Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017:

First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 149

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel readings from the last several weeks have shown us Jesus trying to prepare his disciples to take over his mission, once he's no longer physically there to lead them. Here we see him address issues of conflict management, and his advice seems to hold true, even centuries later: try to work out the conflict privately and go through increasingly public discourse.

The last verse is one of the more famous Gospel verses, the one that tells us that we only need two or three to gather in the name of Christ, and he'll be there. But what does this verse mean for the larger church?

This morning, I'm thinking of the modern church, which seems focused on numbers and growing large.  This morning, I'm thinking of this passage and wondering if Christ calls us to be small.

I think of all the articles I've read that talk about the declining numbers of people who affiliate with a church.  I think of all the people who remember the glory days of the U.S. church, back in the middle of the 20th century, back when stores were closed on Sundays, and it seemed that everyone went to church.  When church leaders talked, communities listened.

Of course, the sociologist and historian in me also knows that many vulnerable members of the community were not heard in those days.  I would not go back to 1959, even if more people went to church on Sundays. Too many people led restricted lives--no thanks.

Still, those of us who have inherited the churches that were built during those glory days might be spending a lot of time wondering how to support those buildings with our smaller memberships.  We look for ways that the building can be a blessing to many groups, not just ours.

It's good to remember that church doesn't mean the building. This Sunday, many Lutherans who aren't experiencing a hurricane will be having God's Work, Our Hands events.  We will see the power of small groups working on a project.  As Texas has been coping with Hurricane Harvey, I've been impressed with how the ELCA Bishop of the Synod and various pastors have helped coordinate clean up efforts.

I am working on this meditation as the most powerful Atlantic storm in history, Hurricane Irene, batters the islands to my south.  I am praying for those people in the path of the storm.  I take comfort remembering that church groups often come to the aid and rescue of those who have been battered by natural disasters--and they'll often stay long after the attention of the nation has wandered somewhere else.

Jesus promises that the presence of God will be with us when only two or three gather.  And we've seen from the lives of the earliest Christians, the transforming power of what happens when groups of two or three go out into the world together in the company of the Holy Spirit.

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