“I Am There!”
In our world today, there’s a growing tendency to “fly solo” – to “go-it-alone” – to intentionally separate ourselves from others... PARTLY because of COVID (and we all get that)... but also because there’s been an undeniable shift in our culture that began WAY before any hint quarantine or necessary isolation. It’s a shift - a tendency to look more inwardly, than outwardly... to focus more on self than on others.
Of course, those who have chosen to live secluded, isolated lives - in the past - were usually thought of as hermits... or recluses. A reclusive lifestyle has historically been seen as a peculiar (yet I’ll readily admit, it’s often tempting to try it out, for sure!).
But before we run off to the Monastery or the Nunnery to shut-out the world... maybe we need to think about what we’re doing by isolating ourselves from life.
Pretty much all the experts (and medical studies) agree that people who live in solitude are not the healthiest; physically or mentally. In fact, most studies show that the more social connections we have (the less reclusive we are) and the stronger our relationships... the healthier we are... especially as we grow older.
But even knowing that... and even with all the “social media” apps, and other outlets for engagement that are available to all of us... from Civic Organization and Senior Adult Centers... to the Church... more and more people are finding themselves secluded and lonely.
In fact, participation in social or civic groups is down, across the board (from the Rotary Club... to Sunday school). Even the NCAA has even reported a downward trend in college football ticket sales and attendance at sporting events (a trend that started 7-years ago, well before COVID). The very things in life that are designed to “keep us connected” and engaged, are seeing less participation... of course, leading to more isolation, and loneliness... and loneliness can certainly be a chronic, debilitating condition.
Of course, we all need some solitude, from time-to-time... we all need a time out occasionally... moments to regroup and recharge and renew... time away from others... away from the crowds, even small crowds.
And Jesus was no different! Jesus sought out such opportunities... he would withdraw to a “solitary place” - sometimes praying completely alone... leaving his disciples and closest friends and family behind.
BUT he always came back after his hiatus... he always rejoined the community.
And that’s important to note, because we were created to be connected! We were created to be in relationship... both with one another, and with God! We were never intended to “go it alone” or live-out our lives... or our faith... in solitude.
It’s a truth that’s even reflected in the Lord’s Prayer, as we pray every Sunday... in unison... OUR Father... not “my,” but “our.” It’s plural, not singular... representing a shared prayer, for a shared faith. We ultimately understand, even in the midst of our differences, that we’re all part of a family... making us brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our Lessons today remind us of the good we can do... together! Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Which is to say... that if any group of believers gathers and works with the Holy Spirit leading the way... with the Spirit of Christ intentionally a part of what we do... we become much more than a simple plurality of individuals. Two becomes more than two, and three becomes more than three! The total of our individual ideas and resources and abilities becomes much more because of the presence and power of the Christ’s Spirit!
When we gather for worship in the name of Christ... we invoke his presence, we welcome and expect God’s presence... and as we seek God’s presence... it somehow, someway makes Christ’s Spirit a part of us... and a part of what we’re doing!
Our faith is built around community... of twos and threes and twelves and fifties... but not so many “ones.” John Wesley famously proclaimed there are no “holy solitaires” in the Christian faith. As Christians we act together, in unison, in order to help one another, and encourage one another in Christ... thereby multiplying our resources and abilities so that we can do what God has called us to do. Our community is the lifeline to the experience of God... and to the power of God moving in our community and in our world.
Of course... that’s not to say a private spiritual and prayer life isn’t essential for each of us... but if that’s all we have... if all we aspire to is our solitary faith... then we’re setting ourselves up to miss-out on the joys and blessings of truly serving God... and we may just find ourselves so inwardly focused that we forget that our primary concern has always been, others! God’s Word says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves...” (Phil 2:3)
And, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12:3-5)
God’s Word tells us we need each other... we need the community of faith... we need regular doses of shared worship and connection with others... in Christ’s name, and for his sake. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The gathering... the communion of the body of Christ... magnifies the Spirit... for us, in us, and with us.
Our scripture lessons today are powerful reminders of how important we are one to another. Our relationships with one another are important... because we honor one another... we pray for each other... we hold one another accountable... we encourage each other... we love and support our bothers and sister... in good times and bad... as the Body of Christ.
And through our union, with one another and through Christ, there’s grace and power and hope, that changes us... and changes our community. As we come together... as we worship together... as we work together... in Jesus’ name... we find, it brings focus to who and Whose we are... and it unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives, and the community around us.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”