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Aug 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 23, 2015 – John 15:14-15; Luke 22:28-30; Mark 14:32-24

Solitude, Community and Companionship

Intro: We begin with highlights from Jesus’ last night with his disciples

First, right after finishing the meal and the new covenant in the bread and the cup

You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:28-30

– Luke reports more examples of Jesus’ table fellowship than the other gospels
• relations are forged (and broken) around the table (Lk. 7:36-50)
◦ communities are formed around the table (Lk. 5:30-32; 15:1-3)
• instances of him eating and drinking with others anticipates his future kingdom (Lk. 13:29)

Second, before Jesus and his disciples left the upper room

You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15:14-15

– Jesus changed the disciples’ status
• slaves did not need to know their masters’ plans, but only to obey
• as friends, Jesus brought the disciples to a new level of trust and intimacy

Third, on the Mount of Olives

They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. Mark 14:32-35

– Jesus’ ordeal of grief and suffering isolated from everyone else, even his closest disciples
• in this hour, he needed to be alone with God
• his work began with his ordeal in the loneliness of the wilderness (Lk. 4:1-13)

In these passages we see Jesus’ activity in three socially defined environments
– to consider all three environments requires three different texts
• there’s no example where Jesus is seen in all three at the same time
◦ that’s the nature of these environments; each one is distinct and only rarely overlap
• we may observe transitions from one to another
◦ but every story unfolds within a single, specific context
– socially defined, the environments are solitude, community and companionship
• God gives us these gifts to assist us in our spiritual journey
◦ three unique spaces where God meets us — each one meeting specific needs
• this week’s travel tip for our spiritual journey:
◦ know these spaces, settle into them and discern when you need to move into one of them

Let’s consider solitude

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus sought solitude

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place and was praying there (Mk. 1:35)

– this became his regular practice

But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray (Lk. 5:16)

• the purpose of solitude is to be alone with God
◦ but more than being alone, we seek to fill our hearts and minds with him and nothing else
◦ solitude is like fasting – not food, but human contact
– solitude creates a space that is free from normal intrusions that entails:
seclusion: you take yourself into a place apart from business, diversions and others
go into your inner room, close your door and pray (Mt. 6:6)
exclusion: you shut out, dismiss, send away everything else

Abbot Isaac (in The Conferences of John Cassian) said that our purpose in this is to “rise with [Jesus] from low and earthly works and thoughts and go apart in the lofty mountain of solitude which is free from the disturbance of all earthly thoughts and troubles . . .”
He argued that even though Jesus did not need solitude, he intended to give us an example, “that if we wish to approach God with a pure and spotless affection of heart, we should also retire from all the disturbance and confusion of crowds, so that while still living in the body we may manage in some degree to adapt ourselves to some likeness of that bliss which is promised hereafter to the saints, and that ‘God may be’ to us ‘all in all.’”

A lot of people (perhaps most of us) struggle with solitude
– during my first visit to hermitage, I became annoyed with their worship
• when reading the Psalms they would take long pauses between each verse
◦ for me, coming from a hyperactive church in Orange County, it felt like dead air time
◦ once I learned to settle into their rhythm, I sensed God’s presence in the pauses
• in solitude, I am forced to face discomfort of being alone with myself
– I may experience loneliness in my solitude
• that’s okay – it doesn’t have to feel good
◦ besides, I can be lonely in a community, around my family, even in my marriage
• the point is, solitude and loneliness are not same thing

Paul Tillich, “When evening comes, loneliness becomes more lonely. . . . Jesus went up [into the hills] to pray. Is this the way to transform loneliness into solitude and to bear solitude? Most prayers do not have this much power.”

