Isolation is the Enemy

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Our focal scriptures both come from Matthew

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 4:18-22

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Saturday,  I went up to see Janice Moore in Vergennes.  Janice is a parishioner who was a member of Rupert Methodist for most of her life. Over 90 years old, she has lived alone for many years.  A few months ago, Janis fell going up the stairs to her house and has been in a hospital, and then a nursing home ever since.

Janice has had failing health, and even more a failing mind ever since I have known her. Particularly in the past few years she has become more and more feeble-minded, unable to remember things, stumbling over her speaking, often forgetting basic things like eating regularly.

But that began to change after her fall, and with her time in the hospital. Surrounded by people, no longer isolated, I have watched Janice, the Janice that people used to tell me about, emerge – a funny, thoughtful woman who was involved and connected with life and with people.

At the nursing home, the nurses told me they call her “the instigator” because she’s always talking to people, pushing many of the other people there to come out of their shell and talk. “We love her.” they said.

I’ve made no secret that I felt much of Janice’s decline had more to do with isolation than age. In fact, as a church, we had become more deliberate about visiting her more regularly and were starting to see some results.  In an odd way, Janice’s fall has been one of the best things to happen to her for years.

After visiting Janice, I have thought a lot about isolation. I have come to believe isolation is the enemy of many things.

I thought back on my own experience, and how, in a self-imposed isolation in trying to take care of too much in my life, I became first stale, and later, deeply depressed.  I thought of couples I have counseled, and how often one or more of the people in the couple had become isolated from friends and activity. I thought of people I knew going through poor health or tough times, too often holding it in and not sharing their struggles.

In every one of these cases, every single one, the isolation was damaging. It left the people weaker, more broken, and lengthened the time and work it took to get better.

Isolation is bad for us.  Doctors say that isolation is as bad, or worse than smoking. It is bad for our health and bad for our mortality. It weakens our immune system. It increases inflammation and stress and makes us more susceptible to arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.  Isolation increases our chances of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It messes with our sleep patterns, shortens our attention span, screws with our logic and thinking function, and in bad cases, messes with our sense of time.

And that’s what we see isn’t it? It’s what I saw with Janice. It’s what I saw with myself. It’s what I have seen in struggling couples, aging people, and people struggling with life events.

Loneliness, or social isolation has increased in the last forty years. By over 40%.  And with that increase, has come the increase in all the other problems it causes.  Isolation, many doctors believe, is worse for our physical health than smoking or obesity, and worse for our mental health than heavy drinking.

The good news, of course, is that ending isolation can change that.  Just looking at my own experience, looking at Janice, looking at others who broke that pattern of self-isolation, we can see that putting ourselves out there, sharing our lives, good and bad; getting involved with people around us, can completely turn things around and improve our lives, our health, and our mental and emotional health.

It’s hugely important.  But we don’t talk about it.  

Well, I want to talk about it today, and I want to talk about a different kind of isolation. Spiritual isolation.

Spiritual isolation is what happens when we “go it alone” in our spiritual lives.
And a lot of times, we do.

Maybe, on the surface, we are doing all the right things. We go to church. We read the bible. We pray each day. But somehow, we don’t really let ourselves get involved. We don’t feel like we are part of the faith community. We hold ourselves back from sharing deeply, or becoming a part, or getting too spiritual. We don’t feel God’s presence in our lives. And we don’t feel we are being the best person God (and we) would want us to be.

Or, maybe we are really going it alone. We don’t need church to worship after all. We don’t need church to learn about God, or to do good works. I would never argue those points. But at some point, we feel… alone. We encounter places in life where we are not alone, where we need help, where we hit a spiritual wall. But we are isolated because we’ve chosen spiritual isolation.

I want us, for a minute to look at Jesus, because we can learn something important from his example.  We don’t know much about Jesus’ early life.  We know about his birth. We know about his family fleeing to Egypt for a couple of years, And we know about the episode in the temple when he was 12 and astounded the teachers with his knowledge and wisdom.

But we know little else. There are no other references to his childhood. Not in the bible. Not in history. Not in his own words or any others.  He kind of disappears.

We assume some things – That he continued to study. That he continued to learn. That he felt some kind of calling to ministry. But he is making no mark in the world.  His ministry has not begun.

And then comes his baptism. You know the scripture….

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

 And suddenly, Christ is filled.  It is not just him in the ministry. He is filled with the Holy Spirit, an enabling spirit that powers ministry and the sharing of the good news. He is filled with the full power of God.

Yes, he goes from here to the desert, where he is tested, but he is not there in isolation. He does not go UNTIL he is filled with the spirit, Because, I believe, he is not ready for testing until this moment when he goes there with the spirit.

As soon as he comes back from the desert, he begins to preach publicly. But even then, he understands that alone is not the way to do it.

Matthew 4:18-22

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus, immediately, gathered his friends and disciples around him. Immediately.

Now, let me ask you something.  Why, if Jesus understood that we are not meant to be alone spiritually. Why do we thing we can do it?

We can’t.

One of the things that we often hear people say when the subject of church comes up is that they don’t need it.

But I believe we do.  Because when we live in spiritual isolation, we live in a weakened, vulnerable state. We need the holy spirit to strengthen us. We need Godly people around us for examples. We need Godly people around us to learn from. We need Godly people around us to hold us up.  The simple truth is that we serve God better together than apart.

I don’t know where you are spiritually.  I don’t know if you are going it alone, or living in a place with lots of activity, little spirit. I don’t know if you are filled with the spirit. I don’t know if you are struggling with your problems with others around us to help bear our burdens, or if we are living with the support of the good people around us who would be there to help us with our burdens and journey if only they knew them. I simply don’t know where you are.

But I do know this. If we, as individuals, as Christians,  as the church, …….. want to be the best, strongest, most effective Christians we can, then We need to follow Christ’s own example.

We need to end our isolation. We need to share one another’s burden. We need to surround ourselves with people, and help and be helped, strengthen and be strengthen. We need to ask in the Holy Spirit. Only then can we begin, just as we do when we end physical and emotional isolation… only then can we heal, grow strong, and become the best people, and best Christians we can be. Only then can we become our best selves.

And so I ask you – are you in isolation? Are you open to sharing yourself, open to God’s spirit and God’s people. If so, I rejoice with you. If not… think on it. Pray on it. Ask others. Share yourself.

End the isolation. Because isolation is the enemy.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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