Melissa Roberts George
September 6, 2020
Come Together – September 6, 2020
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Good morning! I am Mtr. Melissa George, your new assistant rector. I’ve never been an assistant rector before- a chaplain, yes, a student and seminarian, a wife, a daughter and granddaughter, a sister, a friend, a violinist, a teacher, a hiker (trails not wheels), a faithful servant of furry friends, and a beloved child of God who constantly has to remind herself that God delights in her- this, this is me.
Please accept my gratitude ahead of time for the energy it will take us to get to know each other and for me to get to know how things work here at St. Andrew’s. I can’t wait to meet you and celebrate how God is working in your life, lamenting when God is taking God’s sweet time on something, and everything in between.
As I was packing my house up to move last week, I was thinking about my sacramental role as priest, your priest, because obviously that’s more fun than how exactly I’m going to pack my Wedgewood tea set for the movers or how upset Tiberius kitten is at the growing pile of boxes by his window seat in our living room. I pondered my role as priest celebrating the Eucharist with most of you watching via live stream, and what I could do differently or better to ensure that we all had the “aha” spiritual high of being blessed by God at that sacred sacramental moment. You see, I am definitely human, prone to err and forget that God, not I, is the giver of sacred sacramental moments.
Then a song blared through my musings, the Beatles singing “Come together.” From my iphone playlist. Some Beatles songs might be worthy of serious theological reflection. “Come Together” doesn’t make the cut. It’s not one I didn’t learn by heart on long road trips with my parents, because most of the lyrics are goobly gook. “Here come old flat top he come grooving up slowly he got joo joo eye ball he one holy roller he got hair down below his knees. Got to be a joker he just do what he please.” But the chorus, the chorus is what got me. “Come together, right now, over me.”
“Come together, right now, over me.” “Come together.” “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.” Matthew has much to say this morning in regards to coming together over Jesus in a community of faith.
At first glance, Matthew 18:15-20 appears to be an admonition – or strong teaching- on what to do to ensure right relations within the church. Confront someone who’s wronged you. Listen to each other. Seek the support of others to discern and learn together. This is my language, not Matthew’s. He’s much less pastoral,” Truly, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” God is watching, judgement imminent. No pressure there. Verse 18.
But what’s missing is the context. The author of Matthew is under a lot of pressure. His late 1st century church is under cultural siege, as members struggle to understand what it means to be Christian in a world where Jesus died but didn’t come back quite as soon as his disciples hoped. Both Jews and the pagan Roman religious machine threaten the growth and development of this brand new, bold idea that sounds so rote to us over 2,000 years later- Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God. Through him we shall not perish, but have everlasting life. But here we this morning in Matthew, less than fifty years after Jesus rose from Joseph of Arimethia’s tomb. Matthew’s audience is a second generation of Jewish-Christians four hundred years before the canon, or Bible as Old and New Testament as we know it today. Their struggle- who are we? What do we believe? How do we build community?
Matthew isn’t casting judgement or offering an early treatise on community relations. He offers basic ground rules to nurture and sustain his community, the Church, in tough times. This advice definitely resonates with us today. We gather in a global pandemic. We gather during a presidential election year. We gather in a community of diverse backgrounds and values, united in our love for God and devotion to St. Andrew’s with tensions and challenges that come from the very reality that we come together with all that we are and all that we have, here, for God’s glory.
The powerful imagery of Matthew 18:20, the great bumper sticker for Christian community, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” made me wonder if Matthew’s using “gather” in a context familiar to me. I tend to see “gather” as waiting on individuals in different places to move to the same place physically. Perhaps it’s the “gather” time at the beginning of Methodist service order from my memories as a Baker University college student, where the type A early birds such as myself tapped our toes as other students find their way into the chapel for worship. Once everyone has gathered, worship begins.
My definition of gather implies that people are the ones moving. They come together in God’s name. Matthew’s definition implies that God’s the one moving the people. The Greek translates as “draw together, collect, draw together like fish in a net.” God is the one who draws those two or three together in Christ’s name. The people aren’t the ones moving towards God. And here, here my friends, is how we come together.
As a community of faith, full of human beings each created uniquely in God’s image and God’s likeness, diversity is part of the game. Because we are different, we see the world differently. We disagree. My rough edges may rub up against your healing wounds, and BOOM- it is on!
If we just look at our individual differences, our hopes, our opinions, and our dreams, we have no community. We are lost in conflict and division, for all we see is our differences. But if we can let God draw us together, collect us, pull us up out of the ocean of our own feelings, thoughts, and perceptions into the terrifying new world of God’s way, God’s truth, and God’s life, this, this is community.
Now, suddenly, the Exodus passage where the death of the first born sons who die because their doors aren’t smeared with special lamb blood makes more sense. It’s simply a passage about community. Some are included. Some are excluded. God wants to gather together the faithful, but they must act. They must reach out. They must mark their doors, literally offer themselves to God for collection. Us versus them. We are saved. They are damned. Meanwhile God weeps. God wants more from us together, more from our neighbors and more from ourselves.
And then the phrase from the psalm today, “let the praises of God be in their throat, and a two edges sword in their hand; to wreak vengeanace on the nations… to bind their kings in chains, and their nobles with links of iron.” Wow, so we’ve gone from praising God to smiting our enemies on the turn of the dime. Again, we are human. Without God drawing us together, this, this is where we will be- this, this is where we are, us versus them, on the slippery slope from friend to enemy or worse.
- S. Lewis, of Narnia fame and great theologian, tackles the challenge of living in right relationship with his usual wit and honesty. “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive, and then, to mention the subject at all, is to be greeted with howls of anger.” (Mere Christianity). In other words, living in right relationship with others, in Christ, name simply is hard work.
Yes, yes it is hard work. Thank God we don’t go it alone. We, too, seek answers to the same questions that Matthew had. Who are we? What do we believe? How do we build community? Unlike Matthew, we have the Word of God, Old and New Testament for guidance. We have the catechism, or basic teachings of Christian faith. We have generations of morality and piety that we’ve inherited from our culture and our church. We also have each other, our shared wisdom, experience, passion and hope, if we come together.
But unity is an ideal- it’s never permanent this side of heaven. On some issues, the questions may remain. Who are we, together? What do we believe, together? How do we build community, together? We aren’t the same, and we don’t always agree. I thank God that God, and not any single one of us, is the one with the authority and power to draw us together, two or three, in his name.
Now, I have an unusual take on conflict… As a chaplain, I’ve learned that conflict leads to intimacy or connection. People who care enough to say what they think, may just be bold enough to invest in a relationship or community, too. If someone disagrees with me, I really do want to hear why and their opinion before the two edged sword comes at me or my husband and cat end up in chains. Remember, God draws us together in community. We gather in his name, He is in the midst of us. How can all of us take Matthew’s advice, and continue dialogue when tensions are high and feathers are ruffled because, wow, they just are. That’s the state of our world.
God, God brings us together. The power of our community, our worship, fellowship, and the sacrament itself, whether you are here in person today or partaking via the Prayer for Spiritual Communion, this power comes from God, not us. “When two or three are gathered together in his name, I will be in the midst of them.” Come together, over Him. Amen.