I'm preparing a sermon about this short passage of scripture for this weekend, which means that so far I'm reading and thinking and day-dreaming but haven't put pen to paper -- yet.
I confess a certain fondness for that last verse of the passage, not the whole passage, just the last verse, which says, "Where-ever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them." I am so fond of this passage that I often use it in the beginning of prayers at hospitals and with shut-ins, a reminder of God's promise to hear our prayers, even if there are just two of us.
But that's just one verse, not the whole passage, which I like to wrest conveniently out of its context, a context that includes instructions for dealing with conflict, and promises that seem too exaggerated to possibly be true (If two of you will agree on anything, I will do it: really? Really, Jesus?)
The problem with verse twenty, "where two or three are gathered," is that it's so comforting, so comforting that, by itself, as a verse, it can contribute to a sort of romantic notion of community. Get two people together in a room, praying, and somehow, Jesus is among them. No doubt, that can't be a bad thing.
But for the first time, when I heard that verse read, I asked, "Yes, but to what end? Jesus is among us, but to do what?" To hold our hands, and dry our tears, and hear our prayers?
Or maybe more than that: to hold us together, to send us out, to give us a wider vision when we feel like giving up. Or maybe to bring us back together when we're fighting, to help us learn the truth, to give us power.
This whole passage of scripture, not just verse twenty, is about two: two people fighting and two people reconciling, or not; two people agreeing, and two people (or three) gathering in Jesus' name.
I think what I like about the passage is that it's not about hundreds of people and it's not about one. And we often skew so often one way or the other, thinking that, on the one hand, something is only really worthwhile if thousands of people are doing it (megachurches, the State Fair, huge concerts, big box retailerers), or, on the other hand, that the most powerful, most virtuous position is that of the rugged individualist, pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, standing alone against the mob.
Instead, where two or three are gathered -- could be more but it doesn't have to be -- is the most powerful position. Not alone, but not a mob. The basic unit of discipleship is a relationship.
But, what kind of a relationship is it? What kind of community will we be? What kind of a community do we want to be?
That's the question.