Sermon – August 13, 2006

I have read with interest over the past few months, news of a couple of scientific studies that show that loneliness contributes to health problems, particularly to problems of the heart.  The research suggests hat those who live in isolation and separation from others have poorer health and higher incidences of heart disease.   And those who break out of those situations are able to reverse the ill effects that their loneliness brings upon them.   Being isolated, being alone, is heartbreaking, but being in community is healing.

We speak of the heart often to express how we feel.  She has a lot of heart, they say.  Or, he has no heart for it.  Or, he has a broken heart, or a bitter heart.   When we are in love, we give our hearts.  When we lose heart, we lose hope.  When we are afraid, we have fear in our hearts.  The heart is the center, metaphorically, of our passions and our emotions and feelings.   Where love and fear and hatred and anger and joy and hope and loneliness seem to reside.  In other words, the heart is our core.

Our hearts are where the centers of our selves lie.  And from a spiritual perspective, it is where our faith is located.  Jesus said, love God with your whole heart, with your center.    It’s where our faith is located, and when it is  touched by grace it is where our healing is accomplished.   You can have an intellectual understanding of the historical Jesus.  You can have a theological understanding of the atonement for sins that Christ brings.  You can have an appreciation of the struggle of a prophet who threatened the status quo in the first century.    Those are matters of the head, though.   Faith is a matter of the heart.  Grace is a matter of the heart.   This is the initiative of God’s love into our lives which we receive in faith. It’s a matter of the heart. 

The place where such things as love and fear and joy and hope and loneliness and anger reside, so there, too, resides the answer to the brokenness and the source of our joy and healing.  I think that’s what it means when the Bible says, Christ lives in us.   That our core is transformed.  Our heart is transformed.

St.  Paul today in our second lesson spoke of such matters of the heart.  He spoke of those things which are destructive, which break relationships, are isolating  and those which are grace-bearing, healing and relationship building.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” he says.  Anger is a tremendous relationship breaker and isolator.  This country is an angry place.  We’re angry with each other, with institutions, at groups.  Anger is an isolating emotion that brings us finally to loneliness. . .as we stew against the world, being cooked in our own bitterness.  Anger is a dangerous thing.  Paul doesn’t say, “don’t get angry,” that’s naïve.  He says don’t let the sun go down on your anger, don’t let it become a cycle that isolates you and others.

Paul spoke of dishonesty, falsehood as a relationship breaker, as an isolator.  “Put away all falsehood and speak the truth to your neighbors, for you are members of one another.”  You see, that’s key.  We are not meant to be isolated.  We are not meant to be lonely.  We are not meant to be separated with one another.  To be dishonest with those in whom we come in contact is to break the natural relationship we have.  We are members of one another, we are the global village, we the body of Christ, the communion of saints.  To be untrue to one another is to break that relationship.

To take from one another, to take that which is not ours. . .  and I don’t just mean picking a pocket. . . but the inequity of the wealth and resources in the world is isolating, relationship-breaking. . .  the power of the strong over the powerless, the hoarding of wealth while others starve. . .the seeking of individual satisfaction at the expense of community well-being,   is theft on a grand scale.  Paul knows that these break relationship . . .he says, “let them labor and work honestly with their own hands so they have something to share with the needy.”   Part of the expectation of the kingdom is that we share for the sake of the community.  It is not our natural state before God that we would not be in communion with each other.  We are members of one another.

Gossiping and putting down, this is Eighth Commandment stuff, not bearing false witness.  “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” he said, “but only what is useful in building up so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”  Grace, which is love and mercy and the word of God’s favor, grace is a gathering, community, gift.   False witness and put downs, racism, gossiping, and self-righteousness break relationships . . . break relationships, leave us isolated. . .  and can break our hearts.

In the broader view, this is what sin does, that is why we call it brokenness.  It breaks our relationship with God, the relationship in which we can least afford to be isolated.  That’s why we call sin brokenness.   But God doesn’t want that.  That’s not humanity’s natural state.  It is not the ideal community of grace.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  That is where our Lord Jesus comes in to draw us back together, gather us around the table of forgiveness and community and faith.   To teach us another way . . . to feed and heal our hearts, transform our centers where the isolating impulses of humanity will tear us apart, one from another, and one from God.   God wants that healed, and when we feed on the grace and forgiveness and mercy of Christ, we are drawn again together.  You see, in Christ we are never alone.  In the confession of Christ we are part of God’s kingdom, Christ’s community.

There are ways of the world are full of unredeeming things to sate our appetites.  But the true food of the community, the gathering banquet, Jesus calls the bread of life.  The loving sacrifice of Christ and his abiding presence among us . . .is the bread of life.    It feeds our hearts, nourishes the very center of our selves.   The character of our being which seeks division is healed and, fed by this bread, we seek community with God and with one another.

That is our natural state to be together, to be gathered around this bread.  That is so important in this day when we find ourselves being more and more isolated by differences in money and class and opinion.   It is so important this day to be community builders and healers wherever we are to be those who have words of grace on our lips that we might share.  Because in the giving is the getting.  The sharing is the receiving.  The community is built and sustained in a mutual way in the sharing of God’s graced.  Paul cites these, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, loving.

This is what is meant to be, what we are called to be.  And it is what we are called to do, the share this bread of life in all ways.   To seek out those who are isolated and lonely, even in our families and communities.  It is a great healing power for both body and spirit. 

Isolation and loneliness break our hearts, but through the grace and mercy of God through Christ, we are restored to our natural community and then given the power to bear that grace into the world.  It is our character and call as believers to build up and share.

We can do that today.  We change the world bit by bit from something it has become to something it is meant to be.   We sit here as a gathering of revolutionaries with the power of healing on our lips as we speak of his grace, and the power of healing in our hands as we share his touch.

We can share a word of kindness and welcome and hope with someone today . .  this week.   It may be with a stranger or even with someone with whom we have that we are responsible for another’s, but alone is alone. . .  and pain is pain and heartbreak is heartbreak, and words of mercy and grace and kindness on our lips brings grace, Paul says, to those who hear them.

May God be with us as we journey together in grace.   Certainly he will.  He has given us the heart for it.