By Paul Koch –
Have you ever felt like you were all alone? Not simply being alone physically, but alone in your thoughts and feelings? Have you ever felt like you were alone, even when living and moving in the midst of many other people, because no one understands your thoughts, worries, passions and desires? I suppose being alone is good for us at times; it sharpens our senses and allows us to focus on what really matters. Also, we love the concept of the rugged individual: the image of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood arriving in town going at it alone, changing the landscape by their presence. But such things are aberrations; they are not intended for our daily existence.
We seem to be more alone than ever before. Now, of course, I can argue that we have never been more connected. We have Facebook and Twitter accounts, we have texting and Instagram, and we use our amazing technological advancements to stay more in touch than ever before. But our technology has created a built-in distance between us and those around us. We have disembodied friends in cyberspace; we don’t actually touch them or hear the inflection in their voice or look into their eyes. We find it easier to talk through texting that actually calling each other. We hold the world in the palm of our hands so we can sit right in the midst of our neighbors and are a million miles away on our so-called “smart” phones. The truth is, while we have made it easier than ever to stay connected, we have also made it easier than ever to remain alone. I no longer have to leave the room to disconnect myself from those around me; all I need to do is get on my phone.
We all feel in our lives the truth spoken by our Creator at the beginning of all things, “It is not good that man should be alone.”
And yet, since the fall of man and since the treachery that plummeted us all into this body of sin and death, being together in a community or family isn’t all that easy. We may feel the loneliness in our individual lives but we also know that being together comes with great risk. When I do premarital counselling one of the things discussed is the reality of a bunch of sinners living under the same roof. If you are a sinner and your wife is a sinner and you have a bunch of sinner-children running around the place, there is bound to be friction. At times it might be easier if everyone just stayed in his/her own room and texted to each other. I remember an example of this from when I waited tables in my youth. There was this older couple who always came in the restaurant at the same time every Saturday morning for breakfast. They would sit right across from each other at a booth, order their breakfast and then open up a newspaper and never speak to one another. I used to think this was insane but maybe they simply figured out (long before smartphones) how to be alone together; at least, it kept the friction down.
To be together with others, whether it is friendship or marriage, means that you have placed yourself at risk of being hurt. To love another person, to worry about their wellbeing, to trust them with your secrets and your desires is to risk being wounded by them. Consequently, when you are hurt by those you love, that hurt is deep and profound. It is a wound that does not easily heal. This is why divorce is often so brutal and destructive. It’s not simply a breach of contract or a breaking of vows, but you are wounded by the one that was supposed to heal you; you have been hurt by the one who was supposed to love. When friends turn and gossip about our secrets or forget us in our hour of need, it can make you wish you had never known them, never trusted, or never loved in the first place.
This betrayal is especially pronounced I think in the church. When a congregation fails to love or when it ignores the needs of those it professed to love, there are consequences. In fact, the ramifications are often catastrophic to the faith of those who are hurt by the church. When people join our fellowship, they are not simply joined to the Word and Sacraments of our Lord that call us together, they are joined to each and every one of you. Together we make up the body of Christ. We function together: each having its purpose, each having strengths and weaknesses, each having needs and blessings. But sin runs rampant, and even those called to be the body of Christ can wound each other. Hope can be crushed and joy snuffed out.
So here we stand, knowing full well that it is not good to be alone and yet knowing the hurt that comes when we are together. In fact, that hurt can be so great that we may seek being alone. We may long to withdraw to conversations without faces and friends without bodies in our world of electronic exchanges. And this cycle goes on and on like a depressing merry-go-round without much hope of ending. But hope does come; hope comes from outside of ourselves. It is hope through a Word that invades this cycle, a Word made flesh, a Lord and Savior that breaks through the darkness and delivers us to the glorious light.
You see, he won’t allow us to remain alone and lost in our own thoughts and desires. And he won’t leave us in fellowships marked simply be distrust and hurt. Our Lord places himself in our midst. His Word of hope and life and love stands in the middle. It is his Word that calls us out of our loneliness. It calls us to him, and as we draw near we find that we are walking alongside each other. But it is not our drive or our ability that binds us. No, ours is a fellowship of the living Word, Himself. He is our center. He binds us with a declaration of forgiveness, of healing, of life eternal. You see, he breaks the cycle with the gift of forgiveness.
But He goes even further. For He who bore our sins, who healed us of our wounds, and who then calls us together; He leaves that Word right here. Right here, in the mouths of your brothers and sisters, he has placed His Word. And so, St. Paul says that if anyone in our midst should be caught in any transgression, we should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. We are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. That is, we are to do what Christ himself did. We are to carry on His work. We are to forgive as He forgave. Just as Christ takes our burdens upon Himself, so we take the burdens of each other. We become agents of restoration.
Our Lord calls us into relationships with others. He calls us into His own church because we need others to speak that Word of hope and salvation to us. We need the lips of our brothers and sisters to speak that Word and to proclaim that we are forgiven. And it is that same Word we have received that not only creates this fellowship but sustains it as well. You are forgiven, you are redeemed, in the name of Christ you are this day set free; you are free to forgive and restore each other. You bear the Word of Christ itself. You can hand over what He has given you. Let us be bold and daring in His promise. Let us never grow weary of doing good.