I was reading from Fred Craddock’s book, Preaching, this evening. It is a very engaging read thus far. I only managed to get through the first chapter because it was so thick with great thoughts on the task and art of preaching. Given that he is a very accomplished preacher, it seemed appropriate to let the words soak in and to think carefully through his thoughts.
In talking about preaching, Craddock noted the importance of the Spirit’s work in preaching. Craddock writes, “The Spirit is of God and not contingent upon our willing or doing. The truth is, and by this the church sometimes feels embarrassed, there is no agreement among Christians as to the canons for ascertaining the Spirit’s absence or presence at the time of an event. Afterward, of course, the evidences of love, hope, trust, truth, and justice can be read clearly as footprints that say, ‘Yes, the Spirit was here'” (29).
This thought, that we cannot control God’s Spirit or presence, got me to thinking about another verse that we often quote in services. We say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there will I be also.” It’s Scripture, of course. But, we use it in a very mechanical way. Thus, if we have a group of “Christians” together in a place, by extension, God MUST be there.
I don’t want to deny the fact that where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church. I think we have sufficient warrant in Scripture to say that this is a truth. However, we rarely mention the impetus and foundation of our gathering. God’s presence is not dependent upon our willing or doing (as per Craddock). Rather, the inverse is true. It is because God is present that we have gathered (prevenient grace – which is to say – God calls us into relationship). Thus, our gathering is a testimony to God’s presence whenever we “gather in His Name.”
I especially find this to be important. Not any, old gathering will do. “Gathering in His Name” directs our purpose, shapes our imaginations, purifies our hearts, molds us into His likeness, transforms us for passionate ministry, and energizes us with hearts of compassion. “Gathering in His Name” means that we are shaped by God’s story of Creation and Redemption, have been reconciled to Him, and have received and responded to the call to be a light to all nations. And, while it is an inclusive call for all to come, “Gathering in His Name” also brings a particular kind of exclusion… our gathering is not in the name of another. We would call that “idolatry.”
Our gathering is not in the name of a nation. The gathering is not in the name of a political party. The gathering is not in the name of a particular interest group. The gathering is not in the name of the gods of this world: Mammon (wealth), Aphrodite (pleasure), Mars (violence), Zeus (power). And, it is not a gathering for the “cult of I”, where we seek self-sufficiency, self-realization, self-congratulation, self-flagulation, self-confidence, and self-indulgence.
It is against these that Jesus tells his disciples the way that the world will recognize them as his followers: They love one another in his name. Ultimately, this resembles the cross. It looks like Jesus washing feet as a servant; holding children as honored; eating with sinners, taxcollectors, and prostitutes; touching lepers; giving sight to the blind; and, giving hope and healing to the broken and battered in society. “Where Two or Three are Gathered” might be better understood that we need to be where Jesus would be… not expecting Jesus to show up where we are because we had a meeting.