This sermon isn’t for everybody. My subject is loneliness, something I am told that some people never experience. Solitude can be wonderful, and living alone can be great. Nor am I talking about not having a date on Saturday night. I’m talking about that terrible experience of isolation and despondency that can sometimes come over folk… .
Loneliness is rampant. Many of us experience ourselves as disconnected from life. There’s a feeling of distance, a sense that no one is really there for us most of the time. And our time together is often fleeting. We rush past one another like trains heading in opposite directions… . In spite of all the people-around us, many are left with a low-grade emotional fever that is indicative of a need for more depth, more intimacy in life.
Ann Landers once described those who had written to her over the years: “It could be anybody. Almost half of my mail comes from men truck drivers, factory workers, waiters, farm hands, taxi drivers predominate. But I also hear from college professors, business executives, physicians, attorneys and even clergy.” … William Glasser, the father of “reality therapy,” suggests that loneliness is at the bottom of almost every emotional pathology. If we don’t have relationships of intimacy with others, then people will make the bottle or drugs or some other addiction their companion… .
I’m sure most of you have heard it said that someone “died of loneliness.” It happens, doesn’t it? So in some ways it is good that loneliness frightens us. But if that fear becomes overwhelming, it only leads to flailing at others rather than reaching out to them. What I’m trying to remind us all of is the fact that developing relationships in our life is absolutely crucial. It is part of being a child of God.
Nobody talks about this better than the great Jewish theologian Martin Buber. It was Buber who said, “In the beginning is the relation.” He insists that all existence is relation… . Perhaps this is one way in which we are like God, whose very being seems to be one of relationship. In Bible study last week, a few of us looked at Genesis I, where it says, “Let us make mortals in our own image.” Let us? In our image? What’s with the plural?
While Christians would love to interpret this as the Trinity, it is unlikely that this is what the writer of Genesis had in mind. Much more likely, I think, is that he understood how relationship is fundamental even to God in God’s own self, and that God is inherently relational.
And if relationship is fundamental to who God is, so too it is fundamental to us. After all, we are created in God’s image, right? In I John 4 it says, “Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God.” … Even death is relational. The Bible speaks of how all God’s people gather together before the throne of grace. So, too, do many of Jesus’ parables begin by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a great marriage feast for his son,” or, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who gave a banquet.” …
And did you ever notice that our risen Lord never appeared to anyone who was alone? … In part, that is what the Communion table is about, this table around which we will gather in a few minutes… .
It is important for us to handle our feelings of loneliness with great care and respect… . Second, handle it with calm. Go ahead and cry, howl like a lonely wolf at midnight, sing the blues. But stay as calm as you possibly can. And try doing what Jesus did when He realized just how alone He was on the night of His betrayal and arrest fall on your knees and pray, pray for the strength to stay calm.
And then handle your loneliness with hope. Believe the Bible’s good news that at the beginning and at the end is relationship.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Robert Oliver Schmidt at First Baptist Church of Rockville, Md.