One of the reasons I enjoy writing a blog is that I don't feel alone as I write. I know I'm not just preparing a message to be read by someone someday. There is a good chance that someone will read it before they get the church newsletter or hear a Sunday sermon. Though I may be physically alone as I write at home or in my office, it doesn't feel lonely. It seems that there is a community quite nearby. And sometimes, I get comments!
I wrote almost of of this as I was getting ready to preach yesterday. Yesterday's scriptures featured an Old Testament loner by the name of Jonah and a more friendly character, Jesus.
Fortunately we aren't called to follow Jonah. We're called to follow and emulate Jesus, whose relationships were at the center of his life. Christians are not called to a lonely life. Relationships are a really big deal to the Lord.
Jonah, called by God as a solo prophet, became afraid of what God was telling him. He got on a ship and headed in the opposite direction. When the Lord finally saved him, he went to do his job and succeeded! Everyone he preached to repented of their sin. After achieving God's objective, however, he did not rejoice with those who had been saved. Instead, he sat out in the wilderness, alone, depressed and angry.
(This reminds me of another lonely Old Testament prophet, Elijah, who, in First Kings 19, also after completing his mission successfully, went into hiding, saying "only I am left." Responding to his solitary self-pity, the Lord decided that his time as a prophet was through.)
Prophets in the Old Testament are usually depicted as singular figures. Even so, I don't think their alone-ness was a good thing. They were left to do their work and bring their message alone because others were unfaithful.
The goal was not alone-ness. The goal was renewal of good relationships between God and the people, and among the people themselves. After all, the first and second times the words "not good" are found in the Bible are when Adam and Moses are alone with God as their only friend. The Lord and Moses' father-in-law both say it is "לֹא־טֹ֛וב" "not good."
Not only does loneliness make us sad, recent research has confirmed that being alone too much can cause or aggravate physical and mental illness. Children, youth, adults and elders who are too alone can become more anti-social and self-destructive. Loneliness damages our ability to learn and impedes our memory. People who are alone too much have a hard time sleeping. John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has learned that "social isolation can be as harmful to your health as smoking..." But this is nothing new. Enforced loneliness in the form of solitary confinement has been a punishment method throughout history.
The good news is that Jesus Christ calls us together! Yesterday's gospel lesson (Mark 1:14-20) shows how Jesus, who should have been able to handle life alone, moves quickly to recruit ministry partners. Those followers cause him lots of trouble, but it seems that Jesus' purpose on earth was intimately connected with gathering a community of believers, not solitary followers.
There are moments when he is alone. Immediately after baptism he is tested and tempted alone, but that time ends and he begins to build a group around himself. Jesus was known to take alone time (with God his Father) during the rest of his ministry, but those times didn't last more than a few hours. Jesus personal one-on-one relationship with God the Father was not private. It was something he wanted to share--with us (John17:20-23).
Amazing, I think, that Jesus wanted to share even the most personal relationship in his life with us.
Yes, there are times when we or someone we love are all alone for awhile. Sometimes, however, we're tempted to say "God is my only true friend." Most of the time I believe that is a temptation, not reality. God calls us together. From scripture, especially from the center of scripture, the life of Jesus Christ, there's no question about that.
We're not meant to be all alone. "Fishing for people" means bringing people out of their loneliness, bringing them to places where they can share the love of God. I hope all of us will resolve during this new year that we will be inviting and sharing God's love with many, as often as we can. When you see or hear of people suffering alone, let us know, or reach out to them yourself.
See you in church.