Matthew 18:20 has often been quoted by preachers and parishioners alike when faced with small gatherings: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them” (NRSV). It is a comforting thought, one that was especially so as we gathered in-person on Sunday at Upper Sackville United Church and there were only four people in the pews. Maintaining physical distancing was not a problem.
The trouble is that this text has nothing to do with the number of people in attendance at a Sunday Gathering, nothing to do with prayer or worship at all! Instead, this verse is a culmination of a teaching on conflict. Here is the passage in its larger context:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.Matthew 18:15-20
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
God is with us all the time – present when we gather or not, present whether there are one, one hundred or a hundred thousand gathered – but God is especially present, and we are especially open to God, when we are engaged in difficult conversations that leave us vulnerable and invite us to share out truths and longings, and our hopes and fears.
Yesterday was challenging. Yes, leading a service for four people was a bit discouraging – but I was supported by the spiritual and physical warmth of the space, the music so beautifully shared by Jennie, and the image of the faces of those not present, who were holding us in prayer.
“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…”
May we seek always to bind up resentment and bitterness and set loose generosity and forgiveness. May we bind up jealousy and envy and set loose cooperation and community as we endeavour to participate in the building of the realm of God.
Today I am in the office in the morning for meetings until 1pm when I’ll head up to Moncton to visit a few folk who are in hospital.
Tuesday morning will see me in the office again for a series of meetings and appointments followed by a couple of pastoral visits in the afternoon. Join us by Zoom for the Preacher’s Help Group at 10am. In the evening (7:30pm) I will take part in the Affirm United Kitchen Sink series. Here is the link in case you wish to join in.
Wednesday will be another full day: office appointments in the morning followed by the ‘production’ of http://www.psalms.com, our Wednesday Wondering & Wondering on the Psalms series at 11am on Facebook Live followed by a Regional meeting via Zoom and an in-person meeting of the Executive of Sackville United Church at 6:30pm.
Thursday morning I’ll be working from home and in the afternoon, beginning at 1pm I’ll be working with a group of folks to prepare a video to support the return to in-person Sunday Gatherings at Sackville United Church.
Friday will be a day off (likely editing a movie and writing a sermon) and on Saturday I am off to Taymouth, New Brunswick to officiate at an internment.
And on Sunday we will gather again: 9am at Upper Sackville United Church and 11am via Facebook Live from Sackville United Church! I do hope you’ll join us at one of these gatherings!