Alone with God
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden 
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, September 24, 2000


Readings

Genesis 12:18-25 The creation of Eve


The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.


Mark 9:2-8 The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" Suddenly, when they looked round, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.


Arcana Coelestia #139 Dwelling alone

In ancient times those who were guided as heavenly people by the Lord were said to "dwell alone," since evil forces, or evil spirits, were no longer harassing them. . . .

These descendants [symbolized by Adam] of the very earliest religion did not want to dwell alone; they did not want to be heavenly people--that is, to be guided as heavenly people by the Lord. Rather, they wanted to be among the nations, just as the [early] Jewish Church did. And since that was what they desired, it says, "It is not good that the man should be alone." In fact, when this is what we desire, we are already under the influence of evil, and our wish is granted.


Sermon

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. (Mark 9:2)

The Christian path can be a lonely one.

Jesus said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13, 14).

That is the way it often feels to us as we make our way in this world, trying to live according to our spiritual beliefs and ideals; trying to follow the Lord. The world has a set of values that revolve around money, power, physical beauty, material possessions, and the kinds of pleasure these can give us. And the world is not shy about pressing its case. We are inundated with advertising that entices us to go for the pleasures this material life has to offer. And when we look around at our society, it does seem that all this advertising strikes a responsive chord. It does seem that the people in our society are driven largely by material needs and wants.

Where do we fit in if we have decided that we do not want our lives to be driven by material possessions, personal power, and physical pleasure? How do we fit into this world if we have decided that we want to devote our lives to the Lord, and to live by a higher, spiritual standard? How can we fit into a world that values material things over spiritual ones, and personal control over God's power?

Yes, the Christian life can be a lonely one. It is easy to feel that if we didn't have so many moral scruples, we could have gotten a lot farther in this life. Our church does not believe there is anything wrong with enjoying material and physical pleasures. But all too often we find ourselves in situations where we can either do what is good and right or we can gain money, power, and advancement. All too often, we face a difficult choice between following the path of what is spiritual, loving, and right on the one hand, or following the world's way of doing things in order to advance our own position, or our family's finances. All too often we are put to the test: which will we serve? God or money? (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).

When we choose to follow God rather than money, we may find ourselves in a very isolated position. We may find ourselves all alone as the world passes us by, shaking its collective head at us and wondering why we gave up all those opportunities for advancement because of some vague ideals.

And sometimes, as we search our souls, our ideals do begin to look rather vague. We start thinking that maybe we have let the world pass us by; that maybe being spiritual is simply impractical. We start think that perhaps it would be better if we just "went along with the crowd." The grass often looks so much greener on the other side. . . .

Perhaps this was how it felt for the (figurative) Adam as he stood there alone in the garden, without anyone to share his life with. Yes, there were all those animals God made for him--and he even got to name them! But he couldn't talk to them. They didn't speak his language. They were on a whole different level--a thoroughly material level that mostly involved eating, sleeping, reproducing, and basking in the sun.

The animals did not feel alone; they were too busy simply existing. They didn't have to make choices between the fruits of the different trees. They simply ate what appealed to them. Their existence and purpose was clear, and there were no moral choices for them.

Does this sound familiar? Not to cast any aspersions . . . okay, I admit it, this does cast aspersions! . . . but people who live entirely for physical and material pleasures are not all that different from the lower animals. Yes, they are more intelligent. And yes, they do have the capacity to make moral choices. But let's face it: when our lives revolve around material and physical pursuits, there is not much that distinguishes us from the lower animals. We spend our time working, eating, sleeping, reproducing, and basking in the sun.

When we devote our lives to these things, we also do not face the inner struggles that those who are on a spiritual path face. Yes, we may face material losses: we may lose our job; we may lose a lot of money in the stock market; we may lose someone close to us; we may lose our physical health. All of these do give us a sort of material grief and pain even when we have no spiritual values. The grass on the other side is not always as green as it looks.

Yet these material griefs and pains pale in comparison to the spiritual struggles we face when we turn our lives away from purely material existence and follow a spiritual path.

For example, parents who have mainly material aspirations for their children--hoping they will become wealthy, powerful, and famous--do feel a certain pain if their children don't measure up to their expectations. They do feel a certain angst at seeing them struggle financially along with everyone else, firmly anchored in lower-middle-class existence.

But can this compare to the true anguish of parents who work hard to raise children who will live by deeper, spiritual values, only to see them turned aside by the lures of the world, rejecting everything they tried so hard to inculcate in them as they grew up? Or can it compare to the anguish of spiritual parents who must watch their children struggling with moral, ethical, and spiritual dilemmas, tugged by the persuasive call of this world's values?

