Sermon: “Good News for the Isolated” (May 31, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Good News for the Isolated” (Romans 8:15-17)
May 31, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today is Trinity Sunday, and as we prayed in the collect, today we “acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity…and worship the Unity” (The Book of Common Prayer 228).

On this Trinity Sunday I am not preaching on the complex nuances of Trinitarian doctrine or the difference between the terms homoiousios and homoousios, or on Trinitarian heresies like Modalism or Docetism, but rather on how the Trinity— God in three Persons, God in community—ministers the love of God to our hearts. In the epistle lesson for today from Paul’s Letter to the Romans we get a glimpse of how all three Persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—work together to do exactly that:

“You have received a spirit of adoption,” Paul writes, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17).

God exists in community, and as human beings created in the image of God, we were made to exist in community as well. In his 2014 book, Toughest People to Love (a book, incidentally, that my wife, Steph, could also have written ☺) author and seminary professor Chuck DeGroat observes:

Today’s neuroscientists are rediscovering what attachment psychologists recognized thirty years ago, what the writer of Genesis penned in the first pages of Scripture, and what Christian mystics knew in ancient times: we are, at our core, relational beings…We’re discovering that from birth to death our brain thrives or withers based on the health of our relationships…God, who is the ultimate Triune relational community, hardwired us to be relational beings in his own image (20).

We are relational beings created by a relational God.

Now you would think that with the advent of cell phones, email, laptops, iPads, and the plethora of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, on and on, that we would be more relational. But the reality is that in spite of all these advances in technology and communication many people feel even more isolated…#Lonely.

In an article for The Atlantic Stephen Marche observed that in spite of the rapid emergence of such social media many people—even married and religious people—still feel isolated:

Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill… People who are married are less lonely than single people, but only if their spouses are confidants. If one’s spouse is not a confidant, marriage may not decrease loneliness. A belief in God might help, or it might not, as a 1990 German study comparing levels of religious feeling and levels of loneliness discovered (that) “The mere belief in God…was relatively independent of loneliness” (May 2012).

In other words, many people you would never suspect as being isolated or lonely in reality are both. In fact, there is actually a diagnostic tool called the UCLA Loneliness Scale that includes a series of questions to measure one’s sense of loneliness or isolation. How would you respond to these questions?

How often do you feel you have nobody to talk to?

How often do you feel as if nobody really understands you?

How often do you find yourself waiting for people to call or write (or perhaps text or email)?

How often do you feel shut out and excluded by others?

How often do you feel completely alone?

At the parish retreat at Honey Creek last weekend some of us stayed up late Saturday night playing guitars and singing. One of the songs we sang was a mid-70’s hit by the band America called “Lonely People”:

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way, yes, I’m back to stay
Well, I’m on my way back home
(from their 1974 album Holiday).

There are many factors that contribute to people feeling isolated or alone. One of the primary factors is sin. Sin isolates. This truth goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Do you remember the first thing they did after the Fall in the Garden of Eden? They hid themselves.

Sin not only isolates but also leaves sinners feeling lost—as the Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it in today’s reading: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

Another music reference…On their eponymous 1969 album Blind Faith has a moving song entitled “Can’t Find My Way Home” in which Steve Winwood sings:

Come down off your throne and leave your body alone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I’ve been waiting so long
Somebody holds the key
But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
Oh, and I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home
(from their eponymous 1969 album, Blind Faith)

The guitarist for Blind Faith was none other than Eric Clapton, who due to his addiction to drugs and alcohol found himself literally wasted and unable to find his way home—and yet listen to what he revealed in his 2007 autobiography:

I was absolutely terrified and in complete despair. At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with. Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it, but I knew on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help, and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that something had happened for me… I had found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life (Clapton: The Autobiography, 236-237).

In spite of Eric Clapton’s isolating addiction, God still came to him and ministered to him.

In spite of Isaiah being a lost man of unclean lips, God still came to him and revealed himself as “the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

In spite of Adam and Eve’s sin God still took the initiative and came to them as they hid themselves in the Garden of Eden.

The gospel is good news for the isolated.

No matter how isolated or lonely or lost you may feel, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—still loves you.

In the 2014 futuristic science fiction film Interstellar Earth is becoming increasingly uninhabitable and so Drs. Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Brand (Anne Hathaway) are traveling through space attempting to identify a place suitable for humanity to colonize. At one point in the film Cooper and Brand talk about something that transcends science, something that, like the mystery of the Trinity, transcends our understanding…they talk about love:

Brand begins, “Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure this out with theory.” You’re a scientist, Brand, Cooper replies. “So listen to me,” Brand continues, “When I say that love isn’t something we invented—it’s observable, powerful, it has to mean something.” Cooper responds, Love has meaning, yes, social utility, social bonding, child rearing. Brand interjects, “We love people who have died. Where’s the social utility in that? Maybe it means something more, something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of some higher dimension we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet.”

And like the Trinity, the unconditional love of God indeed “transcends dimensions of time and space,” and transcends our understanding as well.

The gospel is good news for the isolated because God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is unified when it comes to loving you in the midst of your isolation. God the Father sent Jesus the Son, who, as we read in the baptism liturgy, “was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life” (The Book of Common Prayer, 306).

Jesus was “drawn across the universe” out of love for you, a love that defies “social utility.” Jesus came down off his throne and fully entered the isolated, lost, lonely, unclean human race not to give directions, but to give his life. And on the cross Jesus himself felt utterly isolated and alone, as he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

And just as he promised, the Risen Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to remind us that we are fully loved—that as Paul writes to the Romans, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—continues to minister unconditional love to you—the Holy Spirit assuring you in the midst of your isolation that God is indeed your Father, your Abba, and that you are “joint heirs with Christ.”

So at Holy Communion today, as you drink from the silver cup, maybe you can trust that unconditional love of God for you, even if you can’t understand it yet.

Amen.