In my Facebook feed, a news article about the closing of a large, nationally significant Catholic church building in a downtown central business district drew some noteworthy comments.
One commenter lamented the "loss" of a beautiful building, stating members of "his church" relocated to suburban areas two decades ago. He went on to suggest Baptists or Lutherans --traditions of quite different origins and worship styles--would soon take over "his" old building.
Another commenter wrote of the irony of the Archdiocesan Office shuttering the sanctuary, but leaving open the attached Senior Center which serves nearly 2,000 people per week, offering food assistance and a safe place to meet for socializing and fellowship. Was the Senior Center's work of placemaking and feeding the hungry more meaningful than the activities and rituals held on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings in the sanctuary?
Jesus said "For where two or three come together--are present, assemble, or gather in my name--there I am with them." (Matthew 18;21).
This is an powerful statement, and is proceeded by something many of us have found difficult to express or demonstrate in our experience of church worship and life: "Again, I tell you that if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven."(Matthew 18:20).
Has this been your personal experience?
In this passage, Jesus told his followers if two of them agreed about anything they asked for, the Father would do it. Why? He answers the "why?" in the next verse: because when two or three have gathered in his name--in his purpose, viewpoint, style, and method--he is there with them. There is, in that place, an unbroken fellowship and presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (living and abiding in the believers gathered).
If this is true--and if Jesus says something, that "something" is always true--what has happened to the gatherings of the church? Why has the church experienced so much division, apostasy, and loss of direction?
Many attending church stopped gathering "in his name." Some never gathered in his name, not ever.
Some are gathered in the name of a preacher or a teacher. Some are gathered in the name of a denomination, a philosophy, or a tradition. Some are gathered in the name of political conservatism or political liberalism. Some are gathered in the name of prosperity or human riches. Some are gathered in the names of pipe organ music and architectural splendor.
Some are gathered in the name of "fixing the world", or "social justice", or "peace." Some are gathered in the name of finding a husband or wife, or obtaining a denominational scholarship or summer campership for a child or grandchild. Some are gathered in the name of free child care for two hours on Sunday morning while Mom and Dad sneak away from church to enjoy a quiet breakfast at a nearby restaurant.
Some are gathered in the name of social status or business and career connections. Many years ago, I visited a local megachurch where the pastor warned (from the pulpit) those in attendance--members and visitors-- against using the church as a prospecting ground for selling Mary Kay Cosmetics and other "business opportunities." He said the situation had gotten out of hand and had to be publicly addressed.
When the church--the called out body of believers in Jesus Christ--gathers, the building doesn't matter. If that body is together for Jesus' purposes, that body will have whatever they agree on if they ask for it.
When you step into church next Sunday, ask yourself: why am I really here? What do I expect as a result of having been here? How will I know my time here has been well spent? If I stopped coming here, how would my life change? What would I miss most if this church building closed?
Ask yourself: am I really here "in his name?"