No Ordinary Gathering

Part 1 of St. James’ Summer Worship Series: The Gathering

July 24-25, 2010: No Ordinary Gathering

Matthew 22:1-10

Couples who are planning their weddings tell me,

that one of the most challenging tasks,

is to come up with the guest list!

You know how it often goes…

Well if we invite cousin Suzy, then we need to invite her brother Ken,

and if we invite Ken, then we’ll have to invite his 3 daughters,

and they’re all married with children, so…

and it goes on and on!

Usually at some point during the discussions,

either the bride or the groom-to-be

exclaims, “Why don’t we just elope?!”

Well, here’s a new model they could try….

We just heard: the “slaves went out into the streets

and gathered all whom they found,

both good and bad;

so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

I’ve yet to hear a couple solve their problem by saying,

“Hey, forget coming up with a list, let’s just invite everyone…

We’ll just send our ushers and bridesmaids

out on York Street with invitations!”

The Bible has a lot to say about gathering people:

“Where two or three have gathered in my name…”

“On that day, they were all together (gathered) in one place…”

The verse we read this evening, however,

is the only one I’m aware of,

which really spells out how different

the gathering of the church is

from any other gatherings.

The “slaves went out into the streets

and gathered all whom they found,

both good and bad;

so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

The church is no ordinary gathering.

All are invited; both good and bad…

God’ll invite anybody!

Our focal point today as we begin our worship series

is this circle of chairs.

They are chairs of different styles, and shapes.

They symbolize the way God has gathered us,

from all different walks of life.

All are invited…

Those of us who spend our days sitting in a rocking chair

and those of us who spend our days sitting in a high chair.

Those of us who sit at a desk at work,

and those of us who sit at a desk at school.

Those of us who like to go camping,

and those of us who’d rather not.

And of course, those of us who don’t sit much at all!

The time of gathering in our worship,

reminds us that we come from a variety of experiences,

and life situations.

Some of us have had a week filled of hurts

and others of us have had a week filled with joys.

And yet, God has called each of us to be here.

All are welcome!

“There’s a Lutheran college which formalizes this

act of gathering on the first Sunday of each school year.

On that morning, a procession leaves from the campus chapel

and winds its way past all the residence halls,

picking up students as it goes.

In this way the worshiping community is gathered

and led back to the worship center.”[i]

It would be hard for us to do that here…

We’d start at the square and then pick up those of you living in the borough.

We’d go by my house on Seminary Ave,

get the Brabands and others of you in Windcrest;

we’d travel out to Twin Lakes to pick up some more,

hitch a bus and go out to Fairfield and Carroll Valley and even Waynesboro,

and that’s only the west side of town.

Unfortunately, I think you’re going to have to get here by yourself!

But just as our doors open from different directions,

we gather as a community from many different directions –

both literally and figuratively.

And all are welcome.

Once we’ve entered the building, we can see that the worship space

also has a lot to say about us and how we gather.

We worship on 3 sides,

so that we can see each other when we worship.

It’s hard to be anonymous here.

If a hymn or song or prayer moves you to tears,

it’s likely that someone else will notice your grief.

If something the toddler in your pew says makes you laugh,

it’s likely that someone else will notice your joy.

If you’re using a cane for the first time,

it’s likely that someone else will notice it when you stand up.

If you’re visiting and are having difficulty finding the pages,

it’s likely that someone else will notice your confusion.

All this noticing of each other is good.

It’s why the church needs to gather.

Sure, we can worship God on our own.

We can pray on our own.

We can sing on our own.

We can read the Bible on our own.

But by worshiping together, by our gathering,

we learn to notice God working in others.

Gathering is many things:

  • It is the response to the invitation given to all (good and bad);
  • It is the coming together from many different places in life;
  • It is the entering into this worship space where we find a place among others and for others.

And finally, it is time set apart for God for worship.

Every week, early in the service we greet each other

with the same words reminding us

that this time together is no ordinary time

and no ordinary gathering.

It is time we are privileged to set apart for God.

We pray,

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ;

the love of God;

and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all – no exceptions –

both good and bad;

those of you who came from the west or east, north or south,

those of you who sit in wheelchairs, high chairs, rocking chairs,

or don’t sit at all;

those of you who are rejoicing, who are grieving,

who are certain or who are confused.

Grace, love, and communion in the name of our triune God

is offered to you – all of you – in our gathering.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.


[i] Gathered and Sent, Participant Book, Karen Bockelman, Augsburg Fortress, 1999, p. 15.

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