I didn’t have to cut many people off in my time as a bartender, but when I did, it was for their own good and for their own health and well being.
There is a difference between a bar and a keg party. When you go to a bar, you pay for your drinks. When you go to a keg party, you basically are invited to a trough of alcohol which you serve to yourself. God runs a bar, not a keg. There is a cost per drink of grace that we receive. Every time I crack open one of those bottles of grace for you, saying “I forgive you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” there is a price to be paid, there is a bartender to be engaged, this isn’t serve yourself – this is come and be served. 
But here’s the thing – Christ has prepaid your tab. You are brought to the bar and there is a cost, but that cost is covered by Christ and what He has done for you on the cross. The keeper of the keys is here to remind you of both of those things, Law and Gospel if you will, that your drink of grace has come at a cost, but that your cost has been covered by the owner of the bar.
So in the words of the Dos Equis guy, “Stay thirsty my friends,” and come visit us at the bar this Sunday.