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June 2018


A Contemplative Exercise for June 2018

 

The following is a possible framework for the Witnessing of the Word. It can be personalised, or altered: its purpose is to serve as an example of how this Saying might be used primarily in the context of a Prayer Group, but it may be used by individuals if so wished. It is not intended to be definitive.

 

In the context of a group: the periods of silence should be appropriate for your group - probably not less than 5 minutes, or more than 15 minutes.

 

Saying for the month

 

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”    Matthew 18.20 (AKJV)

 

 

To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; become aware of the sounds around you and put them aside; offer this time of prayer to God.

 

Say this introductory invitation to prayer, then keep a further minute or two of silence:

 

"Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"   Matthew 11.28 

 

 

Introduction to the first silence - a preparation for listening with the mind:

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”    

 

For the person writing this Gospel Jesus was the new centre of their life. He had set his scene by answering questions like who Jesus was, why he came into the world and what he proclaimed. The life of Jesus, his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, was to him a uniquely significant life.

 

The background for this Gospel, written in a Jewish context, was the revolt in 70AD. This was to redefine Judaism. Would it even continue or would it thrive after defeat.

 

This was having consequences for the embryo sect called The Way. The Jewish sages were promoting unity. This was defining itself in opposition to others, like the followers of Jesus.

 

Matthew's theocentricity was concerned with continuity. His was the God of the Old Testament. The tension in his social setting, which at the time included apocolyptic expectation, was the background of Jewish theology, with its dogmatic system and how the story of Jesus and the Kingdom he preached was to be passed on.

 

As he repeats 'gathered in my name' there is the acknowledgement that he has just set out the process of differentiation between Judaism and The Way. Chapters 14-17 are about the founding of a new community and chapter 18 sees Jesus giving instructions to the new community. After this Jesus turns towards Jerusalem and the passion.

 

Jesus embodies the teaching he offers. As Clement of Alexandria put it, Matthew assumes the form of counselling to obedience to this new way, and that which is presented in the form of example.

 

This discourse in chapter 18 about how the new community cope with forgiveness and reconciliation is brought to a conclusion by affirming the continuing presence of Jesus with them. So the process of dealing with issues like humility, hate, vengence are to be dealt with having the assurance that Jesus is in their midst. This was to bring cohesion to the embryo community and help maintain its unity.

 

It would have significance to the wider readership of the Gospel. In any community there will be relationships which give rise to the negatives of hate and vengence. Here presented is the affirmation that the new community of imitators of Jesus is a place were love and peace can be promoted. The dialogue, acknowledging the work of Jesus on the cross, called for no retaliation. A new solution rather, promote the demand for love.

 

It was for them (and is for us) a big call. Humanly demanding, not seeking the pound of flesh, rather reconciliation and a way of dealing with it, with Jesus in their midst.

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” 

 

A time is now kept for silence of the mind - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

 

The silence concludes with a short thanksgiving, and/or repeat the Saying:

 

 Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word.

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” 

 

 

 

Introduction to the second silence - a preparation for listening with the heart:

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” 

 

We have received this Word Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, into our minds. Now we prepare to receive it into our hearts, if you like to go to the heart of the matter.

 

As we have acknowledged, Matthew had been dealing with the founding of a new community. With any community there needs to be guidelines, instructions about how it will function. The fundamental for Matthew, whatever the issues, was to have the promise of Jesus that he would be in their midst.

 

As a young choirboy I became aware there was an issue regarding one of the men in the choir. Suddenly from being present all the time the man was absent. This impinged on me more than the other boys around me. I had heard my grandfather talking at home about the man. The man was the church treasurer and had been stealing church money for his own purposes. Conversations took place with him, his family, people on the church committee and the rector. While this should have been private the congregation became aware of it.

 

A process of prayer was initiated with the person and a small group, and prayers were said in church. The person and his family entered into an agreement to pay the money back. It was a solution of the church community, with Jesus at the centre.

 

With a mission agency I was in South Sudan. I was drawn into a conversation were a person was being put forward by the diocese for ordination. It was about the fact that this person had relationships with two women, his wife and another woman. It was explained to him that this could not continue. He would have to make the decision to have only one marriage relationship. In a small group with him discussion and prayer focussed on faithfulness and fidelity. For him to imitate Jesus, he needed to be an example to those around him. 'I am in the midst of them' means seeing Jesus living as he speaks and speaking as he lives.

 

Situations like these are demanding. Mind and heart were present in each response. The assurance of Jesus being present was critical in both situtations.

 

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” 

 

A time is now kept for silence of the heart - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

 

Conclude the silence with a short thanksgiving and/or repeat the Saying:

 

 Father, we thank you that your Word is alive and within us.

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” 

 

 

Introduction to the time of intercession – we use our will to reflect God’s Word outwards.

 

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” 

 

With this word in mind we can now bring the meaning alive not only for ourselves, but also most importantly for the lives of others, in our intercession.

 

As we reflect on the assurance of the presence of Jesus in our midst we acknowledge the desperate need for forgiveness and reconciliation in the world around us. With this assurance, generosity, compassion, humility (Colossians 3.12), harmony and forgiveness are options. The Kingdom is about restoring relationships not tearing them down.

 

Our local community experience affirms his presence in word and sacrament. 'I am among you' is both personal for our local situation and as we identify with other church experiences around the globe.

 

For each of us we affirm with the psalmist 'for God alone my soul waits in silence'. (Ps 62.1)  Jesus himself waited on his Father's direction. As 'two or three' of us gather together we can 'pour out our heart to him' as Jesus did. For many today its the dread of emptiness that leads to things going wrong. For others its a lack of trust, cynicism and unresolved anger. Jesus was moved by the struggles of those around him.

 

We can bring the meaning of this Word alive in the lives of others.

 

Say the name of a person or a group of people, and after a short pause, repeat the saying. For example:

 

‘Our own local church leadership, that you may know the presence of Jesus with you…

Where two or three are gathered together in my name,

there am I in the midst of them” ’

 

 

 

 

Conclude the time of intercession with words of thanksgiving: 

Father, we thank you that your Word has gone out through us

to those for whom we pray.

 

Use the Fellowship Prayer or another closing prayer to conclude your time of contemplative prayer.

 

Loving Heavenly Father, we thank you for all your unsearchable riches which pour forth from you as light from the sun, in boundless profusion and generosity, whether received, ignored or rejected. And now we offer to you, in so far as we are able, as an emptiness to be filled with your divine fullness, ourselves, our souls and bodies; all that we are, all that we have and all that we do. Amen

 

 You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.  

 

This month's exercise was contributed by RF