Wisdomfest 2019: Lonely with People
Honored to be with you this morning, humbled. I appreciate the elders giving me an opportunity to come. I want to assure you it is by grace that I stand here, and it is in grace that I stand here.
I want to introduce you to someone you may already be familiar with, some of you. Probably many of you don’t know, Marshmello. And those who laughed had the same reaction I did the first time I met him or heard about him from my son. And before you laugh, there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. His song “Alone” has 1.6 billion views (with a “b”) on YouTube, and that doesn’t include Spotify or iTunes or any other platform. “Alone” says this.
“I’m so alone. Nothing feels like home. I’m so alone. Trying to find my way back home to you. I’m so alone. Nothing feels like home. I’m so alone. Trying to find my way back home to you.”
Something apparently is resonating. In the video for “Alone” he’s at a high school wearing his mask, books get hit out of his hands, the pretty girl laughs at him, even the teachers are laughing at him. He has no friends, and he only finds where he fits in when he discovers music. He finally fits in.
And in an interview about the song he said this: “The song is about being able to connect.” And that’s what loneliness wants, isn’t it? To connect, that’s what it wants. Did you notice his mask with a painted on smiley face? I’ve worn that mask. You’ve probably worn it. I’ve worn it in this room.
So what is loneliness? We had a definition last week; you’ll probably have a different definition next week. I’ll go ahead and give you mine. It’s a human longing for deep connection. And that’s a positive thing. The shadow side comes when the thoughts and the feelings that come when we don’t get the connection. So we long for connection, but when we don’t get it, we think things like, “Do I matter to anyone? Am I completely alone in the world? Has God abandoned me too? I must not be a very good Christian. Does anyone know the real me? Would they reject me if they did? I have to look out for myself because no one else will.
And some of you don’t have these sorts of intense thoughts. It’s just this indescribable feeling that all of us know. I did all sorts of research. All 9 Enneagram people types, (if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it) all of them, all of us, experience loneliness. Where does it come from? Has God done anything about it? And what should we do in it? That’s what we’re going to look at. Where does it come from? What has God done about it? And what can we do when we find ourselves in it?
So we saw last week that loneliness is kind of complex. And Peter mentioned this, I want to drill down a little bit more on what I call “holy loneliness.” That’s one source of loneliness, “holy loneliness.” And it’s that positive side I just mentioned where we long for a deep connection. And we see this on the first page of the Bible.
Where did that come from? It came from God. “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness.’” And here is the first reference to the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What were they doing? What was God doing before creation? God was a friendship. If we define “friend” the way the dictionary does: a person you know and a person with whom you have a bond of affection. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had a bond of affection. The Trinity, if you will, is the longest lasting, deepest, most intimate friendship imaginable. God has never been lonely.
And that friendship sat down and designed this amazing universe. And then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rolled up their sleeves and he constructed this amazing universe. They built it, He decorated it, and I don’t know what they did afterwards. God says, “It’s good,” and I can kind of imagine a team winning a championship. It’s good!
There’s this friendship, if you will, and God takes that friendship and he gives it to every single human being since. The very next verse says this, “So God created man in his own image” (It’s a generic word there for “man”), “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So in the next chapter when it says, “It’s not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” It’s not good because it’s not God-like to be alone. Therefore it’s not human-like to be alone; it’s subhuman. And many of us in this room have experienced the dehumanizing effect that isolation can have.
Tim Keller put it this way:
“Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect. Adam was lonely because he was perfect. Adam was lonely because he was like God, and therefore, since he was like God, he had to have someone to love, someone to work with, someone to talk to, someone to share with. All our other problems — our anger, our anxiety, our fear, our cowardice — arise out of sin and our imperfections. Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.”
And I mention this because on top of the pain of loneliness, many of us then feel the pain of shame, the sense that there must be something wrong with me because I’m so lonely. I must be defective. Everybody else seems to get it, and I’m defective. But maybe we experience loneliness because we’re created by a trinity and there’s an aspect of our loneliness that is holy.
But there are also other reasons for loneliness. Peter mentioned last week, situational loneliness, it’s what psychologists call it. I’m just going to call it “unwelcome loneliness.” And in Psalm 25, we didn’t read the whole chapter, but if we had, we would have found out that David has lots of enemies. You ever have an enemy? People out to kill him, some people in his own family. He’s surrounded by trouble. He mentions rejection. He mentions attack. He mentions shame.
And so we have things in our lives that are largely beyond our control and maybe completely beyond our control, like aging. I’m pretty sure that’s completely beyond our control. And yet aging correlates a lot with loneliness. And maybe the end of a relationship, for whatever reason. Brittany mentioned some in her video, right? Or illness. And any transition can trigger loneliness, even good transitions. And so there is a sense in which our loneliness can be very unwelcome.
But David also mentions his sin. He says, “pardon my sin and forgive my iniquity” in Psalm 25. And so if we’re going to be honest, there is probably an aspect of our loneliness that is unholy — unholy loneliness. Well, what do I mean by that? The very first word of the psalm is “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” It’s not a language we use, but it’s language we do. He’s lifting up himself to God. And those words, in that combination, only appear four times in the Old Testament. “Lift up my soul.” One of them is in Psalm 25 and one of them is in Psalm 24. I think God is intentionally setting up a contrast between these two psalms. Psalm 24 says this in verse 3, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” (He’s asking a question. Who can have relationship with God?) “And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false.” Lifting up my soul to a lie is what that means. And if we think about it, there are lots of lies out there that we tend to lift our souls. They’re saying, “Hey, lift your soul up here! You will not surely die.” And I’m an expert at this. I’m better at it than a lot of you, lifting my soul up to death.
My loneliness started when my father left our family. I never really knew him. As a result, my mom had to work a lot, she did, and I’m grateful for that. But in many ways, I was raised by a television screen. And in my teens this loneliness began to ache, and I began to walk through doors that brought a temporary sort of comfort. And that began to take hold of me. The loneliness didn’t go away, it got worse. My twenties began to settle on me like a like a dark cloud, and so those doors that I had started to walk into began to shut behind me. And as happens with these false things that we lift up our souls to, they begin to boomerang on you. Then you can’t get out, and it actually creates more loneliness. And eventually a lot of that just bubbled up and exploded, and I became a full blown addict. And then I was really alone — really, really alone.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the cycle of loneliness. I lift up my holy loneliness to what is false, and it creates more unholy loneliness. He says this:
“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness it poisons the whole being of a person.”
Chances are good your story isn’t as messy as mine, but you have your own ways. Can you think of ways that you try to soothe your loneliness? And here’s the truth: when we are lonely, we are remarkably vulnerable to lies and to what is false.
So what do we do with all that? Okay great, we’re lonely. I’m absolutely convinced you don’t solve a problem by staring at the problem. And that’s not what David does in the psalm when he “lifts his soul to the Lord.” So what does he see when he lifts his soul to the Lord? He sees what God has done about his loneliness. For example, in verse 14 of Psalm 25, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” And Jesus says almost similar words, I mean nearly the same thing, in John 15, “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends.” And whereas most religions, in fact all religions, will tell you a path (follow this path, follow that path), Christianity is unique because God is the path and he comes to us and he offers us friendship with God.
What do friends do? They come to us, right? A friend comes to you. I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget when I was eight years old and I woke up in the middle of the night because my mom was screaming these unearthly wails because my 19-year-old brother had been killed in a car wreck. Sitting on my bed was her best friend Jean Dinsmore. A friend comes to you.
And while we rightly in the church focus on the cross, what about the cradle? That Christ comes to you. He doesn’t just say, “Hey, good luck guys! Hope it turns out well for you.” He comes and there’s a hint of his coming to us in this word “lonely.” Verse 16 of Psalm 25, “Turn to me and be gracious to me” (there’s his cry), “for I am lonely and afflicted.”
