It is not good that the man should be alone.Genesis 2:18
“It is not good that the man should be alone,” God declares in Genesis 2, before creating a partner for Adam. And it’s true, isn’t it? It is not good for us to be alone. God created us to be in relationship. We are meant to be in relationship with God, but also in relationship with one another.
If this past year or so has taught us anything, it is that it is not good for us to be alone. It is hard to be alone. It is stressful. It is something we try to avoid. And this pandemic has only reminded us of this.
Sometimes, of course, we have no choice but to be alone. Think about movies like Castaway, for example, with Tom Hanks. Or The Martian with Matt Damon. Both movies about a person who is alone and stranded, but also desperately trying to find a way home. Why? Because they do not want to be alone.
As God said in Genesis, it is not good for us to be alone. Not permanently. We might enjoy some alone-time, of course, but we don’t want to be stranded all alone on a deserted island! That’s not how we were made, not how we are wired. We are meant to be in relationship.
Everything that we know about God underscores this idea that we are not meant to be alone. When you think about it, God is never alone. God is the Holy Trinity. God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is Three-in-One, and One-in-Three. God is all about relationship. And since God is also love, it is a relationship that is rooted in love, and driven by love.
And that is what God wants for us. We have been created by God in the image of God; and so we have been created to be in relationship – with God, and with one another. Our relationship with God is first, of course. Nothing goes quite right when we ignore that. But our relationship with each other is just as important. We are intended to live in community, in relationship with one another.
The Challenge of Community
But, if we are going to be honest about it, there is another aspect of living in community that we also have to acknowledge: It is not good to be alone, but it is also not easy to be together! If this past year or so has taught us anything besides the fact that it is not good to be alone, it has taught us that it is not easy to be together. There is division and arguments everywhere we turn these days, at every level of society, from international and national politics, all the way down to conversations around our dinner tables.
It seems overwhelming at times, but maybe it’s strangely encouraging to realize that it is nothing new. Do you remember what happened after God created a companion for Adam? Adam was excited and thankful, of course. He and Eve had a lovely honeymoon together in the Garden of Eden. But then, soon after, they were visited by a serpent. They gave in to temptation, and got kicked out of the garden. Not long after that, their firstborn son got so angry with their second-born son that he rose up and killed him. And it didn’t take much longer until God was ready to give up on this whole experiment. Thankfully, Noah found favor in God’s sight.
I could go on, of course, but I think you get the idea. The story of the Bible, and the story of humanity itself, is really all about the tale of this strange truth: That we are meant to be together, but that we never seem to get it right. So, what is the answer to all of this? Or, to put it a little differently, what might Jesus have to say about all of this? I want to answer that by looking at today’s gospel reading, Mark 10:2-16.
Today’s Gospel Reading – Mark 10:2-16
Now to be honest, this reading might not seem like the best place to turn. It seems to be all about marriage and divorce, with a little bit about children thrown in at the end. But I really think that this whole conversation, between Jesus, the Pharisees, and his disciples, is about community.
It’s about more than marriage. Not everyone is married, after all, or will be. Not everyone will have children. And that’s okay. Jesus himself was neither married nor had any children of his own. So, marriage and children are clearly not essential to community. But you know what is essential to community? People. Jesus shows us that in his life and ministry.
Jesus did not come to earth simply to die for us, but to show us how to live. And one of the most important things that he did was to show us how to live together, in community. He called disciples, not simply to follow him, but to live with each other. And even after he was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to continue the good and holy work of building community.
Christian community is essential to Jesus. So, with that in mind, what can we learn from Jesus about Christian community? And to narrow it down, what can we learn from this particular gospel reading? I’d like to lift up three things that we can learn about Christian community from this fascinating conversation.
What God Has Joined Together …
The first thing to notice in this reading is that when Jesus is asked about divorce, he brings up the creation story in Genesis. Why? To remind them that marriage and community is God’s idea. God created marriage – and community more generally – so that we would not be alone. And Jesus created Christian community for the same reason. He created the Church, and sent the Holy Spirit; and through the Holy Spirit, called us into this community. This isn’t our idea. This isn’t even our decision. We have been called into this community. God has joined us together as a community in Christ.
Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter about the Church? “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). But the word that is translated “church” is a word, “ekklesia,” that literally means “called out.” The Church is formed by people who have been “called out” of their homes into this Christian community. Just as Jesus called out those first disciples, he calls us. We have been “called out” by the Holy Spirit. We didn’t choose to be members of this community. We have been called into it. God has joined us together. Through the Holy Spirit. Into this community called the church.
Not Quickly or Easily Abandoned
And that brings us to the second thing that we can learn about Christian community from this gospel reading. “What God has joined together,” Jesus said, “let no one separate” (Mark 10:9). And I think that what Jesus is teaching us here is that Christian community, whether it be marriage or the church, should not be quickly or easily abandoned. There are times when it should be and must be. But it should not be quick or easy. Commitment is important, even essential, to all Christian community.
Think of how committed Jesus was to his community. He knew that Judas would betray him, but he still was faithful to him to the end. He knew that all of the other disciples would abandon him, which they did when he was arrested, but after he was raised from the dead, he immediately went and found them, to forgive them. Jesus was committed to his community, and asks the same of us.
A Christian community, to put it a little differently, should not be like any other community that we belong to. A church is not like your insurance company, for example, or your bank. If you don’t like them, you switch. If you don’t like your cell phone plan, they’ll even pay you to switch. This way of thinking can find its way into the church, can’t it? Not happy with your current church? Try a different one. It happens. Not just with church members, but with pastors, too.
Jesus has a different idea. He wants community to be a place where we work things out, even when things get rough. He wants it to be a place where we set aside our own agendas, and seek his. He wants it to be a place, most of all, where we love and forgive each other.
And all of this depends on our commitment to hang in there, even when it’s tough. It’s why we make promises when we join a church: To make sure that this community, to which we have been called by Christ, is not quickly or easily abandoned.
Does Not Exist for Itself
But there is one more thing that we can learn about Christian community from this gospel reading, and it is from the last part of it, from this oddly placed story about Jesus welcoming the children. In the middle of this conversation about marriage and divorce, Jesus was interrupted by people who were bringing their children to Jesus. His own disciples tried to stop them. But “when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs’” (Mark 10:14).
Children, back in Jesus’ time, were supposed to be seen but not heard. They were certainly not supposed to be interrupting Jesus when he was having “grown-up conversations!” But Jesus consistently welcomed almost all interruptions, from children, from those who were sick, and from whoever needed him. And I think that Jesus is teaching us by example to do the same.
There is a danger, to a church or to any community, that it becomes such a caring, close group that it makes it hard for others to join in. Or that you have to be like those already in the group to be accepted. The church should never be that. Because Jesus didn’t create the church to exist for itself, but to exist for him, and to exist for the world. And we can’t do that if we are closed off to the world. A good and healthy Christian community is one that welcomes all visitors and outsiders. And that understands that community is not a resource to hoard, but a gift to be shared.
It is not good to be alone. No one should be. We need community; we need each other. And how blessed we are to have been called into this particular community.
The church, at its best, is supposed to be a little like heaven. Have you noticed, in Scripture, that heaven is always described as a community? No one will be alone in heaven. We will all be with Jesus, and with each other. And there will be no divisions in heaven, thankfully. We will be living together in the way that God intended.
That will be a good day, won’t it? When the kingdom of heaven comes to earth? But until then, we are joined together in this community to practice living that way. By living faithfully with each other, in this community formed by Christ. And by sharing this gift of community, with all the world. To the glory of God. Amen.