The following is Pastor Tom's homily from Sunday, September 10, perfectly capturing Christ's message and reminding us of his constant presence:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus says that it only takes two or three to be gathered, and he will be among them. That’s not to say that I’d be happy if only two or three of you showed up on a Sunday morning. It’s only to say that those few would be enough because it’s the gathering itself that matters, not the size of it. When we’re looking with worldly eyes if we think that bigger is automatically better or that faithfulness to Christ can be measured by counting the people in the pews. On the other hand, we’re also looking with worldly eyes if we think we can worship God and enjoy his presence all by ourselves, as a single individual all alone. One person doesn’t make a gathering. It takes at least a couple—because it’s the gathering itself that counts. “Where two or three are gathered together,” says Jesus, “I am there among them.”
But why not only one? The question is important because there’s a trend among Christians today—and the public at large—to emphasize the absolute importance of the individual, the self. The so-called “religious” version of this notion is that someone doesn’t really need to gather with others to worship and be filled with the presence of God. We can each pursue our own spirituality without any of the demands that other people place on us. It can be done in a boat waiting for the fish to bite, or at your breakfast table over a good cup of coffee, or just sitting in the quiet hush of a forest clearing. We can worship online, in the comfort of our own homes.
In fact, communing with God may even be better there without all those distractions you find in church: all that music, half of which is not to my taste any way; a visitor shows up and everyone is whispering about where he’s from; and then there’s that woman that’s always driving everyone nuts. Nobody gets along with her; she’s always grumpy, rude, and unpleasant. And how am I supposed to get in touch with God with all the commotion going on? The woman behind me that can’t stop fidgeting with the bulletin; the guy over there who didn’t even put on clean clothes for church, and that woman? It breaks my concentration, distracts me from my meditation. Better to find some peace and quiet someplace where it’s just me, myself, and I—and God.
But Jesus says to us, “Well, I don’t know what so-called god you’re looking for up there in your splendid isolation, but it’s not me. I’m not there—at least not in the way I want to be found. I’m where two or three are gathered together in my name. That's where you’ll find me. And the two or three just might include that woman.”
Our God has never existed in splendid isolation. The Christian faith teaches that God has always been a communion of three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, even before the worlds were made, God was not alone. But, God’s love of community was so expansive that he chose to make a universe and fill it with human beings and all sorts of creatures. And when we, his people, turned unruly and broke communion with God, he did something even more incredible. Instead of abandoning us and retreating to some splendid, isolated, heavenly sanctuary where he didn’t need to be bothered with us, he sent his Son to become one of us, so determined was God to be found in the midst of his people.
This little verse about the gathering of two or three tells us so much about our God. For God has always been one who has promised to be found in the midst of his people. According to Matthew’s gospel, his last words to us prior to his ascension were “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Bethlehem was crowded when Christ was born. That’s why he was born in a stable full of animals that soon reached over-capacity with unruly shepherds who got sent by angels to worship him. So, you think you have problems with distractions—our Lord’s first church on earth was filled with sheep and goats and all those smells and noises and…you get the picture.
Jerusalem, too, was crowded when the Son of God came into the midst of her. The crowd there was whipped up by their worship leaders to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They cast him out. But Christ was still determined to be with his people, to live among them.
And true to form, after his resurrection, Christ kept appearing in the midst of his disciples. For the promise was true then—and is still true now: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This is where we find Christ, not in private visions, but wherever his people gather.
Which presents us with a challenge, because whenever people gather, there’s going to be trouble. Unruly sinners that we are, our gatherings are always going to have their rough edges. So-and-so is going to offend so-and-so. Person A is going to do something that bothers Person B. And Person C is just a jerk, and everybody knows it. And even people of goodwill who actually care about each other are going to disagree sometimes. And yet these are the people among whom Christ promises to be present!
So we’re just going to have to find a way to get along with each other. It’s either that or give up gathering. Which is the last thing we can do because then there will be no two or three for Christ to be in the midst of. So we’re just going to have to find a way to be charitable, to thank God for the obnoxious woman that nobody like. She’s one of the two or three. So is the weird guy who never talks to anyone. Or—Lord, help us—we finally get a child in church who cries all the way through the service. Because they’re here, Christ is here. We might want it another way. But Christ insists otherwise.
Because the gathering is so important, Christ even gives us some very practical instructions on how to handle the rough edges so we can continue to gather together. “If your brother sins again you, go and point out his fault when the two of you are alone.” Please note Jesus says, “when the two of you are alone.” Not a crowd. Just the two of you. But because it’s the two of you gathered together, there is Christ in the midst of you. That is why you can do this, because Christ is there. Christ is not there if someone hurts you and you stew in your juices all alone. Christ is not there if you simply walk away and never come back. But he is only there if you go to the one who has offended you and talk about it—the whole point being to be reconciled with each other, which is Christ’s specialty after all.
Would that we faithfully and consistently followed this first step! I’m not even going to go into the second and third steps Jesus proposes, because I truly believe that, if this first step were followed, the others wouldn’t be necessary 99.9% of the time. So whenever there are people who have bothered you, hurt you, offended you, go to them in Jesus’ name to be reconciled. Just the two of you. Except that it won’t be just the two of you, because Christ will be there, too. Because that’s Christ’s promise, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”