And it’s an interesting word. In the entire Old Testament, it only appears 12 times. But it’s not the word “lonely.” Hebrew actually doesn’t have a word for lonely. It’s the word “only.” And if you think about it, it makes sense. Turn to me and be gracious to me. I am only; it’s just me. I am so alone. And if Hubbard were here, he would make up a new word called “onlyness,” right? It’s not the loneliness, it’s this “onlyness.” And it only appears 12 times. The first time it appears is in Genesis 2:22, where God is talking to Abraham about Isaac. Abraham, with whom he made a covenant. And he says, “Take your son, your only son, take your son, your only son, take your son, your only son,” 3 times. And 10 of the 12 instances in the Old Testament have to do with only children.
The last one is in Zechariah 12, where God’s people have been a mess and have forsaken him, and God says I’m still going to come to you. These words are somewhat familiar to many of us. Zechariah 12, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child … as one weeps over a firstborn.”
And that verse is quoted after Jesus dies. John 19,
“But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs … For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled … They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Who? The only. Nothing in scripture is accidental. This thread that God starts in Genesis 22, three times, a trinity if you will, begins to weave through the Old Testament — only child, only child, only child, only child — all the way to Zechariah 12 and straight to the cross of Christ. And so when David cries, “I’m lonely, I’m only and afflicted.” Jesus says, “Yeah, I know. I’m the only, too. I know what that feels like.” And the crazy good story of the gospel is that home comes to you. While Marshmello and us, we are looking for home, home comes to us. So God is whispering in your ear right now, “You’re not alone. I come to. I’ll come to you. I come to you.” Do you believe this?
A friend comes to us, but they also let us in. Can you imagine a friend, you tell them all your secrets and you’re waiting, and it’s silence? A friend lets you in. Verse 14 again of Psalm 25, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” That word friendship is actually the word “secret.” The secret of the Lord, the counsel of the Lord, the secrets of God I’m going to make known to you. What is that? Some of you are like, “Oh, that’s nice.” Secrets of God I’m going to make known to you? This is what our hearts long for. We long to be in.
Do you know I mean by that? You want to be in? Everybody I know wants to be in, in something — in the group, in the “in group.” Some of you are like, “Nah, I don’t want to be in the in group, I want to be in the out group.” And when you get into the out group you find out there’s even an inner out group, and you can’t get into the inner out group, so you’re still out. There are these groups. We want to be in at home, at church, school. There’s this longing to be included. It starts in the nursery; you can see it right down there right now. “Can I play with you all?” Of course some kids are like, “I’m playing with you, I don’t care what you think.” And the elementary school playground, and the middle school cafeteria, and the high school social, and the Christmas party, and when your family gets together, and Sunday morning, and at work … I want to be in!
I don’t know that I’ve seen this better illustrated than in the musical “Hamilton.” Some of you already know the song I’m going to talk about and you’re already singing it in your head. If you don’t know the musical, maybe you know the history. Aaron Burr is kind of out, and he doesn’t like it. He’s unhappy about it, unhappy enough to eventually kill someone. But there’s Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton, and they’re making things happen in the room where it happens. That’s what the song is called, “The Room Where It Happens.” And he wants to be in the room where it happens, where history is changed. And they ask him, “What do you want, Burr, what do you want?” “I want to be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens, the room where it happens. I want to be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens…” And he says this twelve times, which I think means he really, really, really, really wants to be in that room. And we’re like him, are we not? Think about the language that we use.
I just don’t fit in. So when Jesus turns to his disciples and he says, “All I have heard from the Father, I give to my friends.” The mysteries of the universe, that God can be three in one, quantum physics, light, the two natures of Christ, why women have to go to the bathroom in twos … the great mysteries of the universe (probably not, I don’t know). So the gospel is Jesus whispering in your ear right now, your ear, “You can come in.” Do you believe this? Friends never let us down.
Friendship can’t be flimsy. Verse 14 again, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Now “covenant” is one of those theological sorts of words that can be confusing, and some of you know long definitions and you already know what a covenant is and some of you don’t, and you’re not sure you want to know. But here’s what a covenant is in very, very brief. It’s God saying, “I want you at any price.” There’s Abram kicking’ it with his friends, not looking for God. God says, “You, I want you at any price.” That’s what a covenant is.
