*It is good to be here with you after a few weeks away—as much as we are “here” with each other virtually. And so the words that are so familiar to us from this morning’s reading struck a nerve “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
*How do we hear this in a time of Covid? How do we hear this in a time when some feel the necessity of pouring out into the streets to say “Enough.” How do we hear this in a time when our church, our presbytery, our denomination has chosen to move slow in thinking about getting back together indoors? Are we gathered when we are little squares on a screen, or voices on the telephone? Does that count as gathered in my name? Is Jesus here among us?
*Of course, I’m going to argue that this is gathering—different from what we knew before, but gathering nonetheless. Many of us still arrange to “show up” at a certain time, at an appointed place (or zoom room). We gather for prayers; we gather for music (as we can have it right now); we gather to remember the words Jesus said at that Last Supper; we gather to hear Scripture and to muse on what it might mean for our lives today. And Jesus promises, if we gather, even just two or three, Jesus will be there among us.
*This is a time where all norms seem to have gone out the window, from our daily schedules to who we can trust for medical advice. We are missing each other; we are missing that “back to school” vibe; we are growing tired of having to be so vigilant. No matter, if we gather in Jesus’ name, Jesus is there—even if that gathering isn’t what we want it to be.
*I was interested that someone thought the hymn “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether” was appropriate for this week. And as I heard the words in my mind, as I thought about gathering in Jesus’ name, I kept coming back to that beautiful image “Here we touch your garment’s hem.”
*If you remember it is talking about the woman with the flow of blood—the woman who should never have been out in a crowd for she was unclean (and made everyone she touched unclean)—a woman who had tried everything to stop this loss of lifeblood, tried for twelve years—a woman, who didn’t give up, didn’t give in, who was so SURE that Jesus could help, that she defied all convention and slipped out of her isolation, into the crowd, and got near to Jesus.
*And she didn’t come wailing “Woe is me.” She didn’t angrily insist he take care of this problem, RIGHT NOW. She didn’t get carried into his presence with the help of friends. She didn’t even seem to need to have a face to face with Jesus. Maybe she didn’t feel she garnered his attention. But she wanted healing, and she knew (how did she know?), she knew that if she touched his hem, she would be healed.
*If you don’t know the end of the story, I invite you to go to Matthew 9:20-22; or Mark 5:25-34; or Luke 8:43-48 and learn the rest. I want to stay with that image of touching the hem. It is a solitary image. She is at the edge of the action. It is grasping just a piece. It is a momentary movement—with nothing solid to show afterwards—except that it changes your whole life.
*Touching Jesus’ hem is a bold move. It requires willingness to put aside what is common, in pursuit of the goal. It requires doing new things that might bring some discomfort. It stays present in the moment. It asks only for a feel of material, a brush of fabric, a brief encounter with the divine.
*And that’s all we ever really get, any of us. Oh, I know, some people seem to have sit-down dinners, or conversations with Jesus. And some people claim that they have Jesus in their pocket! But most of us, are like that woman, having almost to steal our time with the Lord of all.
*I find it really interesting that this “I am there in the midst of you” comes after Jesus has made a fairly detailed description about how to deal with conflict in the church. Jesus seems to believe that one on one, intimate conversation, is the way to start when dealing with “sins against one another.”
And if that doesn’t work, then widening the discussion to small groups—and if that doesn’t work, trying to deal with it church wide. Beyond that is division and strife. And I heard in my head some of the voices of the people I have been reading *over the last few months. Voices, like that of Lenny Duncan, who wrote “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US” (by the way, he says the Lutheran Church is that Whitest Denomination, though he is an ordained member of their clergy). Voices, like that of Leigh Finke, who edited “Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens.” Voices, like Susan Beaumont, author of “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season.”
*These voices all focus on making connections, starting with two or three, starting with who your allies are, starting with acknowledging the reality of the situation. This is true for the church, just as it is true for our country, and our world in general. It is also true for us, as UPC.
*None of these writers claim to know where we are going or how we might get there. That seems faithful to this moment. What seems clear is that there are things that are amiss—“sins against one another” as our Scripture puts it. These “sins” may not have been intended, or blatant, or thought out. But they are there. And trying to ignore them is not a healthy thing. Jesus asks us to open up a dialogue with one another. To trust as we listen, as we begin to recognize the pain in others, as we grapple with what that means for our life together, and for our church, we can stand on the promises of God. And that when we reveal ourselves we can hope to find a better way.
*So that means trying to figure out how to expand our “gathering in Jesus’ name”—whether that means virtual Bible Study, or call-in prayer time, or virtual happy hour, or some online events, or refiguring how to engage with our world. Regardless we can hold onto Jesus’ promise—I will be there, in *the midst of you. I can almost hear Jesus say, “You can’t break me.” We will weather the storms together: be they sharing long held feelings, or the dis-comfort that comes with change, or the grueling patience it takes to deal with a nasty virus, or the disjointed feelings that things will never be the same. One constant we can trust. One thing is sure. God is here with us. *As Hebrews 13:8 puts it, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Or as our hymn puts it:
*All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of you,
That by caring, helping, giving, we may be disciples true.
Alleluia! Alleluia! We will serve with faith anew.