“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” Matthew 18:15
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”, says Jesus. Isn’t this what coming to church is about? Isn’t this the very heart of what we believe, that he is here with us? We join together in worship Sunday by Sunday because we believe that this life is not the end. We believe that through Jesus from Nazareth, we have a hope of a life beyond this one. We believe that through believing we will be reunited with our loved ones in a life beyond all our imagination. Isn’t that why we come here? If we do not believe he is here, then why do we come? What sense would there be in belonging to a church if the very things the church was about?
“Where two or three are gathered in my name,” the number of people does not matter; stories of little groups of people meeting in scattered places are much closer to the Church of New Testament times than gatherings of a large number of people in a single place, people who have left behind their own communities and turned their backs on the opportunity to be the church in their own place. Jesus is not interested in quantity, he does not ask for mega-churches with lavish buildings and pastors earning six figure salaries, instead he is interested in the quality of faith, in the capacity of people to hold on to that faith when there are only a handful of them
‘I am there among them’, says Jesus. But how will people recognize his presence? Things have changed beyond recognition—the old values, the old beliefs, the old ways have been thrown out. We cannot assume that people know anything about the story of Jesus; we cannot assume that people know anything about Christianity? How will anyone have a chance to believe unless someone tells them, and who is there to tell them, except us? What are we doing to tell people about Jesus?
The story is being forgotten. Even in rural communities, there are fewer and fewer people who know anything about their faith. Where do we start? One thing’s for sure, in twenty years’ time the scenery will have changed completely. The church will have disappeared in many places. How will people have a chance to be aware of Jesus’ presence, if there is no church to tell them?
We have to be creative, we have to use our imagination, we have to be able to care for our own people and to reach out to the people around. Simply to do things as they were done for years is not sufficient, watch most traditional congregations and it is clear that every year that passes means that the average age of the congregation increases by a year, and Anno Domini and human frailty mean the number continues to fall. When people insist that Seventeenth Century language is the only language of worship, then they are saying that they are content with a church that only welcomes their generation
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Jesus doesn’t say that church has to be done in a certain way, nor does Jesus say that the church must be an institution. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find most of the things we now associate with the church. Look at diocesan magazines and ask if this looks like the church of Bible times
The church can exist without denominational organizations, it can exist without hierarchies, it can exist even without bishops. Jesus does not say that the two or three who meet to together must have all the things that we would associate with being a church; even if there were nothing left of the church except ourselves meeting together, Jesus would still be here and we would still be part of his church.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Jesus is here, present with us now. When we have that confidence, it makes us different people and it makes us a different church.