Bishop talks about loneliness in sermon
In her sermon this Sunday (17th May), Bishop Cherry talked about loneliness.
In these difficult times when we find ourselves in isolation, the gospel reminds us when Jesus reassured his disciples that they (and we) will never be alone whatever happens to us.
We must be confident in those promises made in today’s gospel, and trust that He’s not far from each one of us.
You can read the full sermon below and watch the full service here.
Today’s gospel provides us with another passage from what’s known as the great high priestly prayer of Jesus which amounts to four whole chapters of John’s gospel account. Chapters 14 to the end of 17 come between the Last supper, recounted by John in Chapter 13, and Jesus going out to the garden with his disciples where he was arrested. The words that Jesus speaks are rich and profound and provide us with months of material to study and to pray with. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he is no longer with them physically. At this point in time, they don’t understand what is about to happen; what has to happen in order for Jesus to fulfil the work he came to do. His teaching in these chapters is given to them so that they may come to understand what is about to take place and what the implications of that are for them and for the whole world, even if that understanding emerges only after the resurrection.
In the verses we’ve just heard, Jesus seeks to reassure his friends that they will never be alone. Although he won’t be with them physically - the world will not see him - he will nevertheless, be with them. They’ll see him and know that he’s with them because he and the Father will come to them and make their home with them.
These past few months have been difficult for all of us. There’s been a real sense of aloneness, perhaps even loneliness. Many have literally been alone in their own homes. There may have been a visitor standing at the gate or in the garden at a safe distance. And there will have been some contact with friends and family, church members and ministers on the phone or some social media platform like Zoom. But apart from that they’ll have been for hours on their own. For others who share their house and home with family members, there will have been company. For some, that may have been good and enjoyable. For many whose family relationships are or have become strained or even abusive, this time of lockdown will have compounded the sense of aloneness and isolation.
The very words we’ve been hearing and using on a day to day basis speak of separation - social distancing, self-isolation, shielding all speak of deliberate separation, keeping apart, remaining alone. For those of us who are extroverts, it’s been particularly hard. A friend of mine in week 3 of the lockdown was visibly (on zoom) struggling: missing her work colleagues, missing companionship, missing the stimulation of adult conversation with those she would normally spend her working week. Even though she’s living happily with a partner, she was feeling alone and lonely; stuck - locked down - in her home.
Children are missing their friends. Christians are missing their church families. And there’s little sign of it going to get much better any time soon. Even as the lockdown eases, the vulnerable are going to remain self-isolating, those able to go out and meet up with friends and work colleagues are going to do so, but at a distance. The time when we can hug, shake hands or even be in close proximity with one another seems a long way off.
And being separated, especially when that is enforced, does things to we human beings. It affects our sense of well-being. We’re social animals in need of company and there’s an irony that in keeping ourselves physically well and safe, we risk compromising, perhaps even jeopardising, our mental, psychological and spiritual well-being.
In our gospel today, Jesus is reassuring his disciples that they (and we) will never be alone whatever happens to us. He uses a couple of images that suggest comfort, contentment and security. ‘I will not leave you orphaned’, he says. As children of the same Heavenly Father, we are to know and trust that we will never be abandoned by him, never have to live without all that a loving parent provides: protection and nourishment, safety and comfort. Jesus goes on to assure them (and us) that he and his Father will come and make their home with us - be alongside, available, a constant presence. It’s a lovely, comforting image. But there’s more.
Jesus is promising another helper, another comforter, another Advocate who will be with us forever. We must remember that this was said to his friends before the drama of the passion: before that time when they all run away and abandon him to his fate; before that awful moment when Peter denies knowing his Lord and Master; before the horrors of seeing the one in whom they’d placed all their hopes and dreams, all their futures, die a shameful death; and before their worlds fall apart and they do indeed feel abandoned and alone. Locked away behind bolted doors. Fearful and anxious. He tells them these things now, so that at the other side of his death and resurrection, and all the failures of friendship and discipleship they display, they have his promises and assurances to hang on to and live by.
In these strange and disconcerting times through which we are navigating, Jesus promises us, as he did his first followers, another Advocate. The Spirit of Truth has been given to us and is with us, here and now. ‘You know him’, Jesus says, ‘because he abides with you and is in you.’ It’s similar themes that Peter picks up as he addresses the Athenians in the earliest years of the church’s life. We are God’s offspring. Not orphans, because he is still with us. And although in our isolation and self-distancing, we may sometimes feel as if God is far away and we’re struggling to grope and find him (as the passage in Acts puts it), yet we must be confident in those promises made in today’s gospel, and trust that he’s not far from each one of us. For in him, we live and move and have our being; when alone in our homes, at a distance in the garden or supermarket or garden centre, or even in our sense of isolation loneliness.
May each of us know his continual presence with us and in us in the days and weeks to come.