7 Sep 2014
9/7/14 THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Fr. Randolph Calvo 2014
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’” (Matt. 18:20)
In the name …
The word “church” is only used twice in all of the four Gospels so today’s reading is half of all the Gospel references to an idea as important as church. And what we find here is that at the heart of church is community. Jesus knows that as soon as you bring people together differences emerge. I remember Bp. Rysz telling me when I was a young priest and his Assistant Pastor in Scranton that when you have two people in a room you can have three opinions. He was letting me know that in church people come together for noble reasons and that brings out a strong emotional attachment to their ideas, and those ideas don’t always agree. Bp. Rysz had been a pastor for a lot of years back in the 1980’s and he’s still a pastor today in Nanticoke, PA at the age of 90. He was letting a young priest know that church as community is essential, but not always easy. Differences arise even when people have the best of intentions.
It was no different when Matthew was writing for his first generation Christian community. This is why he lays out instructions for how to deal with such disputes. First, says Matthew’s Jesus, try and solve the problem yourselves. Talk it over. If that doesn’t work, then a couple of others should be brought in to try and help mediate the dispute. And finally if all fails, then the entire church community should be charged with resolving the problem. All of this is worth the effort because the community is so highly valued. Community to Jesus is so important that He says if even “two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This doesn’t mean lock out everyone who is different so that you’re down to two or three zealots. That’s the religious logic of ISIS over in Iraq and Syria, and everyone but them knows that they’re nuts. It means that as soon as community is established, even if that community is made up of only a few, Jesus is there. It’s not the number that matters; it’s community that matters. Community is that fundamental for the definition of church in the Gospels.
But one should then ask, “Does the church define the boundary of community or does community define the boundary of church?” Let me put it in this context. Wednesday Holly Zera-Lynch and I went to the Recruitment Rally for the Franklin County CROP Walk over in Montague. There I spoke with Steve Damon. He is the man who came here a couple of weeks ago when we had our August outdoor Mass and he spoke to us about the CROP Walk. He is also the Youth Minister at the United Church of Bernadston. He is planning to bring his youth group to Holy Name sometime this month so that they can see how we worship. Our National Catholic practices are different than their Congregational ones. We are obviously different and every one of those kids will recognize this as soon as they compare our Sunday morning with theirs. But aren’t they still part of the church community even though they’re not part of this particular church community? In this sense, isn’t it the community that defines the boundaries of church and not church the community? I don’t think we want to say they’re not church.
And when Holly and I were sitting in the Montague Center Fire Department on Wednesday listening to all the good that the CROP Walk does all around the world and even in our local communities, one of the phrases that caught my attention was that all of these strangers, all of these people whom we probably will never know, will never meet, these people are part of our circle of care. I like that phrase “circle of care.” Church World Service, which runs the CROP Walks, invests in communities. They set down roots. They stay in places of need for generations so that they can make significant changes in the lives of the people they’re trying to help. Don’t those people then constitute part of the community of our church too? Aren’t they part of our circle of care? Again, it’s the community that sets the boundary of the church. It seems too small to think the other way around, that church defines the community that Jesus is talking about this morning.
That’s the way Paul used to think about church in the first days of Christianity. Everyone counted as church. Think back to this morning’s Lesson as a perfect example. “Love one another,” says the apostle, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Rom. 13:8) There aren’t any qualifiers in that statement. It doesn’t say the one who loves Christ or the one who loves another member of your church. It’s a blanket statement, and that’s why he repeats it and says a second time: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:10) I think about this when I hear news of medical personnel becoming infected with the Ebola virus over in Africa. The third American was from Worcester, but he was working for a Christian charity in Liberia. He was there because of his skill and his faith. His “love one another,” just like Paul, had no qualifiers. His circle of care, his community of faith, his church, extended from just down the Mass Pike from here all the way to west Africa. Isn’t that what Paul meant when he said love fulfills the law?
The church is as broad as the community of our circle of care. It begins when two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, but where it reaches only depends on how far we are willing to extend the boundaries of church. There is so much that needs to be done that it can be overwhelming, but the first step of doing anything is to believe that the community of the church is not defined by a building like this or a denominational name whatever it may be. The community of the church is as wide as we can extend our circle of care, that may mean prayer or it may mean action like the CROP Walk, but that is the community of church. That we may better see church as Jesus and Paul saw church, for this we pray in Jesus’ most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo