Isolated - Week One: The Cry Of The Lonely

Today we are launching a brand new sermon series that will take us through much of the month of October---a sermon series that I believe is both timely and vital considering the situation we are all in right now. 

The series is entitled, "Isolated: Finding Joy Where You Are" and the focus of the series is simply this:  With the challenges we are facing is an opportunity for new growth and new life.  So for the next few weeks we will explore what it means to find joy where you are—no matter what.  

I decided that for the first sermon in this series, I would do something completely vulnerable, and would allow you all a glimpse into my personal COVID journal.  Some of my most private thoughts throughout this ordeal.  

Don't judge me. 

March 23, 2020

We're all sheltering in place right now. It's kind of awesome actually.  I have created a list of all of the things that I need to get done around the house, projects I have been wanting to work on, books I want to read and movies to watch.  Maybe this break is just what we all needed.  I can't wait! 

April 12, 2020

Easter was weird this year, but hey... we'll get through all of this by the beginning of June I'm thinking.  Still trying to get to that list of things to do, but I'm feeling pretty good about it.  Also, I gained a few pounds but it's all good.  Back to the gym in a month! 

May (Not Sure Of The Date), 2020

Not all that certain about whether things will be normal in June.  Maybe by July. I lost my list of things to do.  Maybe I threw it away, I can't remember.  Also, I don't know what day of the week it is, so there's that.  I could use some Ben and Jerry's. 

July 

I don't know what happened to June.  It was June, and then it wasn't.  I think my kids might be plotting against me.  I see them whispering things in the corners when they think I'm not looking.  

Whatever 

It's hot outside.  I was frightened today by a guy who said something to me in the grocery store, and I couldn't understand him because we were both wearing masks.  I think my mask is affecting my hearing.  I think I need to buy some more things from Amazon.  Suspicious of everyone in my house at this point. 

Captains Log - Star Date 46254.7

I'm pretty sure the crew is planning mutiny.  I've begun working on the warp drive to see if I can get it restarted.  The ship is stalled somewhere outside the Ham-Handed Nebula, and we haven't moved in weeks.  Can't. Take. Much. More. 

I can neither confirm or deny if any of that was actually true.  

All of this isolation has been challenging for each us, though.  For some of us it has been excruciating.  There is a dark side to all of this that we can't ignore.  So if you have been feeling isolated... if you are struggling... dealing with anxiety... depression... 

I want you to know that you are not alone.  I'm with you.  

And I know all too well what it feels like to experience anxiety and depression, to feel out of sorts, to be frustrated, sad, angry, overwhelmed... you name it.  This has been my reality, as well---a roller coaster of emotions. 

There have been more than a few moments during this whole thing when I have given voice to all of that emotion and asked God out loud: 

"What the heck, man?!?!! Are you paying attention?!!? Are you even there??!!?

But what if...  and this is a very important question that can help us make the kind of shift that we need to make to begin again, to find a new way forward... What if this was the moment that we have been waiting for? 

What if this is the moment when we discover how to find our way again... to discover joy again... to reconnect with the things that really matter, and to begin to live into our best and truest selves no matter what the circumstances?  

What if... what if this is a time for us to recognize more fully the presence of God in our lives?  Which on the surface seems like a tall order, considering all of the stress and trauma that we've been experiencing, but still... What if?  

I believe that the road ahead through the isolation and all it has wrought can begin with one simple recognition: 

There is no such thing as isolation from God.  

Our guide today comes to us from Psalm 139 from the book of Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Let's listen to some of the words from this prayer: 

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

If you had to distill the theme of this Psalm down to one simple phrase it would be: "You Know Me."  

This is a psalm that acknowledges an existence that is comprehended by God.  The God being called out to in this prayer is not a God who is far away, high in some holy temple.  This is a God who is present, up close and personal. 

The psalmist declares that God knows whatever the psalmist thinks and does.  He speaks to an intimacy that he feels deep within himself in a secret place in his very soul, the root of his being.  

The word that the psalmist uses here for "know" has its roots in the Hebrew word yada, which speaks to the kind of intimate knowledge that is typically reserved for sexual intimacy, the kind of knowledge that only comes from being really, really, close.  And he uses that word seven times! 

And then the psalmist declares that this intimate God is present with him wherever he happens to be---in the highest heights, to the lowest depths.  In life and in death.  In exaltation and despair.  God is there and there is no place where God isn't. 

God was even present, the psalmist declares when he began.  Before he was born, God was knitting him together, fashioning him, intimately involved in his creation.  

The psalmist declares that he is "fearfully and wonderfully made."  The words here are yara which means respect, reverence, honor and pala, which means outside of human comprehension.  

So what does all this really mean? 

It means something amazing.  To use one of the phrases from one our ancient confessions of faith it means that "in life and death you belong to God."  And this God sees you as precious, unique, cherished and never, ever alone.  

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber sums up this Psalm like this: 

Where I wander - You!
Where I ponder - You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
When I am gladdened - You!
When I am saddened - You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You, Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!

By now you are saying, "Leon, that sounds so great. Nice sentiments... but I'm isolated.  I feel alone.... what can I do?  How do I connect with that feeling?  How can I internalize that because right now it doesn't feel that way." 

And listen, you may be in a house-full of people... spouse... kids... and you still feel isolated and alone.  You still wonder where God is at the moment.  

All I have to offer to you is this: 

1.  You need to find the strength and the courage to trust.  To trust in the "Already" God.  Because no matter where you go in the midst of this crisis... no matter what is happening with you... God is already there, wherever "there" is.  God isn't constrained by our concepts of time or place.  When Jesus told his followers that he was going ahead to prepare a place for them, he wasn't just talking about something in the hereafter, he was talking about the future.  

2. And here's where you can find the strength to trust.  Remember those moments when you knew you weren't alone.  We all have those memories.  We choose to set them aside when we are feeling raw and bleeding inside, but we have them.  Draw on those memories, and remember this, too.  Your only limits to experiencing God's presence are the limits of your own perception, and the attachments you have created that have replaced that feeling of Divine intimacy.  

3.  Finally, and this is so very, very important.  The best and surest way to find your way through this and discover the joy of your salvation once again is to Be the Divine Presence for someone in isolation.  There are people in your life who are struggling and fighting through this, maybe even harder than you are.  What are you waiting for?  Be a lifeline.  Reach out to them.  Speak to them of your own stories, tell them that you are with them no matter what.  They will hear you as if it was Gods own voice. 

Beloved this is a moment like no other.  This is our moment---the one we have been waiting for.  Rise up strong.  Lift up your head.  God is with you now, and already waiting for you in tomorrow, and whatever tomorrow brings.  Know this and be filled with joy. 

Because there's no such thing as isolation from God.  



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