And rather than give you a long definition, I want to give you a picture. And it’s a great picture. And it’s a true picture. Two weeks ago, this guy, this dad named Christopher Schultz took his 3-year-old son out onto the dock where they usually fish. It’s a dock goes way out into a lake in Minnesota. It goes way out into the deep end and that’s where he and his son have fished many times. They weren’t fishing on this day; they were just going out there as they usually did. And his son, being 3, saw an ant or tripped over his own feet or something and fell in out at the very end of the dock. And his dad, boom in the water. And what happened next, people only have bits and pieces, but what the people said who were running and taking… You know, it’s a long run and then it’s a long run out there. What they said was that the dad was underneath (you can’t touch there) kicking for all of his life and holding his son above the water. If you’ve ever held someone who was drowning or seen someone, they go nuts, and 3-year-olds can go nuts like nobody else, right? And he held his son with the last strength that he had, and they pulled his son out and dad sunk down and died. True story, two weeks ago on Father’s Day.
That’s what covenant does; it costs. This friendship costs deeply. And we can get tripped up with that word (some of you did when we read it), fear.
“The friendship of the Lord is with those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”
And most of us hear that like an American who knows English would. The friendship of the Lord is with those who are afraid of him. That’s all we can think of. I’m getting called into the principal’s office or the boss’s office, or I see blue lights behind me, or you know, I’m in trouble, right? I’m afraid of God. But the Hebrews actually didn’t think about it this way. In Hebrew poetry, the second line explains the first line. And fear was a much more nuanced thing. For example, in chapter 33, Psalm 33, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him.” And some of you hear that and you go, “Yeah, see, God is watching you. You’d better be afraid.” But what does the second line say? “On those who hope in his steadfast love.” That’s fear. Those who hope in his “hesed,” his steadfast covenant love. Fear is what is felt by that three-year-old when he is rescued. My dad saved me. I’m safe. Safe. I’m still alive because of the cost of his friendship.
And it’s especially stark when we think about Jesus’ friends, right? Remember, he had three that he was especially close to and on the night that he was betrayed, the night he was arrested, they didn’t get it. He had been telling them this is coming and they’re like, “okay.” Disciples are not real swift. Amen? I’m not talking about them. And he says, in this moment of perfect humanity, he says, “Look, can you just come be with me? Can you just sit with me? Can you just watch with me? Can you just pray with me?” And he’s beginning to sweat blood. They’re like, “Okay,” then they fall asleep. Then they fall asleep again. Then they fall asleep again. These are not particularly good friends. And when the authorities show up, they’re like cockroaches in the light, you know, they’re just gone! He’s alone!
And then it gets more complicated the very next day. He’s hanging on a cross. Is there anything more vulnerable than holding with your arms wide out, publicly, naked or mostly so, on a cross? I don’t think it gets much more vulnerable than that. And he says, “My God, you too? You’ve forsaken me too?” What’s going on there in Psalm 22? What’s going on there is that Jesus is beginning to taste isolation; he’s beginning to suffer the outer darkness. He’s beginning to experience hell, if you will. It wasn’t just that the earth shook when he was killed. The entire universe was teetering on the edge of falling apart, collapsing in on itself. Why? Because the eternal friendship was being broken up, the very ground of reality itself as Jesus is ripped out of this friendship. The universe has never seen anything like it before or since. The only son, his only son, who had never been lonely begins to be the ultimate “onliness.”
No one has ever been more lonely than Jesus. The thing is he didn’t have to do it, did he? Were you uncomfortable when we read Psalm 24? Jesus was the only one who had clean hands. Jesus is the only one who has a pure heart. Jesus is the only one who actually has the right to ascend the hill of the Lord. Jesus is the only one who’s never lifted up his soul to what is false. And instead of ascending the hill of the Lord, he took a cross and he ascended a hill of judgement and death and shame and execution for his friends.
So when he said in John 15, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends,” they don’t have any idea what that meant. Do we? Then he goes on and says this, (I love this) “You did not choose me, I chose you.” I already knew before eternity that you’re going fall asleep on me three times. And I already knew, Toby, that you would do so much worse than fall asleep on Christ, and I chose you anyway.
