Our State of Isolation
The woman came to the well around noon. Noon is the hottest part of the day and no one is around. People usually come to the well very early in the morning or late in the evening, when the weather is colder.
So what does this mean?
The woman was isolated. She was trying to avoid other people. She was expecting to be alone at the well when she saw this strange man she had never seen.
What was her story? Why was she so isolated? What caused her to seek avoidance of other people?
We are going to learn a lot more about this woman tomorrow night. We will come to see just how real her isolation was.
Tonight I want to use this story to talk about us. Our Hi-C as well as people in general. Many people live very isolated existences today.
And by isolation, I don’t just mean physical isolation. I mean the sense of being alone in this world, even if you’re surrounded by other people.
When I come into the Hi-C room on Sundays, I see a bunch of you sitting together in the same room, but there is very little connectedness. You may be sitting in the same room, but I still sense distance. Some of this distance is from you being in your own world on your mobile device – and that’s why I said at this retreat no mobile devices outside of your cabin!
Some of this distance can be in the form of cracking jokes as a way to avoid awkwardness and pass the time.
But as you’re sitting there, does anyone really know about the week you went through? Does anyone know the challenges you faced? Does anyone know the fight you might have had with your parents, siblings or friends? Does anyone know of the good things that happened to you?
You see, to be isolated is to have all of these personal things remain inside yourself even if you’re physically with other people.
Our Comfort with Isolation
Often, we start to become comfortable with our isolated existence. As long as we have our home, enough food, enough internet wifi at home, then I can withdraw into my own world and be comfortable there.
I can be comfortable playing my video games and being part of that fantasy world. I can be comfortable immersing myself into the life of the latest kpop star. I can be comfortable doing my homework diligently and getting good grades.
This is what the Samaritan woman at the well did. She came everyday at noon to draw water. She was used to her isolation. She got comfortable with it and it became a routine.
But does this lead to a fulfilling life? It becomes comfortable, yes, but is it truly what life is meant to be?
Where is the joy? Where is the fullness? Where is the life that springs forth?
My friends, we’ve become deadened by our isolated existence. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to be connected: to God and to others.
The woman met Jesus. Tomorrow we will talk about this encounter and what happened during it.
From Isolation to Connectedness
But for now let’s look at the result. What was the result of her encounter with Jesus?
She went through a complete personal transformation. The result was re-integration and re-engagement with her community.
“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.” (4:28) – SLIDE
She went back to the city that she avoided and was isolated from. Think about it: nothing about her physical or actual circumstances changed, but SHE had changed from the inside. This change and transformation caused her to go back to the city and to the people.
Her change resulted in a transformation from isolation to connectedness. Her reconnecting with her people led them to also find the life that she had found. She became a leader of her town.
God’s Will for us to be Connected
My friends, when God created this world and created human beings, He created us to be connected with one another and with His creation.
When God created Adam, he was lonely all by himself. God understood the deep need for connection with another. When God created Eve, here is what Adam said:
This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh
Without real connection, life becomes dull. It loses its lustre.
Evidence of Connectedness
You know how to really tell the difference between those who are connected and those who are not?
Those who are connected with others smile easily and laugh easily. Laughter is a natural expression of human connection. I’m not talking about laughing at a funny show or comedian – although that’s a part of it – but I’m talking about laughter that arises from human conversation and contact. In the course of a conversation, do you laugh often and laugh hard? If so, that is a sign of genuine connection with that other person.
God intended for us to be connected with one another.
I-Thou vs I-It Relationships
There was a famous Jewish philosopher named Martin Buber. SLIDE He wrote a famous book called I and Thou. SLIDE
He talks about two types of relationships: I-It relationships and I-Thou relationships. SLIDE
I-It relationships are those where the other is separate from you, and you use that relationship for your own benefit.
In life, it’s just realistic that most of our relationships are I-It relationships. When you buy something at a store, you have an I-It relationship with the cashier. You’re there to buy something, the cashier is doing his or her job. And that’s fine.
But it becomes a problem when our more intimate relationships become I-It relationships. When you use a supposed friend to make yourself look good, that’s an I-It relationship. When you try to become friends with someone to get something you need, that’s an I-It relationship.
This world is full of I-It relationships. It’s what leads to greater isolation and disconnectedness in this world.
What’s an I-Thou relationship?
An I-Thou relationship occurs when there is a connection between two people, where the other person is not just an object for my own needs, but in which our lives become intertwined and connected with each other. It occurs when your story becomes a part of my story. To do that, I first learn about your story, then I share my story, and our stories become part of a collective journey.
Martin Buber believed that it was through I-Thou relationships that come to understand God more. This is the kind of relationship God called us to have with Him and with each other.
Our Relationships at Church
So let me challenge you with this:
When you come to church, do you have an I-It or I-Thou relationship with your fellow Hi-C members?
If you simply hang out with those you’re comfortable and familiar with, why are you doing that?
Isn’t is it just to make yourself feel more comfortable and look less awkward? Isn’t being with those you’re familiar with just to make yourself feel a little better? Do you come to really listen to their story and to share your story? Is there real connection? If you think about it, isn’t that an I-It relationship?
What would an I-Thou relationship at our church look like?
An I-Thou Community
An I-Thou relationship would be when we share our stories and our lives with one another. Every Sunday, I meet with the Hi-C execs. We share what’s happening in our lives: our challenges, our struggles, our good news and celebrations, whatever is going on. We then pray for one another based on what we shared. Our stories become part of each other’s stories. Other people’s pains become our pains.
This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) SLIDE
That’s what it means to be in an I-Thou relationship, one that leads to true connectedness. We rejoice with those who rejoice, we weep with those who weep. Isn’t that beautiful?
My vision for this Hi-C is where we can truly have I-Thou relationships. My vision is that we don’t just be friends with those we grew up with and are familiar with, but rather a connected community that shares life with one another; a community that welcomes all people and makes genuine effort to really know one another.
But this isn’t easy. It takes courage. It takes leadership.
It takes a leadership of vulnerability. You have to be willing to share your own struggles and joys first. When you can do that, others will also feel safe to open up and share their stories too.
So my challenge for those of you especially in grade 11, the senior Hi-C’s: challenge yourself to be vulnerable, to share your story, your struggles and challenges. Show genuine concern for the younger Hi-C’s. Ask them to share their stories and listen to them.
The greatest gift you can give to someone is to listen to their story. By listening, you are telling that person that you are important, you are valuable. When someone listens to you, you get the message that I am valued in this world.
In this way, we will create genuine I-Thou relationships and experience greater connectedness.
It’s definitely not easy. But with God’s help, this is the kind of community we can be. That’s what a church is meant to be – a safe place for people to feel welcome to be themselves and to share their genuine selves with one another.
So the two main points I want you to remember from this message are:
- Connectedness versus isolation
- I-Thou relationships versus I-It relationships
I will pray first, and then we will do something to practice being this connected and I-Thou community.