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May 10 Post

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world... I long to see you so that I may share with you... so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

I slipped out of town for a couple of days recently for a meeting out west, and woke up to 39-degree temperatures and snow. The day turned fine with an early afternoon departure, but by the time we returned to the gate with a broken headlight an hour and a half later, found a new plane, and re-boarded, I began to understand today’s scripture in a new light. Paul proclaimed to the church in Rome that he longed to see them but was prevented from coming. I thought for a minute that I might not make it home. So, you can imagine the joy I experienced when finally arriving home at midnight in time for Sunday morning worship.

While I was away, I had the opportunity to meet with an old friend who described a sense of loneliness and disconnection from the community. It was clear to me that this friend suffered over it, describing how painful it felt when everyone else seemed to be socially connected even as her own loneliness deepened. She described divisions in her community that increasingly separated former friends and neighbors from one another, and lamented that the path to heal such fractures seemed elusive.

Paul writes about these very issues, as he describes his own sense of personal isolation, and the cultural divisions that deeply divided the early church in Rome. He longed to be with them, as he had not yet met them, and he had received word of controversies and divisions that continued to grow. He wanted to share the good medicine of the gospel that could heal and restore what troubled them, and give them hope.

We could name the divisions among us without thinking about it. I overheard a discussion recently between friends who wondered aloud about someone they had always thought was “one of them”. Then when one of the friends stopped by the home of this “other”, they considered that a news channel on the living room television betrayed allegiance to the “other side”. Was this friend with them, or not?

We’ve become alienated from ourselves and one another in ways that compromise our health and fracture our communities. The antidote according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and as it turns out, according to Paul, are similar. The Surgeon General recently published a document on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community, the hallmark of our communities of faith.

We need one another more than ever, not just to survive but to thrive. We’ve grown over time to care less about our neighbor and more about what we personally want and prefer. That view is costing us dearly.

The apostle Paul offered God’s good news to heal divisions in the early Christian communities in Rome. Consider how God’s good news can heal the loneliness, isolation, and divisions that have made us socially and spiritually sick, now.

The gospel, the good news of healing and restoration for all people, comes from God, not human striving alone. As we identify what’s currently making us personally and culturally sick, we point towards the power of God to heal and restore what we have unwittingly destroyed. Christ laid open a path forward through trust in the Source of being, and compassion towards one another, especially those with whom we disagree.

Paul urges us to look up and beyond what ails us and separates us with radical trust in the living God who will guide us to make all things new. The power of God heals and restores our communities, and we play a crucial role in fulfilling God’s plans.

We can cultivate a culture of connection considered by researchers as vital to the healing and restoration of our personal and community life, and that of our nation. We do this by bringing people together in healthy ways. And we do this by cultivating values of kindness, generosity, compassion, and forgiveness. We embody connection through mutual respect, commitment to service, (love of neighbor), and care for one another. As it turns out, we've been in the "love your neighbor as yourself" business for a very long time.

God’s gospel through Christ is good medicine to save and heal our fractured world.

Prayer: Show us the way, O God, through the brokenness of our communities. Restore us to you and to one another, that all might be made well. Amen.

God’s grace, mercy, and peace be with you,

Dr. Anna V. Copeland

Senior Minister, Community Church of Vero Beach.

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