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Sermon for Proper 22/Ordinary 27 B Genesis 2 loneliness

September 28, 2018

It is not good that the man should be alone – words from our first reading

In the name….

47 years ago, almost to the day, I left home for the first time to go to Leeds university.

Mother’s boy that I was, I hated it, lost 3 stone. The next term, I made lots of friends, then I felt homesick when I went home!

Loneliness is a big problem today. The death rate for late-middle-aged single men is more than twice as high as that for married men; single men are six times more likely to die from accidental falls; twenty-two times more likely to be sectioned for mental illness, three times more likely to suffer from insomnia; more likely to commit suicide. Although single men comprise only about 13 per cent of the population over the age of fourteen, they commit about 90 per cent of major and violent crimes. Naked Nomads, George Gilder

In Genesis, after declaring lots of things to be ‘ good’, loneliness is the first thing God named as ‘not good’ The Private Adam – S. Boteach (Hodder & Stoughton 2003) p. 175

‘It is not good for man to be alone’ and God isn’t entirely sure what to do. The search is on, and the next scene is very funny. God sets to work creating vast numbers of animals and birds and brings them to Adam to name. But Adam is a creature of unfulfilled longing, of frustrated desire.  He feels incomplete. Notice that this is not a hunger that the presence of God can satisfy.  The story is told of a man who found courage to say in a Christian prayer group how lonely he often felt. ‘But Jesus is your friend,’ said one well-meaning group member. ‘Jesus doesn’t play golf ! was his reply. Choice Desire and the Will of God: What more do you want? by David Runcorn   pp. 89f

Everybody needs somebody. Western community is in sharp decline, radical individualism has become the norm and has engendered unprecedented social isolation and yielded a depth of loneliness unique to the 21st-century according to a new series of Radio 4 last week.

Ubuntu is the African view that a person is a person through other persons.  Bishop Tutu said, ‘My humanity is caught up in your humanity. We before me

Genesis is seen as endorsing marriage. God resolves to make for the single human “a helper [Hebrew: ezer]. Throughout the Old Testament עזר ezer is not a subordinate but one who may be an equal or sometimes even a superior to the one who is being helped.  God is often called a “helper” to humans in need – “helper of the orphans”  Psalm 10:14; 54:4. Exodus 18:4 has the “God [who] was my helper.” Reading the Bible from the Margins – M. de la Torre (Orbis 2002)  p. 85

Helper, not a soul-mate. In the days of large, extended families, people could satisfy different needs with different people.   Today, they often expect too much of a marriage partner. So it’s not surprising that so many marriages break up. Too much weight is placed on them so they snap. You might like fishing, poetry reading, sport. Your partner: intelligent adult conversation, girl talk. You the extrovert with many more friends, she recluse with few friends. “Boys nights out” “stag-do’s”, men needing to escape. One of our former curates is a musician. He has a shed full of computer equipment for making music and also to get some time away from his wife.

Maybe when the church endorses marriage. It contributes to the increasing breakdown of marriage.

I had a phone call two weeks ago from a former choir member. I’d preached on today’s gospel 3 years ago and said that Jesus wasn’t so hard-line against divorce as appears.. She’d remembered it. Wanted a copy. I say this not just to blow my own trumpet but to remember what a serious responsibility preachers have. Some people recall – so if you get it wrong…. I also say it in case there’s anyone here still smarting from from Jesus’s words in that reading, who might want a copy.

It is not good that the man should be alone but it might not be good to put all your eggs in the basket called marriage. Where it says that a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh, the Israelites did not understand this text to require monogamy. Some biblical heroes were polygamous. There is no divine rebuke in subsequent texts that frame marriage in very different terms.

The American bishops point out that the Hebrew word adam can mean a man, any human being, or humans in general and speak of the apposite, not necessarily the opposite sex  and thereby endorse gay marriage Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church—The Theology Committee of the (US Episcopalian) House of Bishops Lent 2010

Genesis 1 2Or is that to fall back into the trap that already makes an idol out of marriage?

A lifetime of singleness is not a sentence to lifelong loneliness. Jesus promises us something greater than spouses to fill our loneliness; He promises a family within the Church.  Mark 10:29-30 a family of brothers, sisters, mothers and children that transcends marriage and blood relationships,  with God as Father. And for church, read ‘those who do God’s will, as in last week’s gospel: charities, pressure groups

Single people tend to drop out once they reach 25, because they feel that the church doesn’t really know what to do with them and the church shouldn’t use singles as worker bees. Singles aren’t 15 year old babysitters to enable married couples to participate in the morning service. They need fellowship and teaching just as much as anyone. Singleness is not a disease, and marriage is not the cure. The best churches for single adults are those that make no differentiation between people based on their marital status, whether ‘single never married’, married, divorced or widowed. They also feel more included when the church programme takes singleness into account in sermons and social events, house groups, book groups

When did you last hear a sermon on I Corinthians 7 where Paul talks of “being single as being preferable…..”? Single leaders as role models – most churches advertising for a new minister want someone married. So Jesus would not be short-listed. Don’t idolise marriage as the benchmark of maturity

The World Health Organisation recommends: Connect, Communicate, Care. In this church, no one should go out the door without being greeted but without being smothered – some want to slip away. There should be no cliques over coffee while individuals stand alone. Let’s work on returning our churches to places of inclusion and invitation.

We, being many, are one body because we all partake of the one bread.

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