TRA Wordtalks

TRA 29th September, 2002
Antidote for Loneliness

Luke 19:1-10

Loneliness is the urban disease of the twenty-first century. What the plague was to medieval centuries, smallpox was to the eighteenth century, tuberculosis and typhoid was to the nineteenth century, AIDS was to the twentieth century, loneliness is to the twenty-first century! But some will argue, "Are not heart disease and cancer our great urban diseases? The greatest causes of death among adults in Australia?" 

Certainly. More people die by disease than are killed in war. The greatest killers are not atomic bombs but microscopic bacteria. In western communities the greatest killers are heart disease and cancer. So what is this emphasis upon loneliness as being the urban disease of the century? What if it could be proved that loneliness was a major contributing factor behind all major urban diseases? Professor James Lynch, Director of the Psychosomatic Clinic, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, USA, has assembled his evidence in "THE BROKEN HEART: THE MEDICAL CONSEQUENCES OF LONELINESS". He examined all the causes of premature death - that is death other than by the natural process of aging: heart disease. cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, accidents, motor vehicle accidents, influenza, pneumonia, homicide, suicide and so on. Extensive studies, including those of whole communities over a 30 year span were taken and examined. Mortality rates were compared with lifestyles for each of these diseases and a disturbing pattern began to emerge. In the highest incidence of each of these diseases, loneliness was a significant factor. Premature death was more frequent in all categories among people who lived alone.

You might ask: "Do you mean that people who live alone are likely to smoke more than those who live in a family and so be exposed to more cancer risk? Are they likely to drink more and so suffer from car accidents and cirrhosis of the liver?" Yes! The answer is clear: premature death occurs among bachelors at seven times the rate as among married men; divorced people who remain single die younger than married people; coronary death among young widows 24-34 years of age is five times coronary death among married women of the same age group. The incidence of tuberculosis is ten times the rate among single people than married people. Unmarried men have seven times the rate of death by cirrhosis of the liver than married men. People living on their own have higher premature death rates in every category including death by accident, fire, motor vehicle accident, sexually transmitted diseases, homicide and suicide than people who live with other people. 

Statistics prove we live together but die alone. Loneliness is a health hazard brought about by people losing the sense of community and family intimacy that has marked every other age. In Australia, we now have more single person dwelling units than family homes in this country. It is not marriage that makes the difference. The difference lies in not living in a social network or a family. Professor Lynch says: "The lack of human companionship, the sudden loss of love, and chronic human loneliness are significant contributors to serious disease and premature death." One of our best known psychologists, Dr Lyn Barrow, with Peter Martin, examined 3000 Sydney people. 

They found that lonely people actually moved round many people but they felt themselves disconnected, isolated, alienated, God-lonely. Most were empty, lacking commitment, brooding over the situation with feelings of despair, self-pity and hopelessness. Dr Barrow says: "We should realize that loneliness is not a physical state. It is an emotion, a feeling. We should remember that the condition is not fixed or permanent, but a state that is temporary, a situation that can be and will be changed." 

What can help the lonely change their situation? Can a lonely person ever overcome circumstances to be confident and strong, living victoriously? Is there any insight in the teaching or experience of Jesus that demonstrates victory over loneliness? The town of Jericho has been continuously inhabited for the past 10, 000 years. It is the oldest city in the world. Archaeologists have traced over twenty separate cities, one on top of the other. The Jericho of the time of Jesus was by the River Jordan. The city had been rebuilt by Herod the Great as a winter holiday resort. 

Jesus travelled from Galilee in the north, along the River Jordan, to Jericho, and then up the steep road to Jerusalem. Jesus also located the story of the Good Samaritan near here.The story of the good Samaritan is one of the best known in all the world of literature. For a millennium a caravanserai "The Inn of the Good Samaritan" has marked the spot and offered shelter to subsequent travellers. Luke records the crowds pressed around to see Jesus passing by.

The healing of blind Bartimaeus occurred when two blind beggars heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by and blind Bartimaeus called out "Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!" The people tried to keep him quiet but he persisted, until Jesus stopped and came over to him and asked, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind Bartimaesus said he wanted to see, so Jesus said: "Then see! Your faith has made you well". 

