Introduction to the Scripture
Today we’re continuing the summer series called, Why Church?
Of all the organizations, and causes, and communities to which we could give our lives, why choose to be part of a church? What does a church have that we’re needing… This is the question we’ll be lifting up throughout the summer.
As you might know, these days our world is reeling from an epidemic of loneliness; it’s been going on even before the pandemic. You know someone who is struggling with loneliness. You might be someone who is struggling with loneliness. Now a couple of things. First, it is entirely possible to live by yourself, or spend a lot of time by yourself, and *not* be lonely. Similarly, a person can be surrounded by people all the time and still find themselves lonely.
Loneliness is particularly rampant among the oldest adults who experience social isolation. I recently read an article about an initiative to introduce robot animals to seniors who live alone. Loneliness among our oldest adults is a problem, and maybe that’s not entirely surprising.
More surprising is the fact that loneliness is particularly rampant among our youngest adults. According to a study by Cigna, seventy-one percent of millennials and seventy-nine percent of Gen Zers identify as lonely1https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/ —even with all the social media at their fingertips! As it turns out, a person can have hundreds of friends on Facebook, and followers on Instagram, and subscribers on YouTube and still be lonely. It’s not about the number of contacts.
Most of us have oodles of transactional relationships, and transactional relationships have their place. When I go to the dentist and pay money, the dentist comes in and counts my teeth. She’s my dentist and I’m her patient, and we get along, but it’s not like we’re going to go hang out after she reads the X-Rays! When I take my car to the dealer for service, they’re perfectly courteous, but we all know. They value me because I’m a paying customer, I value them because they’re fixing my car, and that’s the whole story of our relationship. Transactional relationships have their place, but they don’t answer loneliness. You have to go somewhere else for that.
If you get poked and assessed by doctors at appointment after appointment, but there’s no one who touches you with affection, then what do you have…
If you have stunning test scores and grades in the stratosphere… If you have four hundred likes on your post and a thousand subscribers to your channel, but there’s no one in your life who will come over and scrub your bathtub on the worst day… If there’s no one who will sit next to you while you’re crying and not mind that snot is oozing everywhere, then what do you have…
Human beings are made to be in relationship. All too often, our relationships go missing, and all too often, we blame ourselves. And here’s the thing. Maybe we don’t have to do that…
Let’s say we were to come upon a child who’s hungry. Maybe they’re in the backseat of a car that’s come through the Food Pantry, or maybe they’re waiting on line while Jeff’s working the grill at National Night Out. What we know for sure is this child has not done something to deserve to be hungry. We know that being hungry is not their identity! It’s a condition that will change once we give them something to eat. Being lonely is not our identity. It means we’re noticing our need to be in relationship with someone who sees the truth of who we are, and loves us, and wants to hang out.
This longing is not what’s wrong with us. It is how we are human.
In the scripture we’re about to hear, the church in Corinth is in the middle of a nasty fight. Some people thought they were better than others because of their wealth or their political status. Some people thought they were better because they were able to speak in tongues. You and I know. Whenever someone is trying to prove that they’re better than someone else, this exposes how they are afraid.
Really what was going on was the members of this congregation were questioning their own worth. Even though they were part of a church, they were lonely! And Paul could see it.
Now look, when you hear Alex read this, it’s going to invoke memories of being at a beautiful wedding. So I know this is going to be tough. But if you can, try to imagine that you’re in the middle of a fight, and it’s about to get real, and that’s when Paul who had been lecturing this angry assembly just stops. You know what? Maybe try this instead, he tells them. Maybe the same thing you need to offer your enemies is what you could offer yourselves. It’s this…
Response to the Scripture
The Church begins with baptism. What happened was when Jesus was coming up out of the water, everything broke— like the universe was giving birth. The sky split open, and the Spirit poured down, and the LORD our God looked at Jesus and her face broke into smiles. This is my son, and I love him.
Now this is what the Church knows: When God said that to Jesus, they said that to every person ever.
The Holy Spirit looks at you. And his eyes light up, and his face breaks into smiles, and God says: Oh good! I was hoping it would be you. You are mine and I love you. That’s the truth. And. It’s not easy to remember. It’s not easy to believe.
I’m not even sure it’s possible to get this by ourselves.
If our loneliness comes when our own shining love goes unseen, imagine what happens when we notice this love in somebody else. Imagine if there were people who would say to you what God is trying to get you to hear —Oh good! It’s you. I was hoping it would be you!
We could do this. We see the truth of who you are, and we need you, and we love you. Imagine if this is what the Church is for.
If I’m onto something here, then it seems like we can help answer loneliness by helping people find their way to Church of Peace. And we can, and that’s part of it. I know there are older people living in Rock Island who are languishing from social isolation. I know there are young people in our neighborhood who would tell anybody who asked that they don’t have any real friends. And it’s killing them.
There are people who need what we have at Church of Peace, but they don’t know about us, or they can’t come through our doors.
Now it could be the church is a training center where we come to practice seeing each other the same way that God does. Your longing for loving relationship is the same longing God is harboring in the heart of her heart. We know it. We see it. It matters that we tell you! So of course this is our work at the corner of Twelfth and Twelfth. And if you’re thinking there’s an opportunity for us to help people find their way to Church of Peace, you’re absolutely right. There is. That’s part of it.
But even more than bringing people in, what if Church of Peace could go to them? I’m pretty sure. You know someone who is struggling with loneliness. You know elderly people who feel cut off from family and friends, who find that all of their friends are dying! You know people who are under twenty-five, who are working too hard, and worried about the path their life is on, and chronically homesick. They’re lonely for friends they haven’t even met.
Maybe you’re the one who can see the shining light that they’re carrying. Maybe you’re the one who believes in them and makes sure they know you believe in them because even when you question their choices, you never question their worth. That comes from God.
You’ve heard me share this before, but I’m still taken by the observation made by David Augsburger. He says it like this: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they’re almost indistinguishable.”
If Church of Peace can do anything to help you listen to an old person or affirm what a young person cares about— that’s it. That’s everything. We’re a people learning how to answer loneliness with all the love we learn from the LORD, and I’m telling you, the world is starving for this.
Introduction to the Table
In a few minutes, we will come to the table of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we cast that as the ending, the Last Supper, the promise Jesus leaves to his disciples before he dies, and all that’s true.
Communion is also the beginning. We come to the table because we need a new start, and we’re hungry, and we’re lonely, and we’re all too aware of the shape and size of our own deep need. And so is Jesus.
He looks at us, his eyes shining with love, his face breaking into smiles. I was hoping it would be you! Your help is needed. But first, sit down here. Take and eat. Everything’s about to be made new.