Loneliness – Sermon Oct. 22, 2017

Sermon for October 22, 2017
A New York Times article from February of 2017 shared Gallup poll data that 43% of Americans work remotely at least some of the time if not all the time.  One of the things I LOVE about being a pastor is that I can write my sermon at home in my pajamas.  I can work from a coffee shop or do conference calls through my hands free device while driving up to Richmond for a meeting, and I can reach thousands of people from my dining room table doing Facebook live sermons on Sunday nights.  But here’s the thing, some of us don’t really like getting out of the house, some of us work from home.  We start ordering our clothes and household supplies from places like Amazon.  We get sick and go to an online doctor while we order online perishable groceries from Harris Teeter or Walmart.  We order dinner on Order Up to be delivered right to our home.  And then we have the option of online college courses, online homeschooling programs, online banking and bill pay and pretty soon we don’t ever have to leave our house.  We can sit there behind a screen in the safety of our homes and not interact with anyone in flesh and blood unless we want to.
 We live in a nation that is lonelier than it has ever been.  Fortune.come in June of 2016 had an article called, “Chronic Loneliness is a Modern-Day Epidemic.”  It talks about the research of a guy named John Cacioppo who has been studying loneliness for over 20 years and he stresses that loneliness isn’t when you don’t have people around you, “it’s perceived social isolation.”  So you could be in a crowded room and feel profoundly alone- you could be sitting here in this sanctuary feeling profoundly alone.  But here’s what happens when you feel lonely.   Your brain is wired to move into self-preservation mode when it’s lonely because it’s thinking back to cave man times where lonely people were on the outskirts of the community.  They were the first to be attacked or killed of.  You lash out more because the part of your brain that is empathetic isn’t as active. Your depression rises, likelihood of developing mental and effective disorders increases and your odds of an early death go up by 45% according to researchers Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B Smith and J. Bradley Layton.  You don’t sleep as well and you have altered gene-expression which leads you to catch more viruses.  Chris Fagundes, a Rice psychology professor and found that if you are lonely you are even less likely to think you are being supported when you have stressful times.  So even when people are there and you aren’t alone, it’s not enough, you don’t see it. 


Brigham Young University found that lacking social connections is as unhealthy as being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  So go ahead and binge watch that Netflix show alone again- it is literally killing you and countless others.   And the number of people who feel lonely is staggering, up to 43% of people feel lonely and his research found, “if you use social networking as a way to promote face-to-face conversation, it lowers loneliness.  But if you use it as a destination, as a replacement for the face-to-face, it increases loneliness.”  I kid you not, they are researching a steroid that they can start prescribing to people who feel lonely to stave off the symptoms of loneliness because you can’t take a pill for connection. 


And that’s what I’m going to talk about today.  Loneliness affects a lot of young people because we are so wired technologically that we forget that we need face to face interaction.  We don’t just forget that we need it we forget how to make friends, how to have a conversation, how to hang out with our friends or family and if you are a more senior member of our church, you might be battling loneliness not because you are gaming online all day but because it’s harder physically to get out and as more of your friends pass away or move away, you have fewer and fewer people to see. 


So if loneliness is killing us, what do we do about it?  What’s God’s advice?  I’m so glad you asked.  We were made in the image of a God who has always and eternally been relational.  There was never a time when it was not Father, Son and Holy Spirit- all three have always existed in the deep and powerful relationship.  When God realized we were disconnected from Him, he didn’t tweet out the gospel, he didn’t Facebook post the good news that we were loved- no, he sent Jesus in the flesh to live and breathe and walk among us.  In John chapter one we read that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, but in Greek the word here is sklerew which means to pitch tent- God came to pitch tent- to camp with the lowly humans because that my friends was the way to reconnection and salvation.  And if we are lonely or feeling out of place or isolated the worst thing to do is stay locked up in our homes and hearts and not get out there and be vulnerable with others- get to know them.  True transformation and healing absolutely cannot and will not happen in a vacuum, it will not happen without community.  Look at the story in Luke 24:13 of what happened to two followers of Jesus after the crucifixion.  Times were dark, they weren’t sure if Jesus was alive and they could have stayed home alone, hiding under their covers in the dark but they starting walking on the road to Emmaus and as they were out, talking and processing what the women had said about the resurrection, Jesus shows up and walks with them and they spend all day talking and at dinner, when Jesus sits down to eat with them, they recognize who he is and everything changes.  When was the last time you sat down to eat a meal with someone with no cell phones on the table and no interruptions?  And you sat down to talk about life, about your struggles, about your successes, about your hopes and dreams for the future?  Psalm 133 is one of our shortest Psalms and it says, “How very good and pleasant it is  when kindred live together in unity!  It is like the precious oil on the head,     running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,

    life forevermore.


When we live together in unity it’s like precious oil that just covers you from head to toe, it’s like dew on the mountainside, an eternal blessing from the Lord.  But we aren’t living together in unity.  Brene brown, my girl, just came out with a new book where she shares that we are more polarized than ever because we want to live surrounded by people who look, think and act like us but we aren’t trying to live in peace and unity with people who see things differently than we do.  She shares data from a guy named Bill Bishop who said that in 1976, less than 25% of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide so we were surrounded by people who thought and felt differently than us but in the 2016 election 80% of counties gave a landslide victory to Trump or Hillary so we are starting to surround ourselves with people who think, look and act like us which is why Facebook stresses us out so much because sometimes it’s the only time that we hear a different viewpoint than our own.  But we need each other, we need the thoughts and opinions and challenges of others to figure out where we truly stand on things and what GOD wants for us.  And church should and can be that safe space for you because this is a diverse community- we have young and old, democrat and republican, card-carrying ACLU-ers and NRA-ers, men, women, gay, straight, homeless, millionaires, all here in one community and we need each other but if you don’t show up you miss out.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 

not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  So listen, struggling to spend time together is nothing new- it’s so so so so tempting to wake up on a Sunday morning and say- let’s stay in bed honey and eat pancakes and watch the facebook live sermon tonight or let’s get out of town and go for a hike on Sunday morning instead of going to church or let’s just stay home in our pjs and catch up on laundry and homework and our DVR programs but every time you say no to this- to community, to fellowship, to seeing and laughing and singing and praying together you loose and the more that you do it- the more likely you are to walk away altogether.  There’s an old story about a catholic priest in Ireland who went to visit one of his parishioners who had stopped coming to church on a regular basis.  He walked inside and the man was seated by the fireplace and starting telling the priest about how he didn’t really need to go to church anymore, he could just read his bible and be on fire for God in his safe little home and the priest walked over to the fire, took an ember from the hottest part of the burning logs and set it at the man’s feet.  The man stared at that burning hot ember, all alone by itself and saw it quickly go from bright red to black as it died.  The priest left without saying a word and the man was back in church the next Sunday.  so come to church, we need to see you, you are important, your connection to God and creation and the community matters and we want you here.  You can’t do virtual communion or be baptized on Snapchat- this is a holy space where heaven and earth meet and if you are feeling lonely or disconnected, it’s time to come back and give us a try or plug in in deeper ways. Don’t miss out- you need this group of people just as much as they need you- I don’t know about you but I’m sick of being so busy all the time and still lonely at the end of the day- invest in relationships, invest in your faith community and find transformation and love as you live into the image of a relational God.  Thanks be to God, amen!

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