Sermons That Work

Long Ago…, Proper 18 (A) – 2005

September 04, 2005

Long ago the great Anglican priest and poet John Donne reminded us that, “no man is an island, entire unto himself.” For centuries we have considered a person living totally alone to be a hermit. More and more we are discovering that even in densely populated cities loneliness is a chronic, debilitating, and common condition.

Solitary experience is contrary to human nature because we are social animals. For all human history life has been lived in the context of communities of one sort or another. This, of course, is simply sociology or anthropology. It is a neutral observation, because communities can be good and bad.

The bad is easy to recognize, because the history of human kind is as much as anything a history of war and conflict. We read in the record of the past and see in the news of our day that humans have great difficulty getting along with one another—whether it be in the neighborhood, village, city, state, nation, or world.

As Christians we understand the negative side of community life, and we confess it. Yet we do not give in to the dark side; we make no peace with the powers that divide community and isolate individuals. Further, our faith and commitment presses us to develop the best side of our lives as social creatures.

The primary prayer of Christian faith begins—OUR—not “my,” but “our.” It is a shared prayer for a shared faith. We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we all brothers and sisters. We recognize that our lives in the context of community must be mutually supportive.

Today’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us will gather, work, act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, with God’s spirit intentionally a part of what we do, we become much more than simply the collective number of people we are. Two becomes more than two, and three becomes more than three. The sum of our individual ideas and resources and abilities becomes much more because of the synergy that God’s presence provides.

We do gather in Jesus’ name. We re-call him to presence with us. And that makes him a part of us and of what we do. That is what we experience at each Eucharist—we in him and he in us. But we don’t celebrate Eucharist alone. If only the priest shows up for a mid-week service, for instance, there will be no celebration of the Eucharist. There is no community for whom to break bread.

Ours is a faith of community—of twos and threes and fours—but never of individuals. We act together so we can help one another and so we can work in God’s name, thereby multiplying our resources and ability to do what God calls us to do. Our community is the lifeline to the experience of God and to the power of God moving among God’s people.

While a private spiritual and prayer life is essential for each of us, it is likely to become dry and turn inward if it is not infused with regular doses of shared worship and connection with others, gathered in Christ’s name, and for his sake. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The gathering—the connectedness—magnifies the Spirit for us and in us and with us.

Today Jesus makes it clear how important we are one to another. Through our link to one another through Christ, there is a power in our community, uniting the values of God to our values on earth. This is how Jesus enables us to use God’s power for making healing and life-giving love more effective among God’s people. We come together, we stay together, we work together—in our Lord’s name, bringing to focus the presence of God and unleashing the power of the Spirit to transform our lives and the lives of all God’s children.

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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