So let’s be really clear, he is my friend, but I am not his equal. All these acts of friendship, what the gospel is actually about, Jesus is you extending a nail-scarred hand to you today. He’s saying, “Not only will I not let you down, I can’t. I’ve already settled that question. You’re not alone. You can come in. You don’t have to do life alone anymore.” But the question is, do you believe this? So, is that it or is there something we can do in our loneliness? And there is and we’ll talk more about this in weeks to come.
What do we do when we’re lonely? Now, what should we do when we’re lonely? That’s a better way to ask because we often don’t deal with our loneliness particularly well. And in a word, I’m going to say we need to “reframe” our loneliness. Now you may not know what that word is, and you don’t need to. It’s what psychologists call, simply, looking at the same thing differently. It’s actually all throughout the Bible, not the word, but the concept. You look at the same thing, differently.
And the best way I know to show you what reframing is, is to read you a journal entry from a friend of mine. Last year she lost her best friend and her sister suddenly to death. She was only 27 years old. They still don’t have a lot of answers. And I’ve had the honor and privilege of walking beside her through some of these roads of suffering and grief. And she wrote this in the wintertime. She’s not out of the woods, but she shared it with me and gave me permission to share it with you. This is reframing. It’s long but it’s worth it, trust me.
“There’s a puddle in my driveway that I see whenever I stand at the sink doing dishes. We have four kids, six and under, so I stand here a lot. I think this winter in our area has been one of the wettest on record. So I’ve had the opportunity to see this puddle form fill up and stay. Even when the sun returns, it’s often there for at least another day or so. Last week, I noticed something. After months of staring at that puddle. Of noticing the dirt and leaves and muck at the bottom of it. Of seeing the edges change shape as it fills and evaporates. Of yelling at my kids to get out of it! After all those times of seeing it, I saw something new: a reflection. I looked at the puddle and, in that moment, God allowed the light to hit it just right so my eyes would not see the puddle and its depth, but rather, the beauty it was reflecting. I saw the trees shivering in the reflection, bushes, the sunlight, a nearby pile of logs. It was beautiful. Later, raindrops were lightly falling, and I could still see the reflection as they sprinkled down giving me a moving picture. And some time later, the rain was really coming down and there wasn’t a reflection for me anymore. Of course, it was all still there, all still there. But in that kind of downpour, nothing could be seen. I can’t look at that puddle, or any puddle for that matter, the same again. When I see puddles now my eyes automatically search for that picturesque reflection. One of the mercies of death, or any suffering, [including loneliness] is that it leaves you changed. Changed in a way that no self-help book can ever give you. It’s done to you, not by you. Your eyes are opened to see a beauty that you didn’t know, a part of God that you really can’t know unless he reveals it to you. I recently told a friend that I did not love Jesus before (she) died, the way that I love Him after. I didn’t produce a new and better love. He mercifully picked me up, carried me on, and loved me in a way that words can’t really explain. Perhaps He was always loving me this way. But I never noticed because I didn’t really “need” it. But in grief, I’m staring at a puddle of death, of suffering, and wondering when this wet, dreary winter will end. Physically, spring is coming. Emotionally, winter feels like it will last. Lord, continue to give me eyes to see and a heart that believes even when I can’t.”
I told you it was worth it.
So how can we look at loneliness differently? We tend to, good Americans that we are, “where’s the cure? Give me the cure.” But what if God wants to use our loneliness as an opportunity to genuinely connect with us. So that’s the first place I want us to think differently. Loneliness is an opportunity to authentically connect with God. And here’s where you go, “He’s a preacher so he’s going to tell me to pray more because that’s what preachers do.” But I’m not a preacher. I’m not the preacher. I’m just the guy filling in for Peter while he’s with his family. And I’m saying something much more profound.
What if we authentically connected with God in our loneliness? So if this is the only takeaway (what I’m about to give you is the only takeaway you have) today is worth it. And here it is: If we do not intentionally lift our souls to God in our loneliness, we will unintentionally lift them to something else, probably unconsciously. If we are not actively, in the moment of loneliness, saying “I lift up my soul to you” and crying to God, then we’ll just drift into whatever — whatever you’re whatever is, and you’ve all got them, and I’ve got many to spare.
