Did you ever have a movie scene that you simply can’t forget? You might forget the movie itself, the plot, the other stars, but that one scene; it just sticks in your head. It happens to me. And if the billions of movie clip views on You Tube tell you anything, they tell you this. Other people have scenes that stick in their heads too.
Well, this week, one of those scenes popped into my head. It doesn’t come from any great, acclaimed movie. You may not even remember the star. Does anyone here recall Crocodile Dundee? Well, this scene from that movie years ago, I’ve never forgotten.
When he called New York City, the friendliest city in the world, I remember. I laughed out loud. But I also remember thinking. Why did I laugh? How does it happen that a city with so many people can feel unfriendly, even lonely? But it can.
And now it’s not only happening in places like New York City. It’s happening everywhere. Do you know what will shorten your life even more than smoking 15 cigarettes a day? It’s living a lonely life. And today more people are living that life than ever. Folks are even calling it an epidemic.
Cigna, the insurance company, surveyed 20,000 people. What they found was stunning. According to their survey, 54 percent said they sometimes or always feel that no one knows them very well. Even more (56 percent) reported sometimes or always feeling like the people they’re surrounded with “are not necessarily with them.” Two out of five reported a lack of meaningful relationships and companionship; saying they are “isolated from others.” And get this. Do you know who reported feeling the loneliest of all? Young people, those in their 20s and 30s, had the highest loneliness scores of them all.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. In these words, God offers a path to freedom, a path to liberate you from ever being lonely again. How do you find the end of loneliness? How do you discover a life where you never feel alone like that again? In these words, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
Do you realize? All around you, in this, the wealthiest nation in history, where just a phone connects you to everything, countless people don’t feel connected at all. They feel alone, isolated, deeply disconnected. Who knows? Maybe you are one of them. And even if you are not, who has not had moments, times, when they felt alone like that? But in these words, God shows you the path out of that isolation. What is that path? It is knowing that you are never alone like that, and once you know that, sharing that with others.
Right at the beginning of the words we read, God tells you something extraordinary. God tells you that God became flesh, incarnate. We get words like carne (meat n Spanish) from that word. We even get the word carnal (not a word you normally associate with God). Do you see what God is telling you? In Jesus, God didn’t simply dress up in human form. God became one of us, one who got colds and passed gas, one who got sore feet and headaches, one who had his heart broken a few times, and laughed at a good joke. God did become one of us. And the one of us God became did not have an easy life. This God grew up in poverty. He worked with his hands. He lost his dad when he was young.
And what does that tell you? It tells you that God knows what it’s like to be you. God gets it.
And John isn’t telling you Jesus just had some extra special God sense, whatever that is. No, in Jesus, God, the immeasurable, infinite, all powerful, being behind everything literally became a human being. When John tells you that Jesus lived among us, his actual words are that he pitched a tent among us. Pitched a tent? What is John trying to tell you?
He is going back into ancient Hebrew history, to the time when God freed the Israelite slaves from Egypt. When those slaves set out to the land God had promised them, God had them make a tent for God to dwell in, the tabernacle. And wherever they went, they set up that tabernacle. And there within that tent, God’s presence dwelt.
John is telling you that the same God who delivered these slaves out of Egypt, the same God who got them to the Promised Land, that same God has shown up now in Jesus. But in Jesus, God offers more than some physical freedom. God offers a fullness of life that nothing else can. As John puts it, from his fullness, we have received grace upon grace, undeserved gift upon undeserved gift. And what is the fullness that Jesus brings? Jesus brings the same fullness that Jesus already has with God.
You see. For Christians, God exists in community. And out of that communion of love, God comes. Think of God like a dance of love that goes on without end. In Jesus, you get invited to be part of that dance. And when you know that, know that experience of communion with God, then you know. You know. You are never alone, ever. In Jesus, you are always connected to this communion of love.
And if you have eyes to see, you see that communion of love showing up again and again in your life.
It happened about 30 years ago, but when I remember it, I still feel the emotions rise. I was serving as a seminary intern over the summer in a big church in Nashville. In that job, I worked with a group of folks in the church connected to addiction recovery programs. That’s how I met Andy Spickard, a high-powered physician, who had founded the Vanderbilt Institute for the Treatment of Addiction. I liked my internship, but I was struggling. I felt alone, isolated in this strange city, but I wasn’t really talking to anyone about it. I was just grinding my way through.
Then one day, I was visiting folks in the hospital, and I ran into Dr. Spickard doing rounds. A few minutes later, we saw each other on the elevator. Fifteen minutes later we saw each other in the hospital lobby. That’s when Andy said it. He said to me. “Ken, God has put us together 3 times in this massive hospital, and God is telling me that’s no coincidence.” He asked me if I had time to talk. Sure, I did. I felt flattered this accomplished doctor wanted to talk with me. And in a hospital meeting room, Andy Spickard listened to me, to my struggles, and then he prayed with me. And in those moments, I got it. I was never alone, ever. On that day in that hospital, in that busy man’s stopping to care, God told me that. And in countless moments of my life, God has done the same thing. God has shown up in the flesh in some person Jesus sent my way. God has reminded me. “Kennedy, don’t you know? You are never, ever alone.”
And that’s where you and I come in. God became flesh in Jesus. God entered into our struggles, our pains, our joys and our hardships. But Jesus didn’t come for it to happen only through him. Jesus came so that it can happen through us, through those who know that love, that communion for themselves. Why do you think the Bible describes the church as the body of Christ?
Years ago, someone told me the story of one of the strangest yet most powerful worship gatherings he had ever encountered. He walked into this older church and in the middle of the main space, he didn’t find pews or even seats. He found a big pile of garbage. Like everyone else there, he found a place to stand around this stinking mound. A few moments later, the worship leaders came out, and walked right into the garbage. Then one of them began talking about Jesus, how he came to us, how he entered into the garbage of our lives, all our brokenness and mess, how he gave everything even his life, to bring us home. Then, as he concluded, he and his co-leader leaned down into the garbage. She pulled out a bottle of wine, and a loaf of bread (don’t worry it was tied in a plastic bag). And she said, if you want to follow Jesus, then he calls you to go where he did, into the garbage of this world, into its broken places. So, if you want to answer Jesus’ call, join us here. Share in his body, his blood. Commit yourselves to go with Jesus wherever he calls you, even into the stinking and broken places of the world.
Now, I have no plans for piles of garbage in the church I serve. But the message stays the same. God calls you to go into just such places. And what better time to go than now? You see, if that Cigna study is true, then you have folks around you, neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers, who are feeling very alone right now. And here, through an experience of communion with God they can come to know they are not that God is with them. But for them to know God is with them means you need to reach out and be with them first. You can invite them to a worship gathering during Christmas or in the New Year. If they have young kids, you can invite them to check out the children's ministries. You can ask them how they are doing, even ask them if there is something they need you to pray for. Or you can simply ask God to show you what to say and do, how to let them know they’re not alone. However they respond, they’ll be glad you reached. And you may even become the sign of Jesus that they desperately need to see. Will it be uncomfortable? Yeah, probably. Might you risk rejection? Yep that too?
But remember what God in Jesus did for you. The God of infinity came as a defenseless child. He entered into the discomforts and pains of human existence. He didn’t risk rejection. He got rejection, rejection more brutal and awful than you could ever imagine. For when he came and died to bring you home, he lost the communion. He became more alone than any being ever had or ever will. And in Jesus, God suffered that so that you would never be alone ever, not even in death. He lost the love to give you the love that will never leave you nor forsake you. So, you can know this. You are never alone, ever. But don’t simply know it. Share it with your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, anyone you encounter. They may need to know that more than you will ever know.