Sunday, October 07, 2012

It’s Not Good to Be Alone -- A Sermon

Genesis 2:18-24

In the film Cast Away, which is a modern day retelling of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a FedEx plane goes down over the South Pacific.  The only survivor is a FedEx executive named Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks).  He tries to stay alive long enough to get rescued.  He survives, in part because he develops a friendship with a volley ball with a face drawn from us blood, and whom he calls  Wilson.  Wilson becomes his conversation partner and companion, and the message in this seems to be that it’s not good to be alone.  Now, after months of trying to get the attention of ships and planes, Chuck builds a raft, loads all the packages he had saved from the wreckage of the plane, and heads out to sea hoping that he can reach the shipping lanes so a passing ship can spot him.  Everything works out – sort of.  He does get rescued, but during the voyage a storm comes up and Wilson is lost at sea.  This loss devastates him, because Wilson had become a beloved companion, someone who in his own mind was like him.  Wilson may have been a volleyball, but he gave hope to Chuck who didn’t feel quite so alone.    

In the beginning, when God created the garden and placed the first human in it, God made an important discovery.  Although the Human could talk with God, this relationship wasn’t enough to sustain the Human.  Something was missing.  Unlike every other step in the creative process, God didn’t pronounce on this act of creation:  “It is good.”   No, God declares: “It’s not good that the human is alone.”  And when God makes this discovery, God says:  “I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.”  Yes, it’s not good for humans to be alone – not even if you’re an introvert.  And amazingly, even talking to God isn’t enough to sustain us. 

As any engineer probably knows, it’s one thing to recognize the problem and another thing to figure out a solution.  In this case, it takes a while before  God gets it right.  Do you see how God does some experimenting?  First God forms animals and birds from the ground and from the sky, and brings each of them to the Human, hoping that one of these creations will do the trick.  But that wasn’t to be the case.  The human gives them names, but none of these creations is a fitting companion.   

I realize that dogs and cats and even rats can be good companions, they still don’t take the place of another human being.  So, when the Human fails to find a suitable companion, God tries something radical. After all, God won’t be content until God is able to declare creation to be completely good.  

This time, instead of pulling materials from the ground or the sky, God decides to take the material directly from the Human.  Maybe this material will do the trick.  So God puts the Human to sleep, takes a rib – remember this is metaphor so if you’re male don’t try looking for a missing rib – and fashions that rib into a woman.  God brings the woman to the Human and presents her to him.  And the Human instantly recognizes that this is the perfect companion, the helper fit for him.  

The Human is so overjoyed to have a companion who is like him and equal with him, a person with whom he can share life, that he cries out  in joy and in gratitude:     
This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.

She will be called woman because from a man she was taken. (Vs. 23 CEB)  
Finally, God can say  “It is Good.”  

In making this declaration, the Human recognizes that the woman shares his identity, his humanity.  They belong together.  And so we belong together.  As the  passage comes to a close, we hear these words that have been spoken at many a  wedding down through the ages: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:28 NRSV). 
Although this passage has its place in wedding ceremonies – and I regularly refer to it in the weddings I perform – I think it has a much broader meaning than simply speaking to marriage.   Even this last word about being one flesh, though it has sexual connotations, can have a broader meaning.  It speaks, I believe, to our own incompleteness if we cut ourselves off from relationships with those who share in our humanity.   

Although I could use this passage to talk about marriage, I want to focus on our inherent need for community.  Like that Human who was alone, we need companions who are fit for us.  Even those of us who are introverts need companions.  Being an introvert myself, I have to get away from the crowd, but while I enjoy time alone, it doesn’t take long to get lonely.  

I think I’ve mentioned this story before, but it fits nicely here, so I’ll tell it again!  After college I spent a month or so working up in the mountains in eastern Oregon.  With just a few exceptions, I spent Monday through Friday tucked away high up in the mountains, miles from the closest human being.  I wasn’t quite as desperate as Chuck Nolan, but then I wasn’t stranded on an island for what appears to be years.  Still, I was glad to return to civilization and human companionship each weekend!   Yes, it’s not good for humans to be alone!

As we ponder this text and what it says to us, we come to celebrate World Communion Sunday.  The Lord’s Supper is truly an act of community – even if it’s two people gathered in a hospital room or a nursing home room taking a piece of bread and a cup of juice in memory of Jesus.  There is communion that takes place with God but also with each other.  

Now, we gather at the Table, at least once every Sunday, so in many ways there’s nothing special about today.  Every Sunday we break bread and share in a cup in memory of Jesus’ death on a cross.  But it’s good to stop and consider what this meal really means.  It’s a meal of memorial, but it’s also a meal of fellowship.  In the earliest days of the church the Lord’s Supper was remembered as part of a larger meal – an agape meal – where the people of God remembered Jesus’ death and resurrection and celebrated the fact that they were, and we are, the one body of Christ.  In Christ, what is separated becomes one flesh.   

As one of our communion hymns declares – there is “one bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless.  And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”  When we take bread and cup together, we bear witness to this oneness we share in Christ.  Yes, in him we become one flesh.  

As you look around today, ask yourself – is it good for humans to be alone?  Or do you need to be in relationship with others?  Do you see an extension from what we do at the Table in the Sanctuary to what we do at the Tables in Fellowship Hall?  Do you see a connection between what we do at the Table and the meals you share each day with family, with friends, with co-workers, and even with strangers?   And as you reflect on what we do at the Table do you find yourself in agreement with God’s declaration that “it’s not good for the Human to be alone?”

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
World Communion Sunday
October 7, 2012

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