“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.”
– Proverbs 17:1
Today, in commenting on another person’s blog, I ended up navigating back here, and reading some of my old posts. One in particular, “Let’s Start a Grassroots Revolution of Love!” got me thinking (again) about Jesus’ intriguing statement “…where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Like the many revolutionary statements that Jesus and his early disciples made about love, this is one that, because it is so counter-cultural to our world, we often dismiss. Even if our minds agree, our hearts say, “yes, but…” Something in us continually is drawn back to “bigger is better.” We don’t just want to build a super tall tower, we want to build one that “reaches to heaven.” In business, we are often not content running a mom-and-pop shop, but must expand it to a chain, despite the fact that we slowly lose contact with those we serve until we become an impersonal institution with no personality or soul. Walk into Starbucks and then walk into the local coffee shop owned and operated by Joe who you know, sit in both and soak up the atmosphere. It won’t take long and you will feel the vast difference, despite whatever the original founders of Starbucks may have intended.
The same happens in church life. We enjoy life in a small gathering of believers, but (often) automatically assume that more will be better. There is a huge industry here in the U.S. of “church consultants” that is built around “church growth,” with the assumption that bigger… and bigger… and bigger… and YET BIGGER… is better. How tragic!
“But growth shows life,” you might say, “and growing means a church is healthy.” True, growth is a sign of health, but unbridled growth is not. In an ecosystem, unbridled growth of a species makes it an “invasive species” which destroys the ecosystem as a whole. In the body, unbridled growth of cells is cancer, which likewise destroys the body as a whole.
Contrast this with the above-quoted words of Jesus – “two or three” – so counter-intuitive to all we are taught and all we instinctively believe! There is a caveat though: the 2 or 3 can not be just “gathered,” but must be gathered “in my name.” I believe this phrase “in my name” has much greater depth of meaning than just that we profess or say the words that our gathering is “in His name.” Let me give an example. Suppose I were to die. Then suppose after my death, that my loved ones were to do something (anything) “in Margaret’s name.” The assumption would be that whatever they would be doing would be some cause near and dear my heart, and that they would be making every attempt not only to do what I would have done had I lived, but also to do it in the manner I would have done it. If I loved to laugh, and had a wry sense of humor (which I do), than an event in my name that was humorless would not fit the bill, and those who knew me best might even be angry that it was done “in my name.” The same is true if some cause were done “in my name.” If, for instance, someone decided to “kick kittens” in my name, or even worse “kick calico kittens,” in the world of those who know me best it would be an utter sham! Those who know me the very best would say, “They don’t know her at all! This is not in her name, despite what they say!” They would refuse to participate.
Even if it was something, my friends were not generally opposed to, like eating a McDonald’s hamburger, even if it were something they would normally participate in, if it were done “in Margaret’s name,” those who know me, knowing I really hate McDonald’s hamburgers, would say “This is a horrible way to remember Margaret. This is NOTHING like anything she would want to do. Let’s do something else.”
On the other hand, if my friends sat in my studio, made clay pots, played music and those who couldn’t play listened or sang, surrounded by frolicking calico kittens, and cracking wry, sarcastic jokes, and laughing until tears came out of their eyes, eating grilled salmon, roast lamb, hummus and lentil salad, and drinking a glass of a full-bodied red wine, or a cup of dark roast fresh ground coffee, or a glass of clear cool water from the well, and did this all while enjoying memories and talking about things that matter in life, than at the end, those who know me the very best would KNOW that this was truly a gathering “in Margaret’s name” – no questions asked.
In the same way, two or three gathered in the name of Jesus is not just words. It must be in a context of knowing Him, and caring for those things He most cares about. And what does He care most about? Well, when a man or woman is about to die, the thing they speak of typically reveals what they most care about. As I have written, elsewhere, as Jesus prepared himself to face an excruciatingly painful and torturous death, He got down to what mattered most:
“Love each other.”
But here is the sad and tragic part: we so often settle for far less than love in the Body of Christ. We settle for “general affinity” or “cordiality.” So often we can be “bigger” but in that largeness can feel utterly alone.
“Better a dry crust where there is love.”
Today, my husband and I often meet in groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 “in His name.” Our meetings may not be “a meeting” – we may eat, we may laugh, we may tell stories about friends or memories, we may think of something we learned, or an insight we had. Somehow, I think that is something that Jesus looks on, as he sits in our midst, and the one who enjoyed a meal with sinners says “Yes, this is truly in my name.“
Today I remembered a time when we first began meeting in this way, and though I knew it was good, though I often reminded myself that He said “2 or 3” was enough, I still felt, at times, not quite legitimate, not quite like we were really the church. Today, as I looked back on those days, I realize I have changed. I find myself quite content being gathered together, just 2 or 3, in His name.