"For where two or three come together in my name,
there I am with them."
The first thing we will want to note about this verse is that, if we give even a passing glance at the context, it is not about gathering for worship.
I know. I know. For generations, we have used the verse that way, quoted the verse to make that point, and reminded one another that Jesus is with us when even two or three of us get together for worship. I know that. I have used the verse that way too.
But if we take the time to look at Matthew 18, we will discover that Jesus is talking about dealing with a brother or sister who has gone astray. Jesus is giving his followers a method and an approach for dealing with disagreement and handling sin. And the essential teaching is that Jesus guides his people, especially when they together seek to follow his leadership.
(If we actually need a Bible verse that encourages us to get together for worship, we would be better off using Hebrews 10:25 which instructs us rather plainly "not to give up meeting together.")
If, however, we still feel the need to ignore the context of Matthew 18:20 and apply it to Christians gathering for worship, we are left with a troubling situation. Specifically this: if Jesus is with us when there are two or three (and presumably when there are a hundred or a thousand), does that mean he is not with us . . . when there is only one?
Yeah, it's hard to gather all alone. Yet, that is exactly where many of us find ourselves these days. And I would be hard pressed to claim that Jesus isn't with all of those "ones" who are pretty much all alone these days.
In fact, I am quite certain that Jesus is with the ones, just as he is with the twos and the threes!
There is so much pressure these days to get things going again -- including calls to "open" the church again. But that pressure is completely misplaced. You see, the church isn't closed. It never closed. The church has continued to be the church and do the work of the church through this entire season -- and that's always been true. In fact, the church hasn't skipped a beat. And if you are measuring the church by the absence of public worship services, you're looking in the wrong place. The church has been busy caring, loving, helping, giving, encouraging, praying, sharing hope, sharing Jesus -- in a word, the church has been busy being the church.
Even more, the church has been worshiping!
Maybe it looks a little different lately, but followers of Jesus don't worship only during public, weekly gatherings. Followers of Jesus worship daily, hour by hour, moment by moment. We worship when we are together, of course -- but we also worship when we are apart.
And Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us when there are fifty-six people in a multi-purpose room at the mall. Jesus is with us when there are thirteen people sitting around a table studying the Bible. Jesus is with us when there are six people gathered for prayer. Jesus is with us when there are two or three.
And get this: Jesus is with us . . . when there is only one.
Throughout history, God's people have learned that nothing can stop the worship of God. Not exile. Not the decrees of kings. Not the threat of persecution. Not death or life. Not angels or demons. Not the present or the future. No power of any kind can stop the worship of God. Nothing in all creation. Not even what we're facing today. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (See Romans 8:37-39.) And when we celebrate that love and embrace that love and share that love, we are worshiping God!
Even being unable to gather cannot keep us from worshiping God!
Of course, we love being together. But for the time being, we continue to choose to be apart because it is the kind and compassionate thing to do. We choose to be apart not because we are afraid, but because we care enough about one another to do what is best for one another. That's what the church always does.
Jesus is with us when we are together.
And Jesus is with us when we are apart.
In fact, Jesus is with us even when we are the only one.