Dear Grace Church Family,
Good news! Our live, in-person, worship services are going well. More of you are coming back “inside” here for worship, and more new visitors are finding us and attending as well. Coffee Hour fellowship on the lawn outside each Sunday is also giving all of us the chance to renew our friendships, and to meet new people in Jesus’ name. Even greater news! We are working on the plans for even more in-person gatherings in the fall. So, as our regathering is here in earnest now, our Lord’s words from the 18th Chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew are timely. They remind us of why even the smallest of gatherings are important to us as his followers. Have a listen.
Matthew 18:10-20: Words to gather by.
A Hindu social worker approached Ruth Seabury, a truly beloved missionary in India, one day. At one point in the conversation, he asked, “Do you think that most Christians know what they’ve got?” Perplexed by the question, Ruth asked what he had in mind. He said, “Every religion has a god. Every religion has an altar. Every religion has worshipers. Every religion believes in sacrifice. But only Christians have a Savior, and a congregation.”
That’s a good question. Do we know what we’ve got? We are the only religion with a savior; at least one like Jesus. I think we do get just how unique he is. But what about the congregation? Frankly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the congregation to the Christian faith. We are not simply an assembly of individuals, unattached, who happen to worship in the same vicinity. We are the body of Christ. As such, our unity is essential to our calling as followers of Jesus. That is what Jesus is saying to us in these words. Talking about unity right now is critical as we emerge from a time when we have been more apart than we have ever been. We need this reminder from Jesus about who we are to be as a people together.
So, our Savior has three things for us to hear today, and the first is this: The importance of harmony in the congregation. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you…first be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift…” In other words, regardless of who is at fault, when a relationship within the congregation of Christ is injured, get it mended as quickly as possible.
Sometimes, regretful, hurtful things are said or done in the body of Christ. It takes a strong person to go to someone who has given offence and be the one who swallows pride and seeks to repair an injured relationship. But that is what Jesus would have us do. That is the first thing to hear in our Lord’s words today; the importance of harmony in the congregation.
Here’s the second: The power of a united congregation. Jesus says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on Earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in Heaven.” There is great power when a congregation works together, prays together, laughs together, and sheds tears together. That has always been the great strength of the Christian congregation. This is such a strong force that it has continued even now among many of us, not only by phone or through social media or on-line meetings, but in everyday encounters on a sidewalk, or in a park, or over a fence.
To rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep; that is our calling. Kahlil Gibran once remarked that while we might forget those with whom we have laughed, we can never forget those with whom we have cried. Any of you who have been through trying times and have felt the support of your brothers and sisters in Christ will testify to the power of that support. Then Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them…” That is a stunning endorsement of corporate prayer. It is critical that we each pray singly, but it is urgent that we all pray together. We are the congregation.
What a grand opportunity Christ has given us. There is so much power in a congregation that walks, plays, and most of all, prays together. There is, of course, a reason for that power.
And here’s the third thing our Lord would have us hear this morning: We have this power, because Jesus is with us. Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The congregation is much more than the sum of its individual parts, for whenever we gather in Jesus’ name, even when it’s just two or three, even when it’s through a computer, he is in our midst. That is the crowning conclusion to this passage.
Do you catch what Jesus is saying here? Jesus is not saying, “When you get together, all the good feelings you’ll have from each other will make it seem just as though I was here.” No, He is saying when we gather together, he is there! Actually there; really present, in the middle of us, among us. Of course, we are craving the good feelings that come from each of us to each other: the warmth, the welcome, the love. We are, after all, the congregation, the body of Christ together. But, ultimately, we come together now because he gathers with us. We might not always have the eyes to see him, or the sense to always feel him, but he does gather with us every time we gather; however we gather. So, about that original question: do we know what we’ve got? We’ve got what the world desperately needs: A Savior and a Congregation! Remember that! And let the World know!