“No Need to Walk Alone”
Series “Do You Count?”
Daniel Hernandez was a recent college grad when he moved to New York. By his own admission he was not ready for a city that was so large and so impersonal. He had landed a job for a company that distributed press releases that were disguised as news – a form of work he described as “soul-numbing.” The only good part of the job was that it allowed their employees one day a week of paid leave to do some form of charity work, so Daniel volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline service, where he saw first-hand the number of lonely people in a place like New York who had reached the end of their rope, feeling as if they had no place to turn and, more importantly, no one to whom they could turn. What Daniel realized in the process that the real reason he had volunteered for this charity work was that he was experiencing pangs of loneliness himself, pangs that perhaps might be eased by speaking with strangers on a hotline. What Daniel discovered from his time with the hotline is that virtually every person struggles with some kind of burden and that we all need someone in life from whom we can seek help for that burden, even if the only help they can give is a simple acknowledgement that “life must be hard” (“Call If You’re Feeling Lonely,” The New York Times, 2/12/14).
Life is always hard when one has to do deal with it alone. So, why is it that so many insist on trying to do so solo, until it becomes unbearable? I think part of it is because of how we live in a culture that elevates the individual, especially the heroic man or woman who is so self-sufficient they need no one else’s help. For example, have you ever heard someone say of another person, “He can do the work of two people?” That’s sounds good, but it’s really impossible. One person cannot do the work of two others unless those other two people are lazy and weak. Only two people can do the work of two people. But that doesn’t stop us from thinking that if we’re really competent we can manage life entirely on our own.
And not only is life hard and too many think they can manage by themselves, but, even worse, they have the same belief when it comes to their faith. “When it comes to my relationship with God, I don’t need anyone’s help; I can relate to Him all on my own.” And while it is most definitely the case that each of us comes before God through faith in Christ entirely on our own, we nonetheless experience the greatest measure of spiritual significance when we link our faith with others in community.
That’s part of the message in this passage before us this morning from the book of Ecclesiastes. The book of Ecclesiastes is a profound book that invites its readers to listen in to a “hotline” conversation by one who is on an intense search for meaning and satisfaction in life. Referred to in the book as “the Teacher” or “the Preacher” (“Qoheleth” in the Hebrew, or “Master of the Assembly” in the Greek), this speaker waxes candidly on the inequities, inconsistencies, and ultimately what he sees as the absurdities of everyday life.
If you’ve ever bothered to sit in on the conversation, you know how pessimistic most of the passages are. In fact, it makes you wonder at times how something like this ever made it into the Bible. But there are in the midst of the murmurings and complaints nuggets of spiritual wisdom that point us along the path to a fuller and richer life.
For example, consider this passage before us this morning. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. (And) a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” The situation referred to is of a person traveling along life’s way and suddenly finding himself or herself up against a robber – a very likely possibility for someone traveling the remote and treacherous roads of Palestine. What the Preacher comes to recognize is that in such a situation we are always more secure when we have someone at our side, and even more the case when we are accompanied by yet a third party.
This principle of partnership – of two being better than one – is found over and again in Scripture. In the Old Testament we see it in the story of the prophet Elijah, who at one point in his ministry was ready for God to take him home because he felt as if he were contending against the prophets of Baal all by himself. But what God showed him was that he was not alone. In fact, God had raised up seven thousand other prophets who had not bowed down to Baal. Elijah was most definitely not contending for God all alone (1 Kings 19:10-18).
In the New Testament, we see Jesus going about his mission of calling attention to God’s Kingdom not at all by himself, but with the help of twelve disciples. It wasn’t so much that Jesus couldn’t have fulfilled his mission on his own; after all, he was the Son of God. It’s more that Jesus was instituting a principle of community that would enable his disciples to carry on his work after he had ascended into heaven. And that is why in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus encourages his disciples in this way: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For when two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:19-20).
You may be here this morning feeling as if your efforts at living for Jesus aren’t having much of an impact. Might it be that you have not looked around you for encouragement and support? Might it be that you have been focused too much on fulfilling God’s call in your life all by yourself and you have failed to invite others to join you along the way? Each of us has limitations. Every one of us has a threshold beyond which we cannot go in our own power. Don’t be afraid to ask for others to come alongside you in the work you feel God calling you to do. Don’t think that to do so is a sign of weakness. Instead, understand that the God who saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) has created us as social beings and this principle of community is in fact a divinely ordained means by which we can best bring His Kingdom purposes to pass. Regardless of how difficult or precarious the way may seem to be, you will always be in a better place when you surround yourself with others who share your sense of vision and passion for the things of God.
Kyle Childress is a former seminary classmate who serves a small Baptist church in Nacogdoches, Texas, a lonely little community in East Texas, about halfway between Houston and Shreveport, Louisiana. Kyle has been in that small church for almost 30 years, and every Sunday his church ends their worship with a benediction ritual that he learned somewhere along the line from an African-American pastor. Kyle begins by inviting the gathered congregation, “Let’s take each other’s hands.” And they all reach around them to clasp someone else’s hand. Then he says, “Now, look who you’re holding hands with and hold on tight!” And finally he reminds his people, “Because we’re going to need each other this week.”
Kyle recounts that at first the members of his church didn’t know how to respond to his invitation. They were proud Texans who were accustomed to fighting their battles alone. But it didn’t take them long to understand that if they were ever to find themselves in a battle that was more than they could handle, all they had to do was turn to the person whose hand they had held the previous Sunday and they would find all the help and support they would need.
Such a spirit among churches today is unfortunately more the exception than it is the rule. Evidently, some people are of the mind that as long as they act nice and friendly to one another and maybe share a doughnut or a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, that’s enough. But it isn’t. It’s not enough for a church to have an impact on its community and world for the cause of Jesus Christ. To do that, its members must be joined together and deeply entwined in a spiritually grounded community – a community where when two or three are together and in agreement, Jesus shows up and God honors their witness.
So, let us be that kind of church. Let us be the kind of church that takes each other’s hand and are there for one another, not just on Sunday, but every other day of the week as well. Because life is hard, and “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves, and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”