At long last it happens – we can move off our 6 weeks on one verse.
No more talking about yeast and bread. Well, not this week. Well, maybe …
And instead, we move to a different bible passage that has a verse in it
that gets greatly used, and in reality greatly overused.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them”
In my first parish as a Minister, one of the congregations had a very small evening service
and over the years it had got much smaller.
I was asked to take it once or twice a month,
and more often than not it had about 4-5 people
I raised the question at one stage about whether it was still really worth holding the service
and very quickly I had quoted to me this bible verse – where two or three are gathered …
as a justification of there being a minister there to run the service
These days, with a few more years of ministry under my belt
I would have answered a little bit differently!
Maybe I would have said something like
If Jesus is there among you, then you don’t need me to run the service
The passage certainly isn’t about justifying whether someone in ministry
needs to be at a particular sized gathering of people of faith
The context in the writing is that this passage is about relationships
and in particular it is about how to manage difficult relationships in a church community
We spent some time earlier this year look at the concept, so it’s not our focus today
But it is good to be reminded that this “process” for dealing with difficult times
sets out for us that the way that we deal with difficult and painful relationships
is not by garnering our forces, or bottling it up till we have lots of evidence,
but it is about going and speaking honestly with the person now
Then, if that doesn’t work,
we can move on to trying to resolve things in a slightly larger group
– though I would suggest that if that is necessary,
it would be wise of us to try and find someone who doesn’t just think like we do.
And then you try to reach a sense of agreement or consensus with the whole community.
And finally, if that is not resolved, treat them like a tax collector, or sinner.
What’s that last painful step?
Finally we can feel justified,
and if that pesky person just wont see things our way,
we can cut them off, get rid of them, excommunicate them from the church.
If that’s where you think the passage leads, then I don’t think you’re reading the gospel.
Do you remember how Jesus treats the tax collectors, and sinners and outcasts?
My version of Matthew tells me that
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ ”
So I think this passage is that it is imploring us
that if you cant resolve the difference that you have,
then you have to surround the person in love.
But then the passage moves on to that famous verse
Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.
It might be helpful to remember that
Matthew’s gospel was written probably relatively shortly after the fall of Jerusalem
before which there was a 6 month brutal siege
During the siege, the Romans allowed all the festival pilgrims into Jerusalem
but wouldn’t let them out.
and when people did leave, they were crucified close to the walls
so that the people inside could hear easily what was going on.
The city was packed, pressured, and deadly.
And then the city fell. Estimates are that around 1million people were killed
So by the time that gospel was written, the community is well and truly scattered.
It is not a strong movement. It is not a mega church, powerfully advising the government
It is spread thin. Handfuls here and there
It gathers in house churches. In small movements. In towns and in villages.
The Christian movement was really born in the scattering of the people of God.
Where two or three are gathered … that’s enough
It’s an image that might well make sense to us in the context of the last few weeks:
There’s a little bit of yeast ,
which is present and which has been worked through the dough.
(I couldn’t not mention the parable at all!)
In our town planning here, we talk about the salt and peppering of Canberra.
Not all in one big clump, but spread all over the place.
Sometimes we do things when we are gathered – clumped together.
There we have a mass, a momentum, a corporate energy.
The Christmas appeal is something that we are doing jointly.
But for most of the time, we are scattered, diffuse, all over the place.
And even then in those small numbers, we have the presence of God with us.
So it could be when a couple of people jump in a car to be able to get a meal
to an elderly person who cant take care of themselves
– there I am in their midst
Or it could be when a two or three people take time out in their lunch break
and sit down to talk about what is important to them in life
– there I am in their midst
Or it could be when a small group of people go and sit in the office of a federal politician
and commit to staying and praying until all children are released from detention
– there I am in their midst
Sometimes – not always – the gathering can be it is difficult and painful
but the phrasing of this idea in the gospel is powerful
where two or three are gathered – there I am in the midst of them
A few chapters later in the gospel
there is the story of something which is central to our faith
Matthew tells it clearly that on the Friday there were three gathered (& exposed) on a hill
And Jesus is in the midst of them.
Even in the times that are painful – for this community it meant as painful as crucifixion –
still in their scattered lives, Jesus is there in their midst