Where Two Or Three Are Gathered
I love our lectionary! I know I sound like a complete church nerd saying that, but I’m just going to go ahead and claim my Church Nerdidity as a natural result of my day job — although truth be told, my Church Nerdidity has been a lifelong reality for me, probably unrelated to my much more recent ordination to the priesthood. In any case, I’m just going to lean into it.
Our lectionary gives us our particular readings for any Sunday. What always surprises and delights me is that they are always just what we need to hear at any point in time. In today’s gospel from Matthew, Jesus tells us that where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. When we gather together here as Emmanuel Church — Emmanuel, our name itself, means God with us — Jesus tells us he is among us, which is just the message we need to hear as we come together today.
Since our quarantine at home in mid-March, we have prayed the Daily Office on Sundays — Rite II Morning Prayer, online until the beginning of August, and then out here on the church lawn. Both online and in person, we’ve gathered together in Jesus’ name. And Jesus assures us in today’s reading that he has been among us.
First Celebration of Holy Eucharist Since March
Since March, we’ve fasted from communion, so today — our first time celebrating Holy Eucharist since our quarantine in mid-March — is really special. We’re gathered here in Jesus’ name for the first time since March to celebrate the memorial of his redemption, and Jesus reminds us in Matthew’s gospel today — just when we need to hear it again — that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there among them. We’ve been through some really tough times over the last six months. We’ve been away from the church building, quarantined in our houses, wearing face masks, separated from our community and even from our families in many cases.
We’ve seen the political upheavals in our country and many others, caused by the twin pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. COVID has touched our community in very real ways. We can’t sing out loud together, and we need to worship outdoors until the weather prevents it because it’s safer. We had to suspend operations of Emmanuel Day School because the risk of COVID caused many parents to choose to keep their children at home. We are not able to cook and serve our Soup’s On meal together on the first Tuesday of the month because of the COVID dangers of gathering in close quarters indoors. We’ve had a lot of loss and sadness as a community. We can’t do many of the things that bring us joy and draw our community together.
The Importance of Community
So hearing Matthew’s gospel today — reminding us that where two or three are gathered in my name, Jesus is there among among us — is just what our community of Emmanuel needs to hear right now. The whole passage from Matthew’s gospel this morning stresses the importance of the community. Preacher Karl Jacobson points out that, although the passage is addressing the community of the church, the language used is about brothers and sisters, because we are a family. Our NRSV translation uses the term members, as in church members, but a closer translation is sibling — brother or sister. And it establishes that we are God’s family. Truly I tell you (that’s what Jesus says when he means for us to listen up!)
Truly I tell you that 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, [Jesus has said LISTEN UP for the second time in just two adjacent sentences] if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
Jesus is telling us that we, gathered together in his name, are brothers and sisters, that Jesus himself is among us, and that Jesus’ father in heaven wants us to be together. Jesus is saying that — as a member of God’s family — you have a responsibility.
For example, let’s go back to the passage just before today’s passage in Matthew’s gospel: if your sheep gets lost, you don’t look for an hour and call it quits. You get out there and find that sheep. If your brother sins against you seventy-seven times, that’s just how many times you forgive him. And as for treating a brother who doesn’t listen to the church like a Gentile or a tax collector, remember that Jesus was always getting into trouble with the Pharisees for hanging out with Gentiles and tax collectors — and that Matthew himself was a tax collector! This is one of those places where we need to listen closely to what Jesus is really saying. It’s not always what it seems to be at first. With all of the loss and sadness our community has seen in these past months, it’s a special time for us to remember that Jesus is with us when we gather in his name, and that we need to do everything we can do to stay together.
Congregational Leadership Initiative
This week, a small group of your vestry leadership will be taking part in a virtual workshop sponsored by the Episcopal Church Foundation. Bishop Knisely nominated Emmanuel Church for the Congregational Leadership Initiative sponsored by the Episcopal Church Foundation, and we applied and were admitted to the program. Deb Venancio, Dave Monroe, Val Martin, Vickie Hicks, and I will participate this week in an intensive virtual workshop, Tuesday through Friday, from 11:30 to 5:30 each day — to accommodate the program participants in all 4 US time zones.
We will meet together in plenary groups as well as in small groups to have individual coaching with congregational leadership coaches — strengthening us with skills and ideas that will help us to imagine together what our community of Christians will look like as we emerge from COVID time. We have prepared a project to work on, with help from our coach. We are trying to imagine together how we can engage more deeply in our community of Christians — our family here with Jesus at Emmanuel Church — as well as with our larger community of Newport. And how we can share our resources — our lives, our talents, our church, and our time — in a way that helps us all to thrive and grow.
We’ll introduce our team to the rest of the CLI group with the welcome video we made for us all to begin worshiping here on the lawn at Emmanuel just about a month ago. We will commission these leaders for this important work for our community — our family — in today’s service. And as we gather in the CLI virtual workshop over the next week to imagine what Emmanuel Church will look like when we come out on the other side of COVIDtide, we will remember that Jesus is right there with us. Amen