Summary: Let’s talk about what makes it difficult for us to form community, and in so doing, we will also find an explanation for the turmoil our world is seeing and has always seen.
The Faces of the Stranger
Pastor Jim Luthy
I’ve really wrestled this week whether to return to our series on community or to talk about the recent attacks on our nation. On one hand, we are being asked to return to normal, whatever that means, and these messages on community are meant to equip us for relationships that appeal to the searching masses.
On the other hand, I have been told that it is critical to talk about relevant issues. I’m sure all of us would consider it relevant to interpret the times, and there is no greater source for understanding these days than the timeless words of Scripture. I asked Tammie what she thought, and she felt we should definitely talk about the current world situation. Of course, I know better than to ignore her!
Then it hit me that the two do not have to be exclusive of one another. I was scheduled to talk about the paradox of community described by Gareth Weldon Icenogle in Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: "Small groups are trapped in the ‘paradox’ of hunger for intimacy and fear of intimacy." As I looked at this, I realized that the reason behind this paradox also explains a lot about terrorism and the religious fanaticism behind it. So, let’s talk about what makes it difficult for us to form community, and in so doing, we might also find an explanation for the turmoil our world is seeing and has always seen.
Billy Joel’s song, "The Stranger," strikes at the heart of the tension that exists between people. As you listen to the song, you’ll see that Joel has identified this tension, but does not account for its source.
(PLAY "THE STRANGER")
We all know "the stranger." We take out the face of the stranger when we are home alone or travelling alone and images on the TV or internet scream for us. We take out the face of the stranger when someone cuts us off in their car. We take out the face of the stranger when we are hurt. We take out the face of the stranger when we are under stress--when we compete, when we complain, and when we compare. And very seldom do we willingly allow others to see the face of the stranger inside of us.
As in the song, we can all observe the existence of a stranger that exists in us. The Apostle Paul spoke of his experience with this stranger when he said, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." How many of you know what I’m talking about?
What Billy Joel doesn’t offer is an explanation of where "the stranger" comes from. The Bible does. And in explaining "the stranger," we learn a lot about the paradox of community AND why nations and tribes and different religions rise up against one another. This is something you should know!
As we previously discussed, God created man in his own image--in the image of a relational God. He made us to enjoy community with his community, the community of God found in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He also made us and redeemed us to reflect his community in the way we live together. He spoke and created and looked at the man and said, "Whoa...It is not good for man to be alone." Created in his image, he made us to be in relationships. None of us like to be alone. We might like to be by ourselves for different lengths of time (believe me, when you have five kids you really want time to yourself!), but we do not like to be alone. We hunger for intimacy.
But that hunger for intimacy is so often trumped by a fear of intimacy. Like Billy Joel sang, "though we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell." We do this because we are ashamed of "the stranger."
So where did this stranger in all of us come from? Genesis 3. The serpent had just deceived the woman, who in turn enticed the man. "Did God really say ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden?" the serpent said.
"We can eat from any tree," said the woman, "just not the tree in the middle of the garden, or you will die."
The serpent replied, "Surely you won’t die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
"Okay, I’ll try it!" said Eve, who in turn gave some to her husband, Adam. What happened next reveals a lot about the tension that exists between our hunger for intimacy and our fear of intimacy.