Jesus never wanted anyone to be alone. When he noticed a lame beggar outside the temple grounds, he healed him, and said, “Come follow me”. When he passed by a leper colony, he entered their gate, recognizing and healing the marginalized people of his society. He talked with over-worked and often abused women of his day when they went to the well at noon alone to draw water. He even knew that rich people were trapped by their wealth, often lonely and craving regular human contact. For these reasons and many more, Jesus created community wherever he went. He knew the last thing the human soul needed was to be alone. Everything Jesus taught can boiled down to one central message: all people need to be actively connected to God and each other. Everyone needs community.
We Americans have just completed 447 days from March 20, 2020 to June 11, 2021, of being shut in by the pandemic. That is a long time. But, as of last weekend, we are finally free to roam, hug, and embrace each other again. Yet, because of severe isolation, the siege of the pandemic, our minds, bodies, and souls have been more affected than we may realize. No one has emerged unscathed, entirely. We have been covering our faces with masks, avoiding people on sidewalks, even frightened at times to be in the same room with family members. To say we have been nervous and jumpy is an understatement. We have been on edge and often alone. We have become battered souls, somewhat off balance, a bit awkward, often unsure, sometimes dazed, hurt, and confused. We have not had normal human interchange for a long time. Many of us have forgotten how to converse freely with others and know how to be an active, helpful member of a community. Often our minds are suspicious, our fists are up, rather than our arms open.
Looking back on these last 447 days, Americans have witnessed some of the strangest behavior we have ever seen. Numerous people were scared and angry. They were dangerously alone and full of fear. A group of armed vigilantes in the Midwest wanted to kidnap the governor of Michigan and silence her; deranged hoodlums smashed windows and stole goods from innocent, hard-working store owners because of deep-seated feelings of frustration and revenge; a wayward, arrogant policeman would not take his knee off the neck of a man who tried to buy something in a grocery store with a phony twenty dollar bill, and killed him; and by January 6th, 2021, a tragically misguided, rabid, and dangerously naïve mob stormed our own US Capitol building because a person told them a lie they believed. People lost their minds. Friendships have been ruined because of differing political views. Sales of guns skyrocketed in 2020 as people became frightened of their next-door neighbor. Too many Americans completely forgot how to be in community.
Before the pandemic even began, our society had been drifting dangerously and rapidly towards greater isolation. The pandemic was simply like gasoline thrown on that fire. The internet and social media have given millions of individual Americans a platform to be wise and intelligent in their own eyes. Less than humble people have been euphoric discovering audiences who will listen to them whether they speak the truth or not. Impact is all that matters to them – and dollars earned. Greater wealth in our economy has given people an ability to build homes with elaborate entertainment centers eliminating the need to spontaneously play games on the street outside with neighbors. Under these terribly convenient conditions, why bother making the effort anymore to converse with people noticeably different from ourselves? People of different color, ethnicity, political allegiance, or social strata require too much effort and create a lot of discomfort in the first place; forming community with them seems like too much work.
Jesus never did things alone. Yes, he pulled away periodically to be secluded with the Father in retreat and prayer; otherwise he was constantly hanging out with his family or disciples, enjoying their fellowship. He taught his disciples how important it was to reach out to the neglected and forgotten people in their society, to invite them into their community. In that same spirit, he confronted members of his society who promoted power, burdens, exclusion, division, and privilege. Left alone, the human soul turns on itself and becomes vulnerable to the attacks of evil, Satan himself. For this reason, Jesus was constantly confronting evil spirits in people, driving them away with the power of his love and grace.
One of the projects I support in my work with Frontier Fellowship is outreach to members of Arab families in the Middle East who are rejected and discarded because of their new faith in Jesus Christ. Too often, sons or daughters, or wives are thrown from their homes and disowned because of their new belief that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. On the Arabian Peninsula, we support a couple named Leina and Salam who provide shelter, counseling, job training, and underground church membership for these brave souls who are struggling to survive, or not be alone. In Egypt, we support a man named Amir who has an outreach to immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen who have been driven from their countries and families because of war and religious persecution. Amir and his workers provide constant encouragement, healing services, housing, and Christian growth opportunities for these discarded people on the run. Leina, Salam, and Amir know that left alone, many of these people will be mentally and emotionally tortured or die. I ask you to pray for these courageous new believers as they build their new lives in Christ, and as they hold on to the hope that someday they will be reunited with their families. If you would like to financially support these projects, please let me know. There is always a great need for supporting these worthy efforts.
This is a ripe time in American history for us to rediscover the value of community. It is not an option for the wellbeing of our souls and minds to do otherwise. Do not believe for a second it is. In just the last week alone, I have seen more old friends on the sidewalks or in local parks than I was able to see or enjoy in nearly the last two years. Smiles and joy permeated our embraces and discussions. Our souls were revived, especially when enjoying good weather. With intention and enthusiasm, we need to knock on the doors of our neighbors and friends and revive our regular interaction with them. It is time to organize local bowling clubs, quilting groups, family summer camps, church memberships, and other healthy gatherings of people on a regular basis. Yes, we now have more options to work from home, tune in to church worship services from the comfort of our own living rooms, or take educational classes online, but at what price, if we do too much of it? We need be careful not to ignore our deep human need to be together, laugh, mourn, dance, even disagree, but be together. We now know a lot more about the perils of the alternatives.
Jesus spent a lot of time teaching his disciples the value of being united in community. Being in community means that at times you may disagree with someone, but you learn how to get along. It is not always easy. Decisions need to be made with a great deal of self-control and listening skills. Working towards reconciliation, common agreement, or peacemaking takes a lot of hard work, faith, and prayer. Jesus was constantly teaching, forgiving, rebuking, and challenging his disciples. We all need a mentor, counselor, or group of friends to meet with on a regular basis, to help us grow in faith. Being or living together in community is what is most important. The Apostle Paul said it best when he wrote the following to the new believers in Corinth, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit…our bodies have many parts…how strange would it be if it had only one part…The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’”(1 Corinthians 12: 12,13, 18a, 21)
The point is we need each other daily – desperately. We have an opportunity now to say to God in prayer, “Lord, we have learned our lesson. We have discovered where the excesses of independence, isolation, and self-sufficiency can take us. We never knew it could be so challenging, debilitating, or ugly. We are ready to start over, retreat from those pathways, and do a lot more to include you and others in our daily lives. We realize that being in community is a lot of hard work, but we are ready to engage. May you use us as instruments of your peace, grace and healing for those people and families, including ourselves, who have been injured or disheartened by the pandemic.”
Sharon, our children, members of my ministry and I hope you have a joyous summertime full of endless fun enjoying God’s incredible creation. And, if you ever have time, or are in our neighborhood, please drop by!