6th September 2020 – TRINITY 13 (A)

Ezekiel 33.7-11  Psalm 119.33-40   Romans 13.8-end  Matthew 18.15-20

FIFTY YEARS ago, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Some people condemned it as blasphemous, but, indeed, the Jesus of the gospels often appears like a modern day pop star, especially in the crowds he attracted. Early in his ministry, by the Sea of Galilee, he was in danger of being pushed into the water by the crowd, so got into a boat and taught them from there (Luke 5.1-3). When men brought a paralysed man for healing, they couldn’t get near Jesus because of the crowds, so they let him down through the roof (Luke 5.18,19). There were occasions when the crowds were so great that Jesus and the disciples didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6.31). And soon after that, he fed a crowd of 5,000 or more (Mark 6.35-44, Matthew 14.21). There were many other instances.
So it is remarkable, I think, that Matthew tells us, at the end of today’s gospel, that Jesus foresaw a time when it would be very different: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name,’ he said, ‘there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18.20). Blessèd words, and words we need to hear.
As some of you know, when I have my one Sunday a year off (not this year, of course), I go to Tewkesbury Abbey for an annual festival of sacred music performed not as a concert, but in the context of the Church’s regular worship. That wonderful building is filled with glorious music and a congregation of hundreds. It is inspiring and uplifting, and it can be a bit deflating to come back and find, the following Sunday, a congregation here numbered in tens, at the most. Looking back at the old magazines, I see that in my  early days here, there were regularly three or more times as many as we get nowadays. Well, we are only human. To join with others is uplifting, and it is hard not to get depressed by such decline. So we draw comfort from Jesus’ assurance, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’
Not that we should be complacent or content that we are so few. One of the reasons for coming to church – not the only one, but still an important one – is to support one another. ‘Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,’ says the letter to Hebrews, ‘not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another …’ (Hebrews 10.24,25). When we wilfully stay away, we are depriving others, as well as ourselves.
When our young people go away – as, of course, some of them do this month – one of my prayers for them is that they may find at least two or three others (and, hopefully, a church), with whom they can meet in Christ’s name. As they leave home and family and find themselves among a majority who have no time for Christianity, it can be hard to maintain the practice of their religion. They need the support and encouragement of others to help them persevere and grow in faith and discipleship. They need your prayers, as well as mine.
It isn’t only in church that we meet in Christ’s name.  In today’s epistle, we hear St Paul telling the  Romans that ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (13.10), echoing Jesus (Matthew 22.39,40). On Maundy Thursday, we sing (when we are able to), ‘God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.’ It is in the home that love is firstly and most obviously experienced. One of the earliest interpretations of this saying, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I ..’ was that the two or three were father, mother and child, and that it means that Jesus is there, the unseen guest in every home (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible – St Matthew).
But the love that begins in the home should not be confined to the home. The Covid-19 crisis has brought to our attention the situation of those who, unwillingly, are always, or almost always, alone. As we thought last Sunday, we are never really alone, as God is with us. But if we can provide human companionship to a lonely person, so making up the two or three, then those thus gathered may indeed know Christ in their midst.