It won’t be any big surprise to you if I told you that the people of the world are generally divided into a variety of categories. One size does not fit all. We could easily think of many different categories. There are male and female. There are some from the east and the west, the north and the south. Those who speak different languages are distinguished because of ethnic backgrounds. In spiritual circles we could talk about the variety of world religions. In protestant circles we could think about Baptist, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Methodists. We could talk about the rich and the poor, the good, the bad, but not the ugly!
There are lots of ways to distinguish one person from the next. In fact, we hold diversity as one of our primary values in the United States. But when it really comes down to really identifying a key factor for separating the flock it is not about sheep and goats, it is about introverts and extroverts.
How many of you would say that you are in the extrovert category? How about introverts? See extroverts raise their hand and wave it around with a big smile. On the other hand, introverts look around first to see if anyone else is raising their hand. I am firmly and proudly a card carrying introvert who finds refreshment and renewal by being alone, by being quiet, by reading and reflecting. That’s how we get our fuel. Most extroverts would shrivel up and croak if they had to be alone and quiet for very long. They want and need to be around other people. They like to talk and to process ideas through interaction. Where introverts think things through and make decisions internally.
But here is the important part…even though our journeys are different, our preferences are unique, and our life experiences come in a variety of shapes and sizes…we all have the same spiritual needs. We might receive them from a unique point of view and express them through our own lens but we all have the same spiritual needs. Proverbs 8 says it was God who marked off the boundaries of the earth’s foundation. It is God who rejoices over all of creation. And it is God who celebrates your life and rejoices over the fact that you are a part of the human family.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes the human family gets separated and strained? We are always trying to evaluate whether we in or we are out. Whether we are connected or separated from the family. One of our basic human needs is the need to belong. But from time to time we still get isolated. We get isolated from other people and we get separated from God. It happens all the time and it has nothing to do with your extrovert or introvert status.
It has everything to do with the status of our heart. We have been talking about movements of the heart. Spiritual movement in our lives that can shift us from a posture that is not so positive to a position that allows our life to grow and flourish. Today we are thinking about the movement of the heart that will take us from isolation to community.
A few years ago, I was a part of the first Kairos ministry team that was approved to work inside the Sterling Correctional Facility in north east Colorado. We went into the prison to work with a group of men who were being held in the maximum security unit. Our goal was to develop relationships, present the Gospel of Jesus and to create a pattern of follow up discipleship events. There were 30 inmates in our first group. More than half of them were going to be in for the rest of their lives. Several had already served more than 20 years of incarceration.
They all had unique journeys but there was one that stood out to me. He was assigned to my small group. We had a prior warning from the corrections officers to let us know that they would be watching him especially close. They didn’t know how he was going to react to the others in the group because he had just been released from administrative segregation where he had lived in almost total isolation for the past four years. Can you imagine four years of seeing no one? Speaking to no one?
I praise God and pray that no one in this room would ever have to live like that but you and I know that it does not take prison bars to hold us in isolation. And you and I know that for us, isolation is not a matter of legal verdict. It is a matter of the heart. Remember, the Biblical image of the heart is the center of life, the core of our desire, and the depth of our dreams. It is the place where our life and the longings of God intersect. It is a place that is designed for movement…spiritual movement.
Have you ever been captured by a spirit of isolation? Have you felt all alone? Have there been times when you have wondered if anyone understood the pain that is so deep; you cannot speak it to any other soul?
May I tell you this? I believe it with all my heart. Jesus is the hope of the world!
Imagine this. In the book of Colossians there is this beautiful poetic section in Chapter One. Scholars believe it was probably an ancient hymn. It is a partner passage to Philippians Chapter Two. You might want to read them both. The poetic language of the hymn is focused on the nature of Jesus…the visible image of the invisible God! It says he existed before anything was created and that he holds all creation together. It says that he is the head of the church which is his body and that even those who are far away from God and isolated from others are in alignment for reconciliation.
God has a plan. Jesus is the hope of the world. And that hope will move us from a spirit of isolation to the seedbed of community. That community is a gift that we call the church.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have this incredible declaration of the Apostle Peter. He is responding to a question that is presented to him by Jesus himself. But as it turns out, it is more than your typical question about how’s the weather or what time did you say it was? It is a question that creates spiritual movement. And that movement is a shift that happens within the human heart. It is a question that requires an answer that will continue to imprison our dreams or establish us as a part of the community. Jesus looks at Peter and asks, “Who do you say I am?” And you can almost see Peter’s heart as he responds, “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
Jesus then uses (for the very first time) the word ‘ecclesia’. He says, “Peter, upon this rock I will build my ecclesia…my church.” The word literally means the citizens who are called out and summoned to assemble. It is the company of the committed and the seekers. It is the world being called to obedience. And the key marker of ecclesia…the church…is a spirit of community that is centered in Jesus himself.
The church is built on Peter’s declaration of faith, not on Peter himself, but on the faith he expressed in that moment. How do we move from isolation to community? We begin to believe that Jesus is the hope of the world. We respond to that inner desire to break free by proclaiming, you are the Christ the Son of the living God. And we step forward in faith knowing that we were not created for isolation but we were designed to live, love and serve together in community.
Do you hear the connection between community and communion…it means together. Together, we will love the lord our God, love our neighbor and serve the world. Together we will come to the table so our hearts can move from whatever level of isolation we find there…to a new understanding of community.