Sermon – September 7, 2014

“Whenever Two or Three are Gathered”

Each group of birds or mammals have a collective noun that describes them. For example there is a chain of bobolinks, A covert of coots, a surfiet of skunks, a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, a wake of buzzards, a convocation of eagles, a bellowing of bullfinches, a pitying of turtle doves, a tower of giraffes, pride of lions, cackle of hyenas, a leap of leopards . . .a parliament of owls . . .exultation of skylarks, a pod of whales, a fall of woodcocks, a zeal of zebras.

When ever two or three are gathered together in my name . . . the church.

Whether it be prayers for healing or gathering for mission, embarking on a ministry project of some sort. . . . , Confirmation, small groups, Sunday School, a family around the dinner table . . . whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them, and anything is possible.

I find this comforting because Jesus doesn’t have to be impressed by whole waves of humanity in order to invoke his presence, . . . two or three folks gathered together for the purpose of living out the gospel is Christ is found. In that gathering of two or three, community is created, church is created. Something greater than the individual comes to life. . . it is a new life that is capable of great things. . . . . .on account of common mission, common purpose, common faith, common understanding and common blessing and the presence of Christ.

Now, one of the tasks of this community is the ability and the desire to hold each other accountable to the gospel, to keep ourselves centered on the gospel, to keep the mission and ministry of the gathering foremost. It is our understanding of the church; it is that community, that people who walk in Christ’s path. And it is that common understanding that gathers us, and holds us together, and sustains us in trouble, and compels us to service to others and gives us the opportunity to learn and live such things as unity, and compassion and love and forgiveness. Great things. It is our charter to walk in the gospel together. It is our self-understanding and self-expression as the body of Christ: to walk with h im and walk in his ways and on his path.

I think that’s what we are talking about in our gospel lesson; to keep us accountable, not to criticize and put down, but to keep us centered as the community of faith because of what’s at stake. To keep us accountable to that ideal so that the purpose of the fellowship is sustained so that we don’t become something else besides the church. If we have no forgiveness, we become something besides the church. If we are not centered on the gospel we are something besides the church.

You’ve heard the many criticisms of churches who lose their sense of ministry and mission and purpose and become just another club, just another place where people get together to enjoy each others’ company. That’s a real quick way for a church to die. If members get together just to pass the time without an underlying foundation and understanding that they are about the mission and ministry of the gospel, it’s not the church.

“When two or three are gathered tog ether in my name, I am there among them,” Jesus said. When two or three are gathered together for a sandwich, that’s just lunch. But when people gather here in Jesus named that gathering becomes holy, sacred, inspired. Because Christ is there, the ever present guest in our efforts to live out the gospel.

That’s really an awesome way to look at how and why we gather. It not only keeps us focused and directed, but it can be a source of joy and satisfaction in knowing that we are doing God’s work in Christ’s presence with the Spirit’s energy. It means we never do this work alone or in vain, that our prayers are met in close proximity to their giving. And that even the more mundane tasks of ministry are holy things.

If you’ll imagine with me, when believers gather in Christ’s name a new and unique and powerful force of life is created, capable of distinctive things like love and compassion and forgiveness. It may be in that gathering that the answers to the needs of the world ar e generated in a unique and distinctive way. Someone has to be the compassionate voice . . . someone has got to be the peacemaker, someone has to live the life of forgiveness, who doesn’t just pay lip service to forgiveness, but lives it out. When Jesus talks of the new life in him, it is the life of joy and compassion and forgiveness and fellowship and unity in the Spirit. That is the new life we enjoy as we live in God’s kingdom, as individuals and as a gathering of believers. It is a distinctive life. Christ has put the imprint of the cross on our lives, calling us to do things in the world that others will not do; to bear the burden of compassion of love and unity and forgiveness even when it runs counter to the interests that would push us the other way. It is the distinctive and vibrant life so that that ideal is sustained.

The search continues in earnest for the discovery of other life in the universe. Engineers are about to blast away the top of a Chilean mountain to create a site for the European Extremely Large Telescope. It will allow us, for the first time, to directly observe planets outside the solar system.

Thanks to data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope, launched in 2009, scientists now estimate that nearly every star in our galaxy has at least one planet circling it.

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 will help scientists see whether any of those billions of planets have the right chemical fingerprint to suggest they harbor life. Specifically, they are looking for gases in the planet’s atmosphere that could only be produced by life. Dr Sara Seager, a US planetary scientist, says it is ‘inevitable’ that there is life out there as the universe is so vast. And the James Webb space telescope is going to get us there

Now, these are not looking for little green, but gases like methane or bacteria or something with DNA. They are things which evolutionary science says may be the beginning of more complex life forms like humans and animals, maybe our own beginnings. What strikes me about these investigations is how easily satisfied we are, how simply life is defined—a little DNA material and a few cells. If we find bacteria in a meteorite we would say there is life on other planets. The evidence of these forms of life would reveal their persistence to survive. That’s what defines their reality.

The more evolved life form, us, enjoy the distinction of intelligence, that is to reason, to create, to invent, although there is evidence that other life forms have an expressive form of intelligence, but we are talking about the ability to reason and communicate in a broad variety of ways. And that reason is often employed to perform the most basic function of life, survival.

But I think that the community of Christ is even a more distinctive life form that just intelligence geared toward survival. Intelligent people can make bad decisions, can be terribly cruel, can lack compassion, and can lack any concept or appreciation for God and grace. But I think that the people who are gathered in Christ’s name represent an even more complete life, and I think that is Jesus’ intention . . . that we would have life in abundance. When he speaks of being baptized into the kingdom, is to take on a new life that is even more complex, and distinctive, and complete than mere intelligent life. It’s just not eno ugh to have opposing thumbs and the ability to do long division. The power of God is vested in the people of God, giving them the capacity and call to do things not just to ensure the survival of the species, but to heal and include and celebrate and forgive and love the rest of humanity. Given the capacity for spiritual joy, the ability for unconditional compassion, unconditional love, to be forgiving even when forgiveness is difficult, even when forgiveness doesn’t accomplish tangible things, but spiritual ends. To be gathered together in Christ’s name and to have Christ in that community is to be part of an even more complete life.

You see this is important because life is not simple. Life is hard and complicated and full of difficult choices, competing pressures, challenging obstacles. And there are times when these things are too much. . . and there are people for whom these are insurmountable barriers to their hope and happiness. That’s why a community of believers is so important.. . . .to bear that hope and happiness, to be a refuge, to be a source of grace.

Without that we are merely another life form, surviving, struggling from obstacle to obstacle, waiting for the sun to go down and for the darkness to engulf us. But when 2 or 3 gather in Jesus’ name, the power of hope is created and we boldly declare that the sun will surely rise again. In that declaration hope is reborn and life is renewed. And that’s the real life in this universe. Amen