Chapter 3: God calls us - connection and community
When we lose our sense of purpose and meaning, we lose our sense of connection to others and God; we lose our sense of community. Without a sense of purpose, other people mean little to us because we no longer value ourselves.
A Veteran sat in a Veterans’ hospital outpatient clinic PTSD group. The chaplain had just asked the group, “What is the most difficult aspect of dealing with PTSD?” An older Veteran began, “For me it is the loneliness. I feel like no one can understand what I am going through. After I gave up on life, I didn’t want to be around people. I was suspicious of anyone who reached out to me. I thought they were only trying to con me or get something from me. I became sarcastic and had a ‘nasty’ attitude. I really believed I didn’t need anybody else and I told anybody who would listen.”
Another Veteran came to see the chaplain saying, “I am soon to be discharged from the alcohol and drug treatment program. I think I have done well in the 28 days of treatment, but now the counselors are telling me that I need to get a sponsor. They are saying there is no way that I can stay sober without a sponsor. Chaplain, I got Jesus and I got God. I don’t think I need a sponsor; I don’t need other people in my life.”
When we give up on letting others be a core part of our lives, it is often because of a significant loss in our lives. We have had an idea - for example, “If I am good, nothing bad will happen to me or to those I love;” or we have a relationship - for example, a spouse, lover, friend – to whom we can no longer hold fast. Perhaps we are sick in spite of having been a good person; perhaps our spouse, lover or friend dies, becomes ill or leaves us. It is then that we are tempted to give up, to believe life has no purpose. It is then that our hurt and grief tempt us to pull away from connection and community. It is then that we may tell ourselves, “I am never going to have high ideals again, I am never going to let myself be hurt again. I am going to build a shell around myself and let no one or no purpose ever enter my heart again.”
There is good news: God has felt this same pain each time we have left our relationship with God. Yet God has not given up on us. God invites us to reconnect with him and with others. We are invited to let go of the burden and loneliness of pretending we are self-sufficient and join the community. Through many generations, people have received this same invitation. We are in good company, as shown in the Scriptures below.
Readings from the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures
At the time of creation, God provided humankind with companionship.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.” Then the LORD God made the man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh. He formed a woman out of the rib and brought her to him. Then the man said, “At last, here is one of my own kind – bone taken from my bone, and flesh from my flesh. ‘Woman’ is her name because she was taken out of man.”
The Ten Commandments, given to Moses at Mount Sinai, form the basis of a committed relationship between God and God’s people and is foundational to life in community.
God spoke, and these were his words:
“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.
“Worship no god but me.
“Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the LORD your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws.
“Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the LORD your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.
“Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work — neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. In six days I, the LORD, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the LORD, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.
“Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.
“Do not commit murder.
“Do not commit adultery.
“Do not steal.
“Do not accuse anyone falsely.
“Do not desire another man’s house; do notdesire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys,or anything else that he owns.”
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, advises Moses to delegate leadership responsibilities to others so that he does not have to bear the burden alone.
Jethro said, “You are not doing this right. You will wear yourself out and these people as well. This is too much for you to do alone. Now let me give you some good advice, and God will be with you. It is right for you to represent the people before God and bring their disputes to him. You should teach them God’s commands and explain to them how they should live and what they should do. But in addition, you should choose some capable men and appoint them as leaders of the people.
Let them serve as judges for the people on a permanent basis. They can bring all the difficult cases to you, but they themselves can decide all the smaller disputes. That will make it easier for you, as they share your burden. If you do this, as God commands, you will not wear yourself out, and all these people can go home with their disputes settled.” Moses took Jethro’s advice and chose capable men from among all the Israelites.
Life in community involves providing for the poor and respecting all people.
“When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left. Do not go back through your vineyard to gather the grapes that were missed or to pick up the grapes that have fallen; leave them for poor people and foreigners. I am the LORD your God.”
“Do not bear a grudge against others, but settle your differences with them, so that you will not commit a sin because of them. Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the LORD.
“Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Like a loving husband, God continues to reach out to his people.
I will establish my people in the land
and make them prosper.
I will show love to those who were called “Unloved,”
and to those who were called “Not-My-People”
I will say, “You are my people,”
and they will answer, “You are our God.”
The prophet Micah teaches what God requires to live in community with one another and in fellowship with God.
The LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Readings from the New Testament
Jesus speaks of the importance of staying grounded in God’s Word.
“The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’ ”
Jesus teaches about God’s ruling activity and God’s will. He offers a vision of God’s kingdom that is marked by justice.
Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down. His disciples gathered round him, and he began to teach them:
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
“Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
“Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
“Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
“Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
“Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
“Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!”
“You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it.
“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”
“So if you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Nothing can separate us from God’s love. The apostle Paul wrote:
We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.
For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below — there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Love binds everything together. The apostle Paul wrote:
I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains — but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned — but if I have no love, this does me no good.
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear.
When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete — as complete as God’s knowledge of me.
Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13
Thoughts for Reflection
- Make a list of the various ways you have turned away from others who have offered to befriend or love you.
- What frightens you about letting yourself be loved by God and others?
- What frightens you about offering yourself to be a member of a loving community?
- What is the next step you are willing to take to become more involved with a loving community?
- What is the next step you are willing to take to accept God’s presence as a reality in your daily life?
Dear God, I have wandered away from my true identity as your child. My attention has been diverted by many things. Because I was hurt, I have turned away from you. Because others have been imperfect, I have turned away from them. I have expected them to be more than I can be. Because I have seen those who live by low ideals, I have given up my high ideals.
As I have wandered away from you, I know I am slowly dying. As I have closed my heart to others, I only make my own pain and loneliness worse. Help me turn around. Help me open my heart. Help me give you the pain I carry within me and dare to reach out to others. Help me begin to hope again. Help me take one next step to be in a loving community today. Amen.
A Blessing for You
May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.