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WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2020

Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verse is Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says,

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”


THE POWER OF GATHERING!

Who would have ever thought that gathering in the name of Jesus would be such a political statement with cultural and even legal ramifications? Who would have thought that the mayor of Chicago would send police to harass worshippers who were gathering amidst the COVID-19 crisis, while ongoing gang violence permeates their neighborhood? Who would have thought that Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders would have to write their governor and demand that their congregations be treated as “essential” businesses in the community, you know, just like liquor stores, malls, and casinos? Who would have ever imagined that church leaders in California would be threatened with arrest and jail just for gathering God’s people together in worship? And, remember, in most of these instances religious leaders were faithful to the “scientific” calls for social distancing, proper hygiene, and mask wearing. Why would the church risk enduring the coercive punishment of the state in order to gather for worship? Because there is power in gathering together in the name of Jesus!

Now, I might remind you that there are nefarious reasons for many of the shutdowns around the country. Why would these government leaders target the church so vociferously when protests and even riots are treated with relative indifference? But let’s not go there right now. Instead, I want to point out that gathering together in worship is way bigger than politics. As believers in Jesus, we earnestly desire to meet in person for a much different reason. There is power in gathering together around the Word and Sacraments because they are the very “in-fleshed” gifts of God to create and sustain our faith.

God created us to be a gathering people. He wants us to gather with family, friends, and others whom we love. He especially wants those relationships to be centered upon and resourced by His love and His Word. Yes, contact matters, hugs matter, handshakes matter, pats on the back matter, and kneeling with each other matters. Even more so, receiving the Word of God in our ears through the reading of Scripture, as well as in our mouths in Holy Communion or splashed over our heads or all over our bodies in Baptism, matters. 

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me that isolation is not healthy for people. We were made to be together, to gather together, and to live life “face to face.” The social scientists and the psychologists agree (and my wife, Dr. Marie Seltz, concurs!). The isolation which we are being compelled to experience at the moment has real downsides. While there are some blessings to social distancing, there are increased risks too. Social isolation is leading to a rise in mental health issues, substance abuse, and even domestic violence. As the Bible says even of Adam in the paradise of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

Furthermore, the power of our gathering is much more than merely being together again (as wonderful as that is/will be). The power of our gathering resides in the fact that the Lord chooses to dwell with us. He chooses to be “really present” in the Law/Gospel words of the Bible, in the waters of Baptism, and in the bread and the wine of our Lord’s Supper so that you can hear, touch, taste and see how good the Lord is for you and me by grace through faith. The Jesus we worship never lets anything get in the way of His coming all the way to where we are to love us. For example, He willingly made His way to lepers, touching them with His love when no one else would even draw near. He made up His mind as to how He would exercise His freedom to love others into His Kingdom.

Listen, I’m not casting a shadow on those who are still struggling with the risks of COVID-19, preferring to continue to “gather” online. My point is to remind us that when we do gather, it is not merely to make a political, medical, or even cultural point. We gather because the Lord gathers us. He is truly present, calling us to Himself in order to bless us with His Word and the love shared by those in the Body of Christ, His church. And there is nothing quite like receiving that “bear hug” of grace from the Lord who lived, died, and rose against so that you might live forever with Him!

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, protect us from the present pandemic, and protect us as we gather again around your Word and Sacraments that we might receive and share the love that only You can give. AMEN.

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