Thoughts and Worship (Week beginning 6 September)

A Short Act of Worship Sunday 6 September

 

As we are gathered Jesus is here. One with each other, Jesus is here.
Joined by the Spirit, washed in the blood, part of the body, the church of God

As we are gathered Jesus is here. One with each other, Jesus is here.

As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God,

set our hearts on fire with love for you,  now and for ever. Amen

 

Please take a few moment of quiet to reflect on the week that has passed and on what lies ahead.

 

May the Father of all mercies cleanse us from our sins, and restore us in his image

to the praise and glory of his name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

God’s Word:

 

Jesus said, ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

 

(Matthew 18: 15-20)

 

Take a few moments of silence to think about these words

 

You may like to spend a few minutes in silence, listen to a piece of music that you find helpful.

Or slowly read (maybe sing) this hymn:

 

Come, Host of heaven’s high dwelling place, come earth’s disputed guest;

find in this house a welcome home, stay here and take your rest.

 

Surround these walls with faith and love that through the nights and days,

when human tongues from speaking cease, these stones may echo praise.

 

Bless and inspire those gathered here with patience, hope and peace

and all the joys that know the depth in which all sorrows cease.

 

Here may the losers find their worth, the strangers find a friend;

here may the hopeless find their faith and aimless find an end.

 

Build, from the human fabric, signs of how your kingdom thrives.

of how the Holy Spirit changes life through changing lives.

 

So, to the Lord whose care enfolds the world held in his hands,

be glory, honour, love and praise for which this house now stands.

 

(John Bell and Graham Maule)

Our prayers

 

Lord God, through your grace we are your people: through your Son you have redeemed us;

in your Spirit you have made us your own.

 

We pray for … (the Church). Make our hearts respond to your love.

Lord, receive our praise and hear our prayer.

 

We pray for … (the world). Make our lives bear witness to your glory in the world.

Lord, receive our praise and hear our prayer.

 

We pray for … (the sick and those in need).

Make our wills eager to obey, and our hands ready to heal.

Lord, receive our praise and hear our prayer.

 

We give you thanks for …

Make our voices one with all your people in heaven and on earth.

 

 

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name …

 

(or)

 

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name …

 

Almighty God,

you search us and know us:

may we rely on you in strength

and rest on you in weakness,

now and in all our days;

through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,

be with us all evermore, Amen

 

Over the earth is a mat of green
Over the green is dew
Over the dew are the arching trees
Over the trees the blue
Above the blue are scudding clouds
Over the clouds the sun
Over it is all is the love of God
Blessing us everyone.

 

Sunday 6 September 2020, a Reflection

 

Small country churches and vicars with falling congregations have long taken great comfort from Jesus’s reassurance that ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name. I am there among them.’ Who needs the crowds if you’ve got Jesus to make up the numbers?

 

Some churches have even interpreted this wonderful saying to their own advantage to hang on tenaciously when the wider church might be concerned about their inability to pay their way, or they exhibit stubbornness about not sharing precious resources. It goes on the lines of, ‘We’ll hang out for our service. We’re not going to join with that lot in the next village. After all, you’ve got to remember that where two or three … ‘

 

Others have been distinctly disconcerted by the idea that you need three in a crowd to be sure of the divine presence. Hermits and solitary Christians in the early centuries of the church were especially bothered by it. Surely, they argued, Christ could be just as much with them too, as they prayed on top of a column or stuck in a cave half way up a mountain?

 

It should be clear by now, that this as much as any other of Jesus’s sayings, should not be used to prove or argue against points that it was never Jesus’s intention to address.

 

The origins of the saying seem to run deep in Jewish tradition. A rabbinic saying, for example, was that if three have eaten at one table and have spoken over it the words of the Lord, it is as if they had eaten from the table of God.

 

Another early Jewish tradition argued that for public worship to count as worship, you needed to have at least ten male worshippers present. Jesus’s saying suggests that the zone of the sacred, or the places where God can be found cannot be so easily limited, but he probably didn’t have failing Evensong congregations in mind when he said it.

 

In fact, rather than being the comfort that so many of us take it to be, this little saying is rather more of a challenge. It reminds us that whenever we come together, regardless of numbers, we are not only to believe, but to act as if Jesus is right there present with us.

 

The evidence for this is partly the context of Jesus’s saying in Matthew’s Gospel, which as we heard in our reading, is all about how the early church, and we too, must behave towards one another if and when we fall short of the high standards Jesus demands of us.

 

Jesus’s advice is gentle and again builds on older Jewish traditions of how to settle a dispute within a community. Jesus teaches us that settling a difference and righting a wrong should be done  all very much within the context of a desire to go after the lost sheep and bring them back into the fold, or to embrace them in the family; but wrong-doing is certainly not to be condoned. We are indeed to believe and to act as if Jesus is standing right there in the midst of us.  It’s quite a challenge.

 

This realisation extends too to our prayer and worship and places us under an obligation to order our common life in a way that again tries to bring Jesus into the equation at every stage.

 

Prayer ‘in Jesus’s name’, for example, means that we should try to align our wills with God’s will – as revealed by Jesus. It’s quite the opposite of us going out on a limb to try and get what we want. It’s ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done … ‘

 

And the next line of the Lords’ Prayer is very telling too: ‘on earth as it is as in heaven.’ This is surely just another way of re-phrasing Jesus’s rather dramatic teaching about what is bound on earth being bound in heaven. It’s not more and no less than a coming together of our wills with God’s will through prayer, so that heaven and earth collapse into one another.

 

So in short, this little passage has a great deal to teach every church, and every Christian community, no matter how large or small it is, about how we should order our common life, our prayer, or worship and our loving service in and to the world.

 

All that said, if it also gives a little bit of welcome reassurance to the small and struggling congregations that I love so much, it’s surely no bad thing at all. It remains true that wherever two or three are gathered together, in Christ’s name (and that is the really essential element in all this), there he is in the midst of us.

 

I was therefore highly delighted to read an article the other week in the Church Times, written by Canon Angela Tilby, who often contributes to Radio Four’s ‘Thought for the Day’.  It’s tongue in cheek of course, and deliciously naughty, but it rather made my day. At the end of a rather earnest piece about the crisis in church finances, she said this:

 

‘At parish level, while there are bishops who make no secret of the fact that they would like to wind down the parish system in favour of church-plants and mega-churches, it turns out that venues in which large numbers bob about to worship songs in close proximity to one another are about as unsafe as it gets. Crumbling but spacious parish churches with ten to 20 quietly scattered worshippers are relatively safe, however. You can’t help wondering whether the virus has theological preferences.’

 

Amen. I couldn’t have put it better!