Loving God, come and speak to our hearts today. May we, like those on the Emmaus Road, find your words burning with hope in our lives. Strengthen us and give us courage for the journey ahead. For we pray in Christ’s Name. Amen
A Reading from Scripture
Romans 15: 1-13 NIV
15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” 10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
On this past Friday, I talked to an old friend whose wife had died about three weeks ago. How are you doing? I asked in a slow empathetic voice. I’m okay, but it is so quiet and so lonely – especially in the evenings and morning. I miss her so much!
So, we have loneliness on top of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a halt in many ways, including schools now gradually reopening. Workplaces going to a zoom model, and entertainment venues shuttering, and church services postponed. A new term to many of us but now common to everyday language has emerged: “self-isolation.” We have agreed to stay home, not congregate and not be communal on purpose in the hopes of squelching the life of COVID-19 and shortening its time among us, resulting in saving lives. However, this current health crisis meets us during a mental and emotional health crisis—loneliness.
Loneliness is the feeling of isolation we feel at times, the feeling that we have no real companions with whom to share our life. It is not the same as solitude. We all need alone time.
As human beings we are wired for the need of companionship, for someone to share our lives with, to talk to, to listen to, someone who cares about us and enjoys being with us. And this is also so important to our health. All of us – regardless of our age need the feeling of being loved and cared for—- someone we can talk to openly and honestly and have a heartfelt trusted confession.
Loneliness is a common human experience. All of us, whether single or married, whether for a short period of time or for an extended season, deal with loneliness. But often we define loneliness in physical or emotional terms. We think loneliness can be defined by the absence of people, whether physically or emotionally. Loneliness is also when we feel that God is absent in our lives.
Three and half years ago, Ann was in Shock Trauma with brain surgery following an early morning fall. The loneliness I was experiencing was the absence of Ann. The fear I had was the shock of the accident and the uncertainty of the future. The first week or so was a blur —oh yes, my children were with me – but after a while they had to go back to their obligations. My prayers became “Lord, I will take her however she is.”— The first several Sundays were very hard on me — I missed her presence and her words of encouragement —- but my faith grew as I read a spiritual reflection guide that Art and Joyce gave me — and slowly I realized that she was not going to die. I did not know what state she would be in — but I needed her presence. I was experiencing profound loneliness. Then I began to sense that she was going to live! I felt that it was the Spirit speaking to me and guiding me. How fortunate we are that she is alive and healing amazingly well.
So, we think to ourselves, ‘What we need to do is to fix our problem of loneliness is to have more people in our lives.’ And we set out to complete that need.
And when that doesn’t work, we think, ‘Well, we need more considerate people in our lives.’ And so, we define loneliness as emotional or physical. But that doesn’t complete the picture because loneliness is also the presence of pain. Loneliness is not just the absence of people; it is the presence of pain, the pain of separation from God and others.
In the first creation story, in Genesis 1, God creates our whole world. Genesis notes, after each day, “God saw that it was good.” At the end of chapter one we read, “God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.” But in the second creation story, in Genesis 2 and 3, God places Adam – the first human being in the Garden of Eden.
Then for the first time God said something was not good: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It’s NOT GOOD that Adam is alone.’” God’s response was to create the second human being Eve…. A partner – a soulmate – a helpmate. And we know the rest of the story – Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commands about eating of the fruit of Good and knowledge— and they were expelled from the Garden – to continue in living from the separation of God.
And the story continues until today. We all need the deep connection with others. We don’t have to be married, but we do need human connection. Even introverts, those who see themselves as hermits or loners, need companionship. Ever wonder why this is: This happens from the first nine months of our lives. We are in our mother’s womb, enveloped by another, hearing her heartbeat, her breathing, her muffled words. We’re never alone.
Study after study has found that people who have faith, are involved in their church or synagogue or mosque, have relationships with each other, and are involved in serving others are happier and less lonely, healthier and live longer than those who are not.
This is what church means. Yes, we hold worship services. But more than worship, it is Christian community. It includes volunteering together, growing together, classes, small groups, support groups. In all of these we love one another, bear one another’s burdens, and are the body of Christ –It is not good for the person to be alone. God made not only companions, but the church.
Yes, loneliness as a fundamental part of being human. But we were created for relationship with God. You and I were made to love and be loved by God. Here is a familiar quote from St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The deep longing in our hearts is in part a longing for companionship with God.
Jesus described God as Father—not the kind of angry, mean, vindictive and loveless father some seem to preach, but a Father who loves his children deeply, who shows mercy to them, who protects them and holds them fast.
The “Christian spiritual life” means, in large measure, redirecting our understanding where we are thinking no one could love us and we will always be alone, to imagining that we are loved so much that God in Jesus would die for each of us, and that God is with us always. In the quietness of our day – in the solitude of our reflections –We can talk with God, listen for God, pour out our heart to him. I love the Psalmist’s picture of God always with us in Psalm 139: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me… Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
Instead of using our imagination to imagine that no one will ever be our friend and we will always be alone, we use our imagination to picture Christ by our side. We can read Scripture and listen for him through the still small voice. We remember how Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
When we fully grasp the truth of the Gospel, we begin to know that we are never alone and never unloved. We are loved with a love that will not let you go. God says to you, “I know you. I know you better than you know you. I know every cruddy thing you ever did—and I love you more than anyone else ever could.” Imagine that!
Here are some parting thoughts about our resting with Jesus: ‘When you are lonely too much stillness is exactly the thing that seems to be laying waste your soul, but use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him’.
Loneliness becomes our friend that forces us to enjoy the friendship of God as much as you would the friendship of others’. ‘Loneliness is an opportunity for Jesus to make Himself known’.
From this morning’s Scripture — 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.