The crowds gathered around and the chief tax collector, a hated man called Zacchaeus, unable to see because of the crowd, climbed a sycamore tree. Jesus stopped, looked up and said: "Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today." The crowds were amazed but grumbled because Jesus had shown acceptance to one of the most hated men in Jericho. He went into the home of Zacchaeus. Jesus soon after came to the door with Zacchaeus who announced that he intended to give half of his goods to the poor and if he had cheated anyone, he would pay back four times over. The crowd was staggered with disbelief. Jesus put his arm round the shoulders of the little tax-collector and said: "Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendent of Abraham. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Today tourists photograph the lone, huge, centuries old sycamore fig, whose high branches hang over the main road. These three events speak of a person who felt incredibly alone. One was a rich man, another a small businessman, the other a beggar. Yet each felt incredibly alone and alienated from other people. 

One was alienated from society because of his own actions, the other by accident of birth, and the third by actions of others. One was permanently rejected by his peers, the other disabled physically, and the third temporarily injured. One was alienated from society by what he took from people, another by what he had to beg from people, and the other by what people had taken from him. None of the three could help themselves. People passed by all three on the other side. All three were rejects from society, hurt, alienated, despised, alone. Money could not save them, nor their employment, nor their race. They needed acceptance while they were rejected. Faith alone helped in their loneliness.

It was faith that led to the miracle of a foreigner who helped a stranger, a man known for taking becoming a giver, and a blind man seeing. Jesus could answer the needs of the lonely. He Himself was alone at the most crucial time of His life, yet He used His solitude to generate great spiritual strength to give Him victory. He promises to help us in the same situation today, if we but have faith in Him. Jesus said: "The time is come and is already here, when all of you will be scattered, each one to your own home and I will be left all alone. But I am not really alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united with Me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world." John 16:32-33 Jesus knew loneliness. Jesus said: "The time is coming and is already here, when all of you will be scattered, each one to your own home and I will be left all alone." 16:32. 

Jesus states three reasons for loneliness known by some of you here now. Jesus was alone because He had been deserted. Jesus said: "The time is coming and is already here, when all of you will be scattered." The disciples would always remember how they failed Jesus at the crucial moment and fled in fear. You also may have been deserted. Jesus was alone also because He was homeless. Some of you here know the loneliness of being homeless. Jesus said: "...all of you will be scattered, each one to your own home and I will be left." In Jerusalem the disciples had somewhere to stay. At the end of John 7, we read that "everyone went home but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives." They had homes but Jesus had "no place to lie down and rest." Lk 9:58 Judas knew precisely where to lead the soldiers and temple police. Into the Garden of Gethsemane, because "many times Jesus had met there with His disciples." 18:2 Jesus stayed in the " Starlight Hotel" as some call it who sleep in Sydney's parks. You may have no place you can call home, or perhaps, just a place to stay alone. 

But Jesus was alone also because He was a significant person. Some here may know that special kind of loneliness. Your status means rarely are you free to develop ordinary friendships. Jesus said: "I will be left all alone." Crowded by people but not able to sustain a close personal friendship. He never allowed Himself to feel orphaned though He knew solitude. No self-pity, just knowing God is in the solitude with you. Jesus put it magnificently: "But I am not really alone, because the Father is with Me." John 16:32 Jesus used His solitude to come closer to the Father. 

If we could use our faith to come closer to the Father, we too could overcome loneliness. How did Jesus use His faith to come closer the Father? Alone in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed. "Jesus went a little further into the garden, threw Himself face downward on the ground, and prayed. "My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want." Matt 26:39 Prayer brought companionship and comfort. 
"Do your friends despise, forsake thee? 
Take it to the Lord in prayer. 
In His arms He'll take and shield thee, 
Thou wilt find a solace there."

Alone in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus shared with the Father His deepest feelings. Jesus found prayer to be the deepest communication, and communication is one positive way of overcoming loneliness. Loneliness shared is loneliness halved. That is why we here have an elder or carer for everyone and why we ask you to join in our home groups and fellowship activities. We do not want you to be alone.

The beginning and end of life is always a solitary affair. We are born and we die one at a time. When John Wesley was dying, his last words were "Best of all is, God is with us." That union with God through His faith in Christ, brought him peace that passes human understanding. Right with God leads to peace within. Little wonder such a believer in Jesus lives a full, satisfying and healthy life even though they are living alone! Solitude with God - YES! Lonely? NO! Communion with God is the antidote to loneliness.

Gordon Moyes

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