Series: The Outsiders
Title: The Lonely
August 12, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
When I was a little girl one of my mother’s best friends was a woman named Barbara Nichols. She was a beatnik; do you remember those? She had long hair, wore longer flowing skirts and spoke as if she knew everything, and I think she did! Originally from California, she was so cool, way cooler than my mother! I loved Barbara and spending time at her house; it was eclectic and modern, a stark contrast to my home that was old fashioned, neat and tidy.
Barbara made me feel special. She would invite me to her home for tea in the afternoon, after school. She didn’t invite my sisters and brother, just me. I would walk the two blocks up the hill to her house and she would invite me in for a cup of tea. I never drank tea at home, but at Barbara’s house I did. I felt so grown up, so loved; I felt like I belonged and was important when I was with her.
Throughout our lives situations like this are contrasted with times when we are lonely. Lonely can look different to different people. It’s safe to say that at one time in our life, we all experience loneliness. Some of us here today are experiencing it now, in this very moment, in a room filled with people. Loneliness can mean literally being alone, without someone near or it could mean being or feeling cut off from others.
Loneliness can be the result of loss, when a loved one dies, and you are left behind, and alone. When life circumstances change through divorce, retirement, or mental illness perhaps, feelings of loneliness may overtake us. Sometimes loneliness is from being isolated for other reasons, “it’s lonely at the top.”
Our scripture this morning describes the situation that Jesus came upon one afternoon as he approached a town called Nain, about an hour from Capernaum. He wasn’t alone, hardly! Jesus traveled with his inner circle of disciples, plus a large crowd that was always near, eager to hear him teach, or witness a miracle healing. As the group approached the town gate they came upon a funeral parade. There Jesus sees a dead man being carried out of the city. Behind him is a woman, herself already a widow and the man on the bier is her son.
Jesus understands that “this would be terrible for any woman in any time and place, but doubly so for a woman living in this patriarchal society. Not only is this a personal tragedy, but it is also an economic catastrophe, leaving the woman with no means of support.” Jesus knows that her grief is overwhelming, he recognizes her loneliness.
When Jesus saw this, he had compassion and said to her, “Don’t cry.” It isn’t very often that Luke speaks about Jesus being emotional, but he is overcome as he witnesses the women’s tragedy. Not only moved to words, but Jesus steps forward and knowing that if he touches the dead body he will become unclean, he reaches out nonetheless and touches the coffin. The parade stops, and he commands the young man to arise. He doesn’t pray to God, he doesn’t ask his mother if she has faith, he simply commands him to rise.
And he does!
Jesus offers help because of his great capacity for love and compassion, even though this mother may not have even known who Jesus was. She wasn’t expecting anything that day but to bury her son. Even having someone stop the procession may have been troubling for her. Let’s get my boy’s body in the ground, and let this day be over with.
Instead, Jesus spoke, and her son is alive again. “When Jesus speaks, things happen.” Then everyone who had witnessed became afraid! What just happened? Did you see that?! He was dead, and how he’s alive. Surely “a great prophet has risen among us!” Ah, but oh so much more than a mere prophet!
But Jesus’ time hadn’t come yet. Now wasn’t time to let them know that they were, in fact, face to face with the son of God. It was safer for them to continue to believe that they had been visited by a prophet and he had “looked favorably on his people!” That was as much as they could fathom.
Luke ends the story by telling us that the news about Jesus’ miracles spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. “It seems odd that Luke would mention Judea here, given that this miracle takes place in Galilee. It’s likely that he intends us to understand “Judea” to mean “the land of the Jewish people”—in which case “all the surrounding country” would refer to Gentile lands.” In any case, word got out that something remarkable had happened.
In the midst of our own loneliness, we can choose to imagine that Christ is with us; knowing that we don’t have to linger long with feelings of isolation. You see, we know that Jesus understands our pain and feelings of loneliness.
I imagine that Jesus’ loneliest times were during his 40 days of testing and then three years later, hanging on the cross. Rejected. Alone. Betrayed. Both life experiences were parts of his life that he had to do alone, but he wasn’t really alone, was he? God the Father was walking with him every step of the way. Being alone for Jesus was key to his success. Both of these lonely times were necessary for Jesus to prepare for his true calling, his true role with humanity. Could it be that our lonely times are necessary for our own spiritual formation, helping prepare us to be used mightily by God? It’s hard to say, but I believe it’s possible.
God offers comfort through his word to remind us that we aren’t in this alone. Even in the worst of circumstances God is with us. Deuteronomy 31:6 says “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
And Psalm 27:10 – “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” How comforting to those whose parents weren’t able or willing to take care of their children. Parents who were abusive, neglectful and who caused their children harm. God has taken those children up into his arms and provided comfort.
God offers comfort in Psalm 25:15 where it says, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” God hears the prayers of the lonely, the grieved, the sad. God sent Jesus to live among us, so that he would understand our pain and suffering and to remind us that he is with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
When we find ourselves in the midst of loneliness what can we do? Instead of self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, shopping or other addictive or negative behaviors, we can pull ourselves up and out. When we recognize that we’re in that dark place, we must resist the desire to do nothing. We must seek others and reach out, even when we don’t feel like it. Spending time with close friends is key. If you don’t have close friends, make some. Be intentional about finding people who you think you would enjoy spending time with and then fostering that relationship. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
It’s important to acknowledge the loneliness and but don’t over focus on it. Sometimes changing your focus by volunteering to help others can redirect your energies toward the positive. Look for God’s presence, he is right here with you, waiting to say to you, “Don’t Cry.” Sometimes it may feel as if God has gone far away, but he’s as close as your breath and waiting for you to call out. Psalm 147:3 says that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” And in 1 Peter 5:7 we’re told to “cast all your anxiety on him (Jesus), because he cares for you.”
Through our relationship with Jesus we know that love is the antidote to loneliness. If that is true, and I believe it is, then how might we, as a church, respond to those experiencing loneliness? What are the things we can do to make someone else’s life better? When was the last time you called a friend to check in to see how they were doing? Who in our congregation has experienced a loss? A change in circumstances? A crisis?
I learned when I was young that sometimes the kindness of another person, over a cup of tea can make all the difference. A friendly chat can offer a welcome respite from the pain and sorry we’re experiencing. A simple cup of tea can be a healing moment of grace and comfort. Amen.