Proper 18A/Ordinary 23A/Pentecost +14
September 6, 2020
God of justice, peace and righteousness
come into our midst this evening
Breathe your breath,
your Spirit of prophecy,
your imagination on us.
Wake us up
Open our eyes
Unplug our ears
That we might hear
That we might see
That we might grieve
That we might dream
That we might follow the ways of your extraordinary kingdom
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
As we read the words of scripture,
we are pointed to your living Word who walked among us;
and we are surrounded by your Spirit,
who whispers words within our hearts and minds.
Inspire us in our hearing and reflecting,
that we may move beyond your words
into life-changing acts of grace, love, hope, and peace.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 18:15-20
15“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. ;16But 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. 17If 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.18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, 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. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Several months ago, I turned the corner of Broad and Delaware heading towards the church. A light caught my eye! It was a brand-new flashing sign in front of Kemble United Methodist Church. That congregation had an LED sign that proclaimed Christ was here in a well-lit zipper board. I have watched with interest what information has been placed upon the board – worship information, meeting information and organizations, but as of late it simply had virtual church information due to COVID.
Signs are important for business, on roads and for upcoming traffic. I am not a fan
of trite messages on church boards, but there is one sign that I like, and it’s kind of an obvious one, but let me just share it with you because it is a way of getting us into a conversation today. It’s a church sign that goes “C H blank blank C H. What’s missing?”
And the answer is: “U R” (you are). I know that’s meant to be a kind of guilt thing for people who don’t come to church, but there’s actually some great theology if we just turn it around a little bit and it reads “U R church.” You are church. There’s truth here. I love a children’s hymn that sings about this, very simply and very profoundly. The hymn
goes like this:
The church is not a building;
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people.
The church is a people. God’s people gathered together offering songs of praise and psalms, praying together, living in community. The church is a people. Iona in Scotland, a beautiful island, a small island, is the place where Christianity
first came to Scotland from Ireland, brought there by the saint we know as Columba. Columba founded his community on the island of Iona and from there spread Celtic Christianity through Scotland and Northumbria in the north of England. Currently in the abbey on Iona there is a modern-day community, the Iona community, which was founded
by the Church of Scotland minister George MacLeod in the ’30s and ’40s. Part of what the Iona community did was rebuild parts of this ancient abbey, parts of which go back to the 11 and 1200s, and they rebuilt the living quarters so there would be places for people to stay.
The Sunday when the rebuilding was completed, George MacLeod led his people with prayer. MacLeod’s prayers are one of his great gifts to the church. Listen to the prayer he offered that day.
We are your temple, not made with hands. We are your body. If every wall should crumble and every church decay, we are your habitation. Nearer are you, O God, than breathing; closer than hands and feet; ours are the eyes with which you in the mystery look out in compassion on the world. Nearer are you, O God, than breathing.
“Nearer are you, O God, than breathing.” These are words of promise and a reminder that God is just that close. The promise of that presence we find in our text from Matthew, which we heard earlier, a text that is sometimes described as a desperation text. Let me explain that. The famous words of Jesus—“Where two or three are gathered in my
name, I am there among them”—has been used in my experience when people gather and there are not many people worshiping.
The promise is there, but interestingly, in the text it grows out of recognition of something about the nature of the life of the church. And that is that the church is not perfect. This is a text that comes to us out of the experience of conflict. And yet there at the end of this is this great promise of Jesus: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I
am there among them.”
Christ is present through the Spirit when God’s people gather, binding us together as one body.
One of the great thinkers for the church of the twentieth century is the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann. Moltmann wrote his theology after the Second World War. He is a post-Holocaust theologian, and part of his struggle in his theology is to understand where God was in that and where God is calling us to be in a post-Holocaust world.
Moltmann has a lovely book in which he takes some of his complex theology and speaks to what that means for the church. It’s a theology of hope and of liberation, and he writes in the book, The Open Church, about what the church can be. He writes, “We would no longer come together just in order to confirm for each other the eternally same stories, jokes, and opinions, but would rather create an open and hospitable community which would bring
friendliness into the unfriendly corners of this society.”
