Veterinarians all over America report a surge in calls from dogs, cats, and even parakeets, concerned about their humans. A typical report came from a friendly dog we will only call "R", to protect the identity of his human. "There she was, doc, on a Sunday morning standing right in the middle of the living room in front of the TV. Her arms were raised, and she was singing at the top of her lungs. Cat and I just looked at her--we are both convinced she went over the edge this time." Vets across America are having to explain the strange behaviors in humans who (unlike pets) are rarely left home alone.
Alone. Because God made us social creatures, being "connected" is of great importance to us. We thank God that while we are secluded in our homes to avoid COVID 19 (at least, you are supposed to be), we have multiple devices and tools to use to keep in touch with one another. What a blessing to be able to live-stream our Sunday morning teaching, and to see by way of comments that though the auditorium is empty, you are with us. You will have to sing louder this week however, because I couldn't hear you! Don't worry about the dog.
The image of the body of Christ is used to describe and emphasize the importance of this connectedness, as each part of the body contributes to the whole, and the entire body in each part grows through ministering to one another. So, we miss that! The significant gain that comes from being together can only partly be realized when we are apart. Next week we will remember Christ in communion--we hope you will join us on "livestream" alone, or with family, and experience what is by very name a "together" event (communion/fellowship/shared life in Christ) "connected" virtually and in spirit.
But there is another side to this coin, and it has begun to gnaw at me a bit as pastor. As I hear and read Christian writers and church leaders speak to our present situation, many sound as if they are afraid that without our ability to gather, people will falter in their faith. If they don't have their church service, or their Community Group, or their whatever gathering, somehow they will fall--as if they can't handle being left alone. As if, contrary to Christ's promised presence, they actually are alone! As if it is the connectedness to one another that gives them life and growth. If indeed you, who have been under this poor shepherd's leading for nearly 19 years, are spiritually in danger because for a season you must stand in your faith on your own--that is to my shame. It would be my failure.
Our role as undershepherds is to make certain you, the flock, are vitally connected to the Good Shepherd Jesus. He is the source of our life and growth, as is emphasized in the passage we study this week in Colossians. Note well his words about the false teachers who threaten to lead the flock astray, described in Colossians 2:19--
...and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
We pastors should be leading you to hold on to Christ, who gives life and growth, so that even if you must be alone (with Jesus), you will stand alone. Jesus warned that his followers would at least at times find themselves in that very situation. But, he is with them, and will help them to stand. The "joints and ligaments" of the body are means he uses to mature each member of the body, to be sure. But maturity is the intended outcome. So there is an expectation that through that process you will be at a point where you and Jesus are strong together to stand in the face of difficulty, and live on, still experiencing all the fruits of the abundant life he came to give us. That life is in him! I think of the apostle Paul, alone in prison, but writing of his exuberant joy and rejoicing in Christ. I wonder if any critters were observing him, wondering if he was over the edge?
I believe we will come away from this season seeing our gathering times as of greater importance than we ever have. But I hope you will also take this opportunity to "disconnect" from all the connectedness with others, at least for a moment or two. I know it is hard, but set the phone aside, and turn off the computer. Ask the Father to show you some fresh insight from his precious Word, then get out your Bible and be fed directly from the life-giving Scriptures by the living and present Spirit of God. Strengthen your connection to the Head of the body, Jesus.
You are not alone. Let the presence of Christ with you give you strength today. Then, you will see us Sunday, Lord willing. Our livestream is at 10 am. I look forward to being with you, though apart.