So what does it look like? Well it can look a lot different for a lot of people and probably looks differently for every one of us. But I’m going to give you one example from a movie that I don’t know that I recommend, but it’s a pretty good movie and it’s got a great actor in it, Robert Duvall. It’s the movie “The Apostle,” and he’s a fallen preacher. And he has some responsibility for his fallen preacherhood, but there are also some things beyond his control. His wife left him, and he’s lost everything, and he’s on the run. And this scene is kind of his showdown with God, if you will. This moment, this dark night of the soul, where he and God are wrestling it out and here’s what it looks like for him.
“Give it to me tonight Lord God, Jehovah! If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace. Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace! Give me peace. I don’t know whose been fooling with me, you or the devil! I don’t know. And I won’t even bring the human into this, he’s just a mutt, so I’m not even going to bring him into it. But I’m confused and I’m mad. I love you, Lord. I love you, but I’m mad at you. I am mad at you! Deliver me tonight, Lord. What should I do? Now tell me. Should I lay hands on myself? What should I do? I know I’m a sinner and once in a while a womanizer, but I’m your servant. Since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I’m your servant! What should I do? Tell me! I’ve always called you Jesus, you always called me Sonny. What should I do, Jesus? This is Sonny talking now.”
Does that make you uncomfortable? It does me. It doesn’t have to look like that, but it needs to look like something. It can’t look like nothing. The guy who wrote Psalm 25 was a womanizer, and he’s lifting up his soul. And I think when he says at the end of the psalm,
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I’m lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.”
I sort of doubt, being a middle easterner, that he had his hands quietly folded in his lap. I’ll bet his prayer looked a lot more like that and it’s not the only psalm like that. There are lots of hard psalms, there are lots of happy ones. Read the hard ones. Read the book of Job and see if they are not saying something very, very similar to what Sonny is saying.
So I’m not saying pray more. I would go one step further and say you’re already praying. “Oh great Netflix, I am lonely, please fix my loneliness.” Right? Some of you are like, “I don’t do that, I just play six hours of video games.” We swipe right, if you know what that means. We look at porn. We’re on social media just constantly praying that somebody will connect with us. We’re hooking up, we’re praying. And some of you are like, “Well I don’t do any of those things.” Well good, I’m glad. Most of those aren’t good. You just fill the emptiness in your soul with another project, or working more, or a hobby.
We look for escapes. We’re shopping. We’re exercising. We’re withdrawing. We’re listening to music. These are not bad things in themselves, but they cannot meet our need for connection. There have been times in my marriage when my wife and I need to connect with each other. I’m not talking sexually; I’m just talking about being humans together. But it’s scary, even in marriage. And so I’ll go play backgammon on my computer and she’ll go and do the laundry. What we need is each other. See some of you who are really, really, really, really, really sick, you clean a lot.
So if we do not intentionally and actively lift our loneliness to God, we will unintentionally and passively let it go somewhere else. It’s an opportunity to authentically connect with God.
It’s also an opportunity to connect with others genuinely. Because I can say something about everybody in this room, other than the fact that you’re in this room, and that is that everybody in this room is a sinner. And if you don’t like that word you have a shadow side. You have a dark side. I think most of us would agree with that. Three times in Psalm 25, David says,
“Forgive my sin, forgive my iniquity, forgive my sin. Don’t remember me according to my sins, remember me according to your steadfast love.”
And let’s remember, this was not David’s “secret diary.” This is as public as it gets. Three thousand years later we’re still talking about David’s sin. That’s pretty public. And this was the hymn book of the Old Testament. Let’s stand and sing hymn 25 about David’s sin, alright? All five verses. I’m not going to skip any for those Baptists. All of them! And in confessing his sin, we’re confessing our sin. So what does that mean? I’m convinced, absolutely convinced, that one of the reasons that I have so much trouble connecting with you, and you have so much trouble connecting with each other is that we don’t want to talk about this. We don’t want to confess our sin. I get it.
