‘Where two or three are gathered’…Jesus’ promise remembered in a new age. Sermon for Adel Parish Church, 6th September 2020.
Matthew 18: 21 – 35
I am an ex-teacher and the child of teachers. For me, the year will always start in September. Early September: the anticipation of a new term; new children to get to know; exciting activities planned. Even in the church it feels a little the same as we restart activities after the summer break and look forward to events such as our Harvest Festival.
But this year things are different. Our first physical get together for months will happen this afternoon (weather permitting) outside. We’ll have to keep our distance. It’ll be great to see people…but we can’t shake hands or share a hug.
Next week church services restart. But we’ll be a small gathering with most of us wearing masks; there’ll be no Junior church…and no singing. We’re having to ask people to book…at a place where all should be welcome.
It feels all wrong, it feels almost worse than when lockdown hit, the church was closed and we started to grapple with online worship. Many of us, I think, are weary. And it’s hard to see pubs and restaurants re-opening when we can’t worship as we wish.
We know the restrictions are needed…the importance of protecting one another from Corona virus…but still it seems hard.
We may struggle to imagine worshipping without singing…worry about how empty the church will feel, how sad it’ll be not to hear the children rushing back in from Junior church – keen to share what they’ve been learning.
But that is why we need to hear again Jesus’ promise, ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
I’m sure one day we’ll worship together again in a full church, but I fear that may not happen for months. As we restart after the holiday break, we’re not ‘getting back to normal’, but still finding new ways to be church.
So, this Sunday it’s good to hear those words of Jesus – not just as reassurance – but a reminder of why we meet at all. ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
We gather in Jesus’ name, to be fed by word and sacrament, but also to be a place where the presence of Jesus is found. We meet not just for ourselves, but for our community. We gather to be one way in which Jesus is ‘Emmanuel – God with us’.
When we meet for worship, it may be strange and even difficult…but Jesus has promised that if we gather in his name…he will be amongst us.
Because we don’t have the space to make it safe – Junior church will for the moment remain online. I am sure parents and children miss getting together. Watching a video with your child, or even joining a small group on zoom loses something special. But however we gather…Jesus has promised to be with us.
Any studying we wish to do will also have to remain online – or in very small groups. Home group, bible study, looking at the issue of racial justice – mostly forced onto Zoom. It’s not the same is it? No tea and cake for a start, and somehow there’s less laughter. But if we meet as pilgrims on our journey of faith…Jesus has promised to be with us.
I’m not a great lover of new technologies. When we were forced to embrace online worship, it felt a very poor replacement. But the last 6 months have shown that however we gather, Jesus’ promise holds true. I’ve felt very aware of his presence in our midst. In some ways we’ve become even more a place where the presence of Jesus is found.
The shakeup has enabled people to find new roles within our community of faith. Being already outside our comfort zones has given people the courage to contribute in new ways. In some households there’s been more discussion of faith. Children are taking the lead: in our services and in their homes.
Moving worship online forced us to think about those who couldn’t ‘get to church’ – in a way we perhaps hadn’t done before. The limitations, and empty hours of lockdown encouraged people to join study groups and talk about their faith in new ways. Online worship has given new people a chance to explore faith in the safety of their own homes.
So, as we restart after a summer break let’s do so with Jesus’ promise in mind. We gather to meet him in word…in sacrament…in each other. We gather to be a place where the presence of Jesus is found…from where his love, joy and peace can spill over into the community.
I hope we can do that not as people ‘sitting it out’, waiting to get back to normal; nor people ‘making the best of a bad job’. I’m truly excited at the way time and talents have been offered…at the way faith is being shared and discussed.
Next Sunday at 9.30am, the Paschal candle will be brought into church…only 5 months late…as a reminder that we are an Easter people. Let’s step out in faith as people who believe in the resurrection.
Please consider joining a study course, or our group facing together the vital issues of racial justice. They may have to be mainly online – but if we gather in Jesus’ name, to learn more about him – he has promised to be with us.
If it’s not safe for you to come to church – please continue to worship online. We’re committed to keeping this going even when restrictions are lifted. COVID has taught us that Christians can gather in many ways – and Jesus’ promise still holds.
But there will be opportunities to worship together, to share the Eucharist, and hopefully before too long, the timeless words of Evensong. If it’s safe for you, please come. It won’t be what it used to be – it will be a new thing – and Jesus has promised to be with us.