Sunday 30th August 2020
The theme of this morning’s message is loneliness.
For a while now at Elmwood Church, we have been talking about loneliness and isolation and have recognised the need to reach out to people in the community who feel alone. We began these conversations way back before Coronavirus became part of our everyday lives so now it is more vital than ever that we consider the impact of isolation on those around us.
It is recognised that there are 2 distinct types of loneliness.
Emotional loneliness, is felt when we miss the companionship of one particular person, often a spouse, sibling or best friend and social loneliness, experienced when we lack a social network or a group of friends. It can be a feeling which comes and goes or is situational, i.e. on a Sunday, bank holidays or Christmas, or it can be chronic and felt at all times.
Today, loneliness is not just a painful emotional experience but is a major public health concern, considered to be just as damaging to our health as obesity. It affects all age groups and last year the British Red Cross measured that 9 million UK citizens are always or often lonely and feel unloved.
So what does the bible tell us about loneliness?
In Genesis, we read that on the 6th day of creation God had just finished creating all the living creatures that move along the ground. He paused and evaluated his work and saw that it was good. Only one more task remained. We read that “the lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.”
So here was man. God’s only creation that would not live its life in total ignorance of its creator. Adam would have fellowship with God and be the object of his love, but after placing him in the garden of Gethsemane, God observed that there was something missing. “ The Lord God said, “ it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” And so he created Eve because God recognised Adam’s need for contact with another human being. Eve would be loved by Adam and love him in return.
So by God’s design, we all have an innate need to belong and be loved and it is when these needs for love and fellowship go unfulfilled that we become restless, unhappy and lonely. Sometimes a variety of personal factors make it difficult to connect with others such as loss of confidence and feeling insecure, social setbacks which make you feel that no-one would want your company or relocating to new areas. There are many ways that long term loneliness can take over someone’s life. It doesn’t develop overnight but over a lifetime. Even before coronavirus, we live in an age in which modern technology has made it easier to do things without other people and without leaving our home . TV and the internet are the chief culprits that rob us of time with relatives, friends and neighbours.
Also, because our society is more mobile than ever before, families may re-locate several times which tends to discourage the development of deep friendships.
As the story of Adam and Eve illustrates, God intends for us to share our lives with other people. The importance of personal relationships in God's eyes is evident in the amount of space devoted to these relationships in the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments have a lot to say about marriage, parenthood, friendship and church fellowship. But it is also clear from God's Word that there is one relationship that is most important from God's point of view. That is the fellowship He wants to have with us, which forms the foundation of all other relationships.
Examples of loneliness in the Bible show that it was experienced by Moses, King David, and especially by Jesus himself. Most importantly, these verses show that God himself intimately understands what it's like to feel lonely and that even when you feel most alone, you truly never are. Sometimes friends or family members can let us down, abandoning us at the moment we need them the most.
Jesus' very last words to his disciples when he ascended into heaven remind us that we can never truly be abandoned, no matter how we may be feeling: " And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."-Matthew 28:20
God himself, in the person of Jesus, experienced loneliness in all its most painful forms. Jesus knew well the pain of desertion and rejection from those closest to him. Jesus’s friends and family didn’t understand him. His brothers were ashamed to be associated with him and some rejected him. But the most painful moment for Jesus and one which we can all relate to was when he felt that even God had left him alone when he was dying on the cross.
So what does God want us to do to help people who are lonely? He wants us to be there for others, but what if God asked you to befriend someone you don’t particularly like or get on with? In scriptures, he has asked us to do this many times. Jesus said “Love your enemies”. In Luke 6, he said “Do good to them and lend to them without expecting anything back. Then your reward will be great”
So to conclude... Loneliness is now an epidemic impacting on all groups in society. Young and old, wealthy or poor, married or single, can all suffer from the lack of real meaningful friendships. As Christians we can make a difference by reaching out to these individuals and to remember for ourselves that our loneliness can be redeemed by the Friend who endured the ultimate loneliness for our sake, Jesus Christ.