A Christian must face many inner struggles that the world knows nothing about. Those who follow the ways of the world do not enter into the arena of combat between our higher, spiritual nature and our lower, materialistic nature. Everyone here in this church today has probably faced this struggle in different ways, at different times in our lives. We all know something of the inner anguish of spiritual struggle.

When we feel that anguish of inner struggle, we often feel especially alone. As the old hymn goes, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen." We see the people around us apparently enjoying their lives, and we feel alone in our misery. Perhaps the early people represented by Adam in the Garden of Eden felt this way. Perhaps they just wanted to be like the materialistic, animalistic world all around them. Perhaps they no longer wanted to struggle with the deeper issues of spiritual growth. Perhaps as a culture they were exhausted by the six days of labor that it took to create that first race of spiritual beings, and now they simply wanted to turn back to where they came from--back to the dust of the earth.

We do know that they were no longer satisfied to be alone with God. They had never truly been alone, because they always had God's companionship. They could talk with God person to person, as easily as strolling together in the garden. But their minds and hearts were turning away from God, toward material things. They wanted to make their own way in the world, free from strictures such as: "You must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because on the day that you eat of it, you will surely die" (Genesis 2:17).

Their desire to follow a path that God had told them would result in death left them truly alone. Now they were no longer together with God.

God knew they couldn't be prevented from following their desires. And God does allow us to follow whatever path we choose--even if he knows it will cause the death of our higher values, loves, and aspirations. On the very day that we eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil by deciding we can run our own lives without God's help, we suffer a spiritual death that leads to inner aloneness. It is the aloneness of being separated from our Creator--from the one who loves and understands us most of all.

Adam and Eve also suffered a death as soon as they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They suffered the death of their innocence, and the death of their person-to-person relationship with God. That death led to a life of hardship and struggle: a life of tilling the earth with painful toil, of eating their bread in the sweat of their brows, of suffering with painful childbirth, and struggling with the domination of one person over another.

Does this sound a little too familiar?

The human decision to go it alone instead of remaining alone with God has led to all the struggle, toil, and pain that we face in this life. Our desire to follow our own ways instead of God's ways causes the true loneliness of being cut off emotionally and spiritually both from God and from one another. Our decision to live for power and possessions rather than for the love of God and our neighbor is the cause of all the oppression, famine, poverty, and war on the world scale, and of all the crime, fraud, hostility, and broken relationships on the individual level.

Even many things we call "natural disasters" can be traced to our own foolishness. For example, if we choose to live right on a fault line, and to construct our buildings cheaply rather than well, we almost guarantee that sooner or later we will suffer a terrible catastrophe as an earthquake levels our homes and businesses, with us inside. Or to use a Biblical image, if we build on the sand, sooner or later the ocean is going to come crashing in on our house and destroy it. It is our choice whether we foolishly build on the sand, or wisely build on the stable rock (Matthew 7:24-27).

Yes, the lure of the world is strong. But when we raise our minds up to a spiritual level, and look at the broader scope of human existence, we can see very clearly that going it alone by following our own ways rather than God's ways will inevitably lead to pain, destruction, and death--both material and spiritual. This perspective can help us as we consider what kind of aloneness we want to experience in our lives. We can choose to be alone from God by "following a crowd to do wrong" (Exodus 23:2). Or we can choose to endure what the world sees as loneliness and isolation in order to be "alone with God" in the best sense of that phrase.

This is the path that the Lord's three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, chose. At one point, Peter said to Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you. What, then, will there be for us?" (Matthew 19:27). Jesus answered his question at the time, telling Peter that all who give up homes or family or property in order to follow him will receive far greater blessings, both in this life and in the next (Mark 10:29-30).

And yet, he had already answered Peter's question in a much more profound way--not simply in words, but by his own living presence. Peter, James, and John were the Lord's closest disciples because they had left behind their old, materialistic lives and followed Jesus in a more thoroughgoing way than anyone
else. And it was these three--and no others--who were able to have that wonderful mountaintop experience of seeing the Lord transfigured as a glorious being of light and love. What Peter, James, and John saw was just about as close as human eyes can come to beholding the true nature of God.

In the course of a Christian life, we will probably have many times when we feel alone--when we feel that we must give up everything we hold dear in order to follow the path that the Lord calls us to. But we receive a far greater blessing in return: the blessing of having the Lord's infinite love and wisdom shining within us.

When we are alone with God, we never need to feel lonely. Even during the times when we feel all alone in this world, we will always have a far deeper companionship. We will always have the Lord Jesus to turn to as our Savior from everything this world throws at us, and as our Friend through all the joys and sorrows, all the struggles and triumphs of our lives. Amen.

 


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