Brene Brown, many of you know, has written about this subject of vulnerability. Here’s what she says:
“The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, but the last thing I’m willing to show you…”
You’re like, “Hey, let’s confess our sins, you first!”
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. [what a great line] Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness… Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
She’s advocating what David was modeling 3000 years ago. In fact, I’d say she didn’t go far enough. She’s right, but she didn’t go far enough. Because it’s not just courage. It’s not just vulnerability. It’s not just truth. It’s sin.
And so James 5 commands us to confess our sins one to another. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Life Together,” which is a book that I feel I can’t recommend highly enough. Seventy-five years ago he talks about this openness about our shadow side. Here’s what he says commenting on James 5,
“Confess your faults one to another. He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians — notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service — may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur. Because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. [And wear a Marshmello mask.] We dare not be sinners… So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners! In confession the break-through to community takes place… A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time. The sin concealed separated him from the fellowship, made all his apparent fellowship a sham; the sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ.”
What if, crazy, what if you found one person — a wise person, a discreet person, someone who won’t hurt you, someone maybe who is further along than you — and you told them your stuff. If you’re like me, that sounds absolutely terrifying and potentially good at the same time. I had a guy not that long ago, he doesn’t live here, you don’t know him. He is in his 20s and he said, “I’m so lonely.” And he called me, and he said, “I hooked up with someone. I was trying to fix the loneliness and I only created more loneliness.”
And you know what that did? It made me shun him! No, all of a sudden I was like, “Man, come on in. Thank you.” It’s beautiful. I’m not just talking about getting together and, “Oh yeah, you’re awful and I’m awful, let’s be awful together.” I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something that leads to a redemption — courage and vulnerability, yeah! Here’s the amazing thing. I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous, and you have to do this in AA. If you’re going to work the steps, you come to step five and it says, “we admit it to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” It’s exercising James 5:16, and it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done and probably one of the most beautiful, too.
They do it in AA, but we don’t. And there’s maybe some good reasons for that, but what if we took a step in that direction? I’ll bet it would change this place. In fact I know it would change this place. (chime) Is that my that my “Hey, wrap it up chime?” I’m about to, don’t worry! Because some of you are like, “Bro, you lost me at confessing my sin. I ain’t doing that. I showed up for church today, I don’t know what you’re talking about. All this stuff, that’s crazy.” Okay fair enough. I get it.
Well, let’s just start small. Hey, meet somebody eye to eye. For some of us that’s hard. For me that’s hard. Reach out, ask a question. Be willing when someone reaches out to you. And I have to make myself do this. Some of you think that I’m unfriendly; I’m just scared. Some Sundays I have to stop myself from running out of here. I’m not very good at this, but I’m learning. This wigs me out, just being honest with you, but I show up because I know Jesus is here. I keep coming back.
We share a common problem and that’s the common solution. Jesus is here. Well, you say, “How is Jesus here?” Mysteriously, yes. You know how Jesus is here? The person next to you, the body of Christ. That’s how Jesus is here. See God, when he saw that Adam was alone didn’t give him a Bible study, he gave him an Eve. And as important as scripture is, it’s got to have skin on.
Last year, about this time, I descended into the longest, deepest, darkest season, long season, of depression that I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some doozies. And this was the one hopefully to end them all. I didn’t want to live. If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you know what that looks like. And for a long time I had brothers and sisters who would just come be with me, who would text me, who prayed for me, who listened to me be crazy a lot. And God finally began to bring me out through scripture. But God finally brought me out through scripture with skin on. See the mystery is this: You are the body of Christ. And so rather than just shooting out here to our individual lonely lives (so easy), what if we began to be Jesus to one another? That’s what you want; that’s what we need. Those people were beautiful to me. And it’s hard, but it’s beautiful.
What if instead of going down that well-worn lonely path to more loneliness, you actually took the courage to reach out to someone? And in doing so, you might be Jesus to them, and they might be Jesus to you. And the chances are that both of those things are true. Let’s pray.
Father, I thank you that you did not look down and say, “Good luck.” You came to us, you opened up to us, you made a new covenant in your blood. May that awaken us. May it move us toward one another and toward you. We ask in the name of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, amen.