And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.
In a world where we’ve never had the opportunity to be more connected—we connect to worldwide news in seconds, we can connect to people more quickly and in more ways than ever before—yet more and more people feel isolated and alone. That’s ironic and really sad. We spend hours staring at screens. We are interacting with artificial intelligence, computer generated images, and oftentimes in videogames and other ways, we compete against a computer. Texting has made it too easy not to actually talk to people, and because so much is communicated via voice tone and inflection, we actually are cheating ourselves of needed conversation with others.
I’m around people a lot in ministry. Isolation is not a problem for me. However, loneliness is a problem, in the sense of feeling alone and cut off from others. There are so many moments, decisions and thoughts that I am alone with, and I’m sure it is the same for many of you as well. One of my favorite Scripture verses is Psalm 50/51:6 which reads Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Each of us has a secret heart that no one has access to—even our spouses, our parents, our closest friends. We each have a space where we feel alone, confused, where we struggle. And this is one of the beautiful things about the Lord. The Grace of the Holy Spirit is what fills the empty spaces—whether they need to be filled with wisdom, or just comfort. This is why we pray this Psalm, that God can put wisdom or whatever else is needed into our secret hearts, so that even our lonely spaces can be filled.
Yesterday’s reflection verse was the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew, the Great Commission, where Christ sent out His disciples (and by extension, us, His disciples of today), to go out into all the nations to make disciples. Today’s verse is the end of the Gospel of Mark, which is similar to the Great Commission. The disciples went forth and preached everywhere, we read, but they did not go alone. The Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. (Mark 16:20) In other words, the Lord did not abandon the disciples in the work they were doing. He didn’t tell them to “go” and then abandon them. He worked with them. He helped to fill their empty spaces. He provided the words when they could not find them. He confirmed the message they were preaching (His word) with miraculous signs, so that people could see the Lord working through the people that were preaching His word.
The concept of GO-ing somewhere alone is daunting. Even if we crave solitude (think someone going on a hike) or freedom (think of an 18-year-old going to college), loneliness and isolation are crippling feelings that none of us likes. Even when I am ministering to people, I often feel alone—I may visit someone in the hospital and the situation is dire. I’m not alone, as family is in the room, but I am alone in trying to come up with the thoughts to articulate, the words of comfort to offer. Except that I am not alone. I remember the words of Hebrews 13:5, where the Lord says, through the words of St. Paul, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” I know that especially when I stand in His place, when I “go” on His behalf, He is always with me. There is never a time I have felt abandoned by Him when I’m doing pastoral work. In fact, in hospital, in confession, in pastoral care, I feel Him around me often.
God goes with us, and God wants to go with us. He does not want us to feel alone. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves “am I letting Him come with me?” or “Am I shutting Him out?” “Am I lonely because I am not leaning on the Lord?” There will be many times in life when we will go somewhere unfamiliar—a new job, a new city, a new relationship, a new marriage, first-time parents, and so many other examples. The Lord goes with us, whether we acknowledge Him or not. And especially when we go representing Him—when we teach a Sunday school class, or read the Bible to our children, or take a chance and pray with someone—He is there with us.
For those of us with children, we wouldn’t dare send them off without a means to connect with us. We would never say to our children, when they go to college or get married, “ok, go and you are on your own, don’t call me.” To the contrary, we tell our children to call if they need anything, and that we are always there for them. On the other side, a child would be truly scared if a parent said when dropping them off at college, “see you in December, and don’t bother me if you get in a jam.” God, our Father, is the benevolent parent, who tells us on whatever road we travel we can always call on Him, that He will never abandon us.
Today in Bethlehem, Christ is born of the Virgin. Today, the Unoriginate begins, and the Word becomes flesh. The hosts of heaven are rejoicing, and the earth and humanity are merry. The Magi bring their gifts. The Shepherds proclaim the marvel. And we unceasingly cry aloud: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Praises, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Do you think the disciples were more nervous or more excited to go preach everywhere?