On Sunday I began my call as the pastor of the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In moving from an associate position to that of a solo pastor, I have shifted the focus of my work pretty significantly; one of the most notable changes is that instead of roughly twelve sermons a year, I will be preaching something around the range of forty-five. Researching, writing, and preaching a sermon will be a defining factor in the rhythm of my week. So, I am trying to return to a practice similar to what I did the last time I was a solo pastor and had to preach every week, and begin my week with an early examination of at least one of the lectionary texts. I invite you to join in the conversation as well, as I think through some of the themes and challenges that will throughout the week turn into a sermon.
I confess that this is about the time of year when I just get really sick of the Gospel of John, so I’m moving toward 1 Peter 2:2-10 as the primary text for this Sunday.
I’ve had a number of people talk to me in the last couple of weeks about feeling alone. As a super social extrovert with a large network of friends and colleagues, it has been pretty rare for me to feel isolated over the last several years, but moving to a new city is a little different. My new congregation has welcomed me warmly and with many invitations to meals and gatherings, but the fact is, we’re still feeling each other out, and I’m establishing a pastoral presence here, which means they’re getting to know me within a particular relational context. I’m becoming known in a few places around the city, but these are just the tenuous beginnings of friendships to come. It has been a long time since I lived alone, and now when I go home at the end of the day, the piles of boxes that can only be my responsibility remind me that to some degree I’m on my own here. Yes, I have Laila, but she is the opposite of helpful when it comes to unpacking.
1 Peter speaks of Jesus as rejected by humans – but to God, precious and chosen. There’s a sense that the author is also writing to people who may feel rejected, isolated, alone. “Once you were not a people.” But come to this one who is like you, who has been rejected, who has felt the pain of loneliness and the yearning to be known and loved. This is the one who God has called precious, who has become the cornerstone of all things. And you who were once no one at all, you are chosen, royal, holy, God’s own. You who did not belong, now belong.
This feels like a powerful message to those who feel like they are alone in the world. And it’s also a call to the church to greater awareness of the vast numbers of people who go through this world feeling and being alone. How might we connect with people who are stuck in their homes with only a TV as a companion? Or destitute people whose appearance and circumstances are a barrier to receiving contact from others? Or people whose limited relationships mean they are never heard, never known, never touched? If these people are precious to God – as I believe they are – how do we help them experience their preciousness through the tangible acts of God’s people?
**Editorial addition: I’m feeling particularly sensitive this week to how people may be feeling about Mother’s Day, which can bring up all kinds of emotions of alienation, isolation, longing, and loneliness. This isn’t a liturgical holiday and we won’t be spending much time on it, but it will be important to recognize the impact it has as a cultural holiday.
What do you think about this passage? Preachers, what word are you bringing your congregations this week?