Solitude has its own temptations
– it doesn’t automatically rid us of sinful thoughts
• it only reduces sinful opportunities
◦ I’m no closer to perfection in solitude
◦ I just have a better view of my imperfections
• I may be more patient, less irritated and less aggravated in solitude
◦ and yet still carry the roots of those attitudes within my heart
– solitude does not eliminate the ego-self
• it just allows it to hide from some of its “acting out”
◦ but solitude can give us enough space to deal with the ego-self
• John Cassian described monks who desired to live in solitude
◦ when what they really needed, learn to live with others — how to be patient and polite

Cassian, said solitude “should not be a cowardly flight, but for the purpose of divine contemplation and the desire of deeper insight into heavenly things . . .”

God’s calling on a person’s life sometimes imposes solitude

I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers,
Nor did I exult. Because of Your hand upon me I sat alone . . . .
 (Jer. 15:17 & cf. 16:1)

– in solitude, I am with the one Person who knows me
• there God deals with issues I would not want exposed to others

The Bible has a lot more to say about community than solitude

It is an important theme for Paul, who devotes much attention to it
(e.g., Ro. 12-15; 1 Cor. 12-14; Ep. 4–and he depicts it with the organic image of a body)
– a bond is forged between individuals without:
• threatening their individuality or the bond that cements them
– in A Different Drum, Scott Peck’s excellent book on community, he coined the term, pseudocommunity
• pseudocommunity does not acknowledge “individual differences”
◦ everyone courteously buries disagreements and pretends to be on the same page
◦ Peck says that “pseudocommunity is conflict-avoiding; true community is conflict-resolving”

What happens in a spiritual community?
communication happens – koinonia share in common
• the Greek root means common — koinonia is to share in common, partnership, communicate
◦ we are not communicating when we quote platitudes, generalities, or the Bible
◦ some people let Bible speak for them; others let it speak through them–they live it first
• I cringe inside whenever a person shares his or her brokenness in community
◦ and someone else responds, “Whenever I feel like that, I just pray,” or “read my Bible,” etc.
◦ if this goes on unchecked, people will stop opening up to the group
▫ the response is not only unhelpful, it makes the person who shared feel worse
▫ in community we each can share from our depth without fearing we will be judged or fixed
synergy happens – “fellow workers” (Php. 4:5, sunergos)
• we accomplish together what none of us could accomplish alone
• we help others with their burdens without getting into their business (Gal. 6:2; Jn. 21:21-22)
interconnection happens – we are all linked by the same web
• one person moves and the whole community wiggles (1 Cor. 12:26)
• when one is out of balance, everyone is affected
productivity happens — everyone has a place and the right to do something meaningful
adjustments happen – I learn to be flexible and treat others with understanding and love

The more of a perfectionist I am, the more impatient I am with the imperfections of others. The more perfect I am, the more sympathetic and forgiving I am with the imperfections of others.

• the Pharisees were perfectionists – Jesus was perfect

I have not left much time to discuss companionship

High on my recommended reading list is C. S. Lewis chapter on friendship in The Four Loves

We need friends and a good friend is invaluable
– but there is a price to pay for real deal
• we sometimes get burned before we discover the meaning of a true friend
• please be careful — I have been severely burned by confiding in someone I considered a friend

A spiritual directors has been referred to as a Soul Friend (Kenneth Leech)
• such a person acts as a spiritual midwife
◦ he or she assists in the process of Christ being formed in us (Gal. 4:19)
• this is someone who sits with us as we discern together the next step in our spiritual journey

Conc: What we look for in solitude, community and companionship is a balanced wholeness

“Balanced” does not mean we dole out equal time to each of the three environments
– rather, we attend to our present need
• either by withdrawing into solitude, plunging into community, or walking with a friend

Ironically, growing into wholeness depends in part on recognizing my brokenness
– I am not allowing God to work on my defects that I am not honest about or aware of
– we don’t run from aloneness to community as a cure or from community to solitude
• we run to meet God in solitude, community, or with the heart of a friend
• the pursuit of God is the pursuit of love

I have never experienced spiritual community to the degree I have with you
– one reason for it, is our sincere desire to go as far into God as possible for us
• and to let God penetrate us as deeply as possible
– the net result, is that when I meet with you, I encounter Jesus in you
• and his presence with us makes anything possible

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