What a charge that is, what a call that is, for the church: to bring friendliness to places where there is unfriendliness. It seems to me there is a lot of unfriendliness during these recent times. Moltmann goes on: “Congregation then is no longer the sum of all those who are registered as members on the church rolls.” Rather, it is a new kind of living together for human beings that affirms and hears Moltmann’s manifesto for the church. “That the church affirms that no one is alone with his or her problems, that no one has to conceal any disabilities, that there are not some who have the say and others who have nothing to say. That neither the old nor the little ones are isolated, that one bears the other even when it is unpleasant, and that finally that one can also at times leave the other in peace when the other needs it.” I love that manifesto; I love Moltmann’s clear thinking, thinking of the church not in terms of exclusion or some ideal of teaching the right doctrine.
The challenge for the church today is to welcome – more than the two or three that are gathered together – in person or virtually – into relationship with Christ. We are reminded that relationship is the bedrock of being a follower of Jesus, and “As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us makes us one, and strangers now are friends.”
Commentary provided by Eric Barreto, Calum I. MacLeod, David Lose, Karl Jacobson, Clayton Schmidt, Jeremy Troxler, Richard J. Aguilar, Thomas G. Long, Charles HambrickStowe and Dale P. Andrews.
THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION – virtual
In the broken and messy world in which we live in there are many things to worry about:debilitating illness, hate inspired violence, or the uncertainty of our future well-being. It iseasy to close ourselves off emotionally, physically, and spiritually to seal ourselves and our hearts away behind doors forged from fear. Yet despite our efforts, Jesus enters in unhindered and says, “Peace be with you.” He encourages us to engage the worries, doubts, and fears we face filled by the Holy Spirit, our advocate…we are not alone.
At this table, we remember the life, death, and resurrection of our savior who bids us to go out sharing Good News and practice acts of forgiveness with ourselves, our neighbors, and our enemies. This table is for those who feel certain and those who feel frightened. This table is for those who feel filled by the Spirit and those who are seeking to be filled. This table does not belong to the Presbyterian Church, it belongs to Jesus Christ—and it is he who invites all to share in the bread and cup of peace, love, and life everlasting.
God of Every People,
you created the world long before this nation or any other.
In the first days of creation, you said, “Let there be light,”
and light separated itself from the night.
How can we ever comprehend your power?
How can we ever be worthy of your love?
How can we ever measure up to your goodness?
Hear us as we proclaim your majesty:
Holy, holy, holy Lord. God of power at might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna in the highest.
Christ came to this world as a helpless infant,
showing us that the weakness of humanity is not beyond redemption.
Born as a refugee is a scary and violent world,
your son came as one of us to show us the way.
Being born, he is a vehicle of your love.
Walking many miles, he teaches us to travel to the unknown.
Teaching love, he helps us understand our capacity for compassion.
Healing the sick, he inspires us to share your healing power.
Teaching the broken, he reminds us that we are works in progress.
Sacrificing himself, he shows us that love triumphs over hate.
We give you thanks that the Lord Jesus,
on the night before he died, took bread,
and after giving thanks to you, he broke it,
and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take, eat. This is my body, broken for you.
In the same way Jesus took the cup, saying:
This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.
We gather this day, God of all majesty and power,
to lift up your holy name and proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Giver of All Goodness and Grace,
bless this our gathering in your name.
Bless our worship of you
and bless those who worship in your name around the world.
Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,
all glory and honor are yours, Holy God,
both now and always. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
WORDS OF INSTITUTION
We give you thanks that Jesus,
having faith in those gathered,
gathered his friends around a similar table
on the night before he gave himself to the authorities for his death.
And so that they might remember and know how God’s Bread gives strength,
he took common bread and made it holy,
as he takes common people and makes us holy.
To remember, he asks us to repeat his act again and again,
as he did, by saying:
This is my body, given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.
We cannot live by bread alone.
And so he took the cup as he did the bread.
And he poured it so we might remember the sight and the sound.
And he shared it among us saying:
This is faith made new,
faith you wouldn’t even know how to ask for,
faith that will surprise you,
faith that will sustain you.
Whenever you drink it,
do this in remembrance of me.
We break bread
and we drink wine
for the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ,
for the promise of new life,
for the faith to hope anew!
PRAYER AFTER THE MEAL
God of grace, you have given us all things, and you have fed us with Christ’s presence through this sacrament. We commit ourselves to you now, and we give ourselves to the work of your kingdom, which is upon us in Jesus’ life. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Go now and walk in the light of the Lord.
Stay alert for the Lord is near.
Put on the armor of light
and live openly and honorably.
Pray for peace for all God’s people.
And may God clothe you in the light of Christ;
May Christ Jesus teach you his ways;
And may the Holy Spirit keep you alert and prepared
for the coming day of the Lord.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
…In the name of Christ. Amen.