The last few months I’ve had many conversations about life and death as a pastor, a son and brother. This week an old friend connected again through Facebook and our conversation was about death and life, but this time emotional and spiritual death and life. Her marriage ended and, in this crisis, she gave herself completely to Jesus, finding new life in him. That’s why when I was reflecting on this story, the theme of life jumped out at me. There’s much to this simple story, but this morning let’s think about life: who it comes from and how, who we are, and what it’s all about.
Life comes from God. Everything in the world has its beginning in God. In Genesis 1, Moses tells us that God spoke and life appeared. But now he gives life differently; in a personal, intimate loving way. God takes dirt, and like a potter, shapes it into a human being. Humanity comes from creation itself, intimately tying us to creation. But after God shapes this human out of dirt, it lies there; still just a clod of earth.
Life doesn’t come from God speaking this time, “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God gets close and personal in giving us life, breathing life into us. The word for breath is the same word for spirit. God breathed his spirit into us, helping us understand what it means to be created in the image of God. God’s spirit gives us life. God’s image comes from his life-giving spirit. The form of our bodies is wonderful because God creates masterpieces. Psalm 139 reminds us “we are fearfully and wonderful made.” Your body, whatever its shape or size is beautiful and wonderful, a gift given by God. Our life is God given and this means you are precious to him, a beloved child, a dear friend of Jesus. Meaning and purpose come in being God’s beloved and being made in his image. Developing and taking care of God’s creation is the bonus part. The life we receive from God is eternal, there’s no death in the life we’re given, but a full life in relationship with our creator.
Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. After Adam is given life, God brings all the creatures of creation to Adam to see what Adam will name them. God is getting Adam to show him what he sees in the creatures God created. I wonder what Adam saw in each of the creatures that caused him to create names like crocodile, giraffe, hippopotamus or even snail or worm. After all the creatures come, not a single one is found to be a suitable helper for Adam. He’s alone. God’s there, but it’s not the same as having someone who’s like you, whose life reflects yours, who experiences life like you do.
Loneliness is experienced by so many people today. It’s a chronic problem. I’m certain that there are some of you who wrestle with loneliness, having no one that you feel you can share with, that you are able to experience life deeply with, who understands you, or wants to and tries to understand you. We may be connected to others through our smart phones and social media accounts and still many people struggle with loneliness. Natalie Shoemaker writes, “More and more adults . It's not just the elderly, but younger adults 18 to 24 that are reporting these feelings of isolation. write that loneliness is becoming a modern epidemic, even when we're more connected than ever, these thoughts of being alone together are breaking us down. Humans are social creatures--we thrive in groups and decline when we're alone for too long, often becoming depressed. But the Cacioppos explain that loneliness doesn't just mean being physically alone, it can also mean feeling like you're on the social perimeter of a group.”
This is why so many LGBTQ persons and people from minorities struggle with loneliness and feelings of isolation. Jesus created the church to be a place where people can find community, belonging and acceptance. Churches often have focused on sin and separation from sin, but Jesus challenges us to examine our own lives before judging others. We’re not going to change anyone by judging them, but when we welcome them as persons created in the image of God, given life through God’s breath, the Holy Spirit brings new life. Brennan Manning puts it this way, “Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them—fully aware that his table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats….” Jesus loves us as we are as he offers life and his love and acceptance. We are all sinners being offered grace and hope by Jesus.
So, what does God do about Adam’s loneliness? He puts Adam to sleep, takes a rib from his side and creates a woman. She’s a suitable helper, ezer is the word used, a word that God later uses to describe himself. Ezer’s not about position, but about relationship that fits each other. We’re not meant to be lonely. I wrestled with loneliness for a long time even though I have a wonderful wife and many friends. It was only after Jesus' words that he would never leave us alone sunk deep into my heart and soul that the loneliness really left. I enjoy being alone, but I no longer experience loneliness because I've allowed Jesus a place front and center in my life. There are times when being alone is good, but alone is different from loneliness. Relationship is part of the image of God. God is three persons in one, he’s a community that blesses and builds each person up. The church is to be community too; building relationships with the lonely, those on the fringes of society, the people overlooked, unloved and rejected. Jesus was accused of living too closely with the sinners, the drunkards, the impure. This is where we are called to live too.
God breathes into dry dead places, giving life and fullness and hope. The prophet Ezekiel is taken by the Spirit of God to a valley filled with dry bones. Hear what happens next, Ezekiel 37 (NLT) “Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” ... Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man… ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” So, I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies.” God breaths new life into his people, he brings hope and transformation, he gives us himself still today.
In John 20, Jesus has risen from the grave after dying on the cross for our sin. He meets his followers who are together in a locked room in fear, John 20 (NLT) “Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus breaths on them, this is how Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit! Through the Holy Spirit comes belonging, new life, hope, the experience of forgiveness and grace, the gift of community and relationship in the community of the church.
If you’re searching for life, hope, and community, Jesus invites you to come to him because he loves you, accepts you. As Jesus followers, we’re here to walk with you so your loneliness can be a thing of the past, so you can experience the full life Jesus offers you. For those of you who are experiencing the blessing of life in Jesus, the call to you this morning is to pay attention to the people Jesus places in your path, be quick to build into those relationships, and even more quick to invite them to come to know Jesus with you so they can experience new life as part of the community of Jesus.