Aliens Brought Near – July 22, 2018
Pastor Jeri Viera Dahlke
There was a boy who would lean and bump against people, stand too close. He would charge through a group of people, pushing people aside as he went. There was a lawsuit, expulsion from school, and rejection of peers. The boy was six.
The father of that boy is a neuroscientist who has researched this topic even before his son was born. It turns out his son has a condition called dyspraxia. One in 20 children have this—it is different types of difficulty moving through the environment in a coordinated way. He has written a book called, The Spaces Between Us.
I know a mom who has a daughter with cerebral palsy. She stopped bringing her daughter to worship because she knew people were uncomfortable not just with the occasional guttural sounds she made, but most especially because her daughter would sit right up next to people in the pew.
Most of us have a sense of personal space. Some need more than others. It varies depending on the context. Though this is an ancient need, the consciousness of it and the phrase “personal space” are recent.
We have begun to be more conscious about personal space here during the greeting time. During cold and flu season, we move to other forms such as a bow and keep more distance. This year it gave us an opportunity to recognize that some were relieved to not have to shake hands and others were uncomfortable with not hugging.
Do you know what the number one complaint is of people who visit a church for the first time? A designated greeting time. Introverts and many ambiverts don’t care for it. Even extroverts complain because it isn’t authentic, it isn’t a natural way to relate.
One article says that city folk have smaller personal spaces than rural folk. The author lists other factors that impact how much personal space we need…same or different genders? professional or personal relationship? romantic or platonic?
Apparently, the avg. comfortable distance in the US for couples is 0 to 20 inches.
Good friends and family—1 ½ to 3 feet
3-‐10 feet for acquaintances and coworkers
strangers? 4 feet
Before we get any farther, I want to be clear that we’re talking today only about safe strangers. Discerning which is which is another conversation.
In Mark we have Jesus’ call to get up and cross boundaries—that’s what crossing the lake was. Jesus’ ministry was all about loving the stranger. He went to them. They were brought to him. He told the disciples to go love strangers and to love the strangers brought to them. In today’s text, the disciples were sent on, without Jesus, to the Gentiles on the other side of the lake. The people on the other side were not only strangers, they were people the rules said should be avoided. Oh, by the way, we skipped over the part where the disciples almost drown in the lake.
In Ephesians we hear that all human boundaries are gone and that strangers are brought near.
People who were alien to one another now have a deep bond.
These are challenging texts for a group like us to hear!
For decades, most the books and the stories about Christians loving and serving the world have been written and told by extroverts from an extrovert’s perspective. Called to go out to love the people in the community? “We got this!” say the extroverts. Congregations with a sizable number of people like that can do it with just a little training.
Most of the leaders at church camp and in the large youth group I was in were charismatic. Just like the Christians who had TV shows. I heard Jesus’ call, but I wasn’t like that. Was I supposed to somehow become like that too?
Extroverts are simply people who are energized by being with other people. Introverts are drained after being with people. No one is a 100% extrovert or introvert. There are some that are mainly one or the other. The majority of people are a real mix—ambiverts. Sometimes people energize us. Sometimes people drain us. One couple, the husband is an introvert and is outgoing. He is better able to mingle at a party than his wife who identifies herself as a shy extrovert. She is not comfortable with strangers, but really enjoys deep friendships and being with people in her role as a pastor.
So this pastor. She preaches about the importance of talking with neighbors and people in the community, but it’s really hard for her to do that herself. She struggles with guilt about how hard it is for her to talk with neighbors. She also thought that because she was shy that she couldn’t be someone who was sent out into the world by God.
Did you notice what Jesus did? He told the disciples they all needed a rest from the people. In the section we skipped, Jesus sent the disciples off so he could have time alone with God. Jesus needed time alone, and he took it. Being with people was draining for him. It was what he needed in order to spend time talking with God.
There are different ways we get energy. All are ways of being in the world that are acceptable to God. All are called to join with God’s work in the world. All are called to stretch and to risk. What that looks like is to vary from person to person, from situation to situation.
It’s time to look more closely at what it might look like to be brought near to others, to be no longer strangers, to cross boundaries, but in ways that begin with who we are.
A big part of our resistance is the risk. We might say the wrong thing. We might be rejected. We might not know what to say or do. It’s much easier to stay in our comfort zone!
Bishop Lyle Miller during opening worship at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in 1991 said,
The church is not a luxury liner, granting passage and comfort to all who qualify and clamber aboard but rather like a rescuing lifeboat, sometimes listing, or even leaking, but always guided by the captain, Jesus, at the helm.
Jesus wants us to draw near to others. How can we put ourselves in closer proximity to safe strangers?
The risky step, the step out of the comfort zone for one person may be responding with more than a “hello” to a church member. For another it might be initiating a conversation with a neighbor. Yet another who does those things might stretch by having a small dinner party
We can pray to God and then thank God for the courage to take whatever step is appropriate. We can also support and encourage each other on this journey, share what we are learning, and pray for our congregation. What is becoming clear to me is how important it is that we recognize and accept that the goal isn’t for all of us to move in the direction of becoming outgoing. The goal is that we are regularly stretching in some way. Why? Because it requires us to let Jesus be at the helm.
For me, that means I am putting energy into getting to know all the people that live around me. As part of that stretching, I volunteered to be one of three people that welcome new people in my planned community. These are strangers, but I benefit directly because they are my neighbors. We may need to and have helped each other out periodically. And in my role as a greeter, I am held accountable. I have to report back after I make my visit. Both of those factors give me enough energy to get me out of my comfort zone.
One of the things we are doing to give support and encouragement is by having the 1-‐2-‐1 in 3 time at the end of the services. With so many ambiverts and introverts, safe experiences talking with people we don’t know or don’t know well makes it easier to do want Jesus wants us to do. Having some structure can make it easier, and being with accepting people also makes it easier.
Above all else, as that shy extroverted pastor said about God’s call to us,
At it’s heart, it is an invitation to trust God with the pain of the world and to participate in God’s work to heal it. People are free to accept or reject the invitation. If they reject the invitation, it doesn’t mean we reject the relationship. Choosing to love another person, no matter what, is a sign of God’s kingdom. And surely extroverts and introverts alike can love.
When I came November 1, 2017, I was a stranger. Trudy and I had begun to get to know one another. However, I did not know you and you did not know me. We are still getting to know one another. It takes a long time and a lot of work.
There’s something else, though. We have a boundary breaking relationship. You’re Lutheran and I’m Presbyterian. Trudy and I have a boundary breaking relationship. We are being a daring, courageous household of God. Though we began as seeming strangers, there is something there that is deeper and stronger that binds us together.
Yes, we have work to do. Perhaps it can be easier than we might think.
Consider again the words we heard in Ephesians.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For Christ is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility….
Christ has done all the heavy lifting. We have different gifts, different ways of getting energized, different life experiences, but we are no longer aliens and strangers. We have been drawn near to one another. Yes, just being here a stretch for some! Thanks be to God who has made all of that happen!
“The Lutheran,” June 19, 1991, page 38
Mayne, Debby. Etiquette Rules of Defining Personal Space. www.thespruce.com. May 14, 2018
McHugh, Adam. Introvert? No Apology Required. www.crosswalk.com, Feb. 22, 2010.
Worrall, Simon. You Need Your Personal Space—Here’s the Science Why. National Geographic online, January 20, 2018.
Young, Rachel. Can Introverts be Missional? www.reverendrachel.wordpress.com. Sept. 11, 2014.