Loneliness and Grief

As most of you know, I work in a homeless shelter on the northside of Chicago. 
At Cornerstone Community Outreach, I witness daily how people have been rejected from their families and friends for many different reasons; they're lonely and grieving because they've gotten into trouble, burnt too many bridges and caused other people to suffer. Unfortunately, their families and friends have wound up saying to them, "we've had enough, it's time to go!" As a result, they end up homeless and staying with us at Cornerstone. 
I also see people ending up homeless, grieving and lonely, because of other things they may struggle with; it may be their mental illness, their addictions, a physical limitation, some sickness or a death in their family! All these things are very real, and unfortunately, they also create isolation, grief and loneliness within our communities. 
To be honest, this is a question that challenges me, it causes me to analyze my own response to how I, as a follower of Jesus, should respond to all the loneliness and grief I see within Cornerstone, JPUSA, Uptown and wherever I may wander. 
Today, I want to look to Jesus, and see how He responded to the lonely and grieving people of his day! 
Firstly; Jesus deeply loves those who are lonely and grieving; he made sure they were seen and recognized. He made sure they were loved! 
The example and life of Jesus should be a source of hope for everyone who's feeling lonely and grieving....
Jesus loves us. He cares for us. We may not always feel it, but this is exactly how the Kingdom of God is lived out; it is loving the "least of these", loving the lonely and loving those who are grieving. The Kingdom of God doesn't walk on by; it stops and sees lonely people in our midst. 
Jesus was often, nearly always, surrounded by the masses, by crowds, but he still managed to embrace lonely people. People would be pressing against him, asking him questions and wanting his undivided attention! Yet the gospels reveal, time and time again, how He stopped in the busyness and crowds to show love and mercy to these lonely souls! 
He stopped and showed mercy to the blind man who begged for mercy, he stopped and turned his undivided attention to the woman who'd been bleeding for 12 years and he stopped and showed mercy to the woman who'd been hunched over for long 18 years. These 3 individuals were sad and lonely and He could have just walked on by! He could have ignored them! But despite the protests and the ugliness of the crowds, he focused on these lonely suffering individuals and brought about healing. 
Jesus also sought out those who were isolated, I'm talking about the ones who'd been pushed out and away. Notice how he gave his time to Legion, the demon possessed man who lived in the countryside, or how about the woman at the well? Again, Jesus could have ignored them and walked on by, but he didn't, he stopped and gave them his undivided attention, and they both found healing that day! 
Now I want to turn our attention to one story in particular. I'm going to be talking about a man who was a cheat, a crook and criminal. He had hurt many people in Jericho, in fact, he was quite possibly the most despised individual in that town! This fella was a chief tax-collector, and he was ripping everybody off and getting away with it! This man's name was Zacchaeus! 

His deeds caused him to be very rich, but they also caused him to be rejected and despised by all. I believe, they also caused him to be very alone and full of grief! I wonder if this is the very reason he desperately wanted to see Jesus.
Let us read his story....
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man named Zacchaeus lived there. He was a chief tax collector and was very rich. 
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. But he was a short man. He could not see Jesus because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree. He wanted to see Jesus, who was coming that way. 
Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was. He looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay at your house today." So Zacchaeus came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this. They began to whisper among themselves. They said, "Jesus has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" 
But Zacchaeus stood up. He said, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of what I own to those who are poor. And if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay it back. I will pay back four times the amount I took." 
Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to your house. You are a member of Abraham's family line. The Son of Man came to look for the lost and save them." (Luke 19:1-10 NIRV)
Everyone knew his deeds! Everyone knew who he was! Everybody knew how he made his riches by ripping other people off. Jesus knew all this too, but he did something very different, something revolutionary; he stopped, focused his undivided attention on Zacchaeus, did not condemn or judge this man, but told him "I want to chill with you. Dine with you. Stay with you!" 

This simple act of compassion outraged the masses. They thought it was a despicable act to spend time with such a sinner! They wanted Jesus to ignore him; but Jesus did exact opposite, he turned their world upside down, by simply looking at him and calling Zacchaeus by his name.
This simple act of compassion transformed and saved this man. Jesus could have condemned him, like everyone did, but instead he showered him with love and this lonely crook changed his ways. This thieving loner became a generous giver. 
This brings me to my 2nd point: as followers of Jesus, we need to follow suit, and also deeply love those who are lonely and grieving. 
Jesus wants us to follow his example. How do we do this? by noticing, seeing, helping and loving those who are lonely! That is what living out the kingdom of God is all about, that is what the love of the kingdom is all about. We, as the church, need to rise up and embrace with open arms those who are alone, lost and heartbroken. This is what I see here at the Bridge; people who are willing to love the lonely, love those who are grieving, love those who have made mistakes and love those who are looking for love! 
I know for myself; the challenge is to keep my eyes and ears open at Cornerstone, because I can easily be overcome by the crowds and forget about the quiet individuals who are suffering in the corners. Jesus had to brush aside the religious thugs and attention-seekers of his day, as they can be the ones who occupy all our time and efforts, but, just like Jesus, we need to stop the masses, so we can focus our undivided attention on those who are lonely. 
We have to remember, everybody wanted Jesus to ignore Zacchaeus, or even rebuke him. We also have to remember, Jesus didn't just say as he walked on by "hey strange man, up there in a sycamore tree, you need change your evil ways". No, Jesus stopped, looked up into his eyes, called him by his name and said, "Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay at your house today."
Think about how shocked the crowd was; now also think about how shocked Zacchaeus was! No one, I repeat, no one had ever loved him so much, and these simple loving words transformed this lonely man into a renewed man.
Thirdly, one way to overcome our own loneliness and grief, is to deeply love and reach out to others. As we've been touched by Jesus, we must let Jesus flow through us and into the lives of others, especially those who are lonely and grieving.
The story of Zacchaeus did not end with them just enjoying a meal. The love and compassion of Jesus, the grace and mercy of Jesus, caused Zacchaeus to generously give away his fortune. He paid back the people he had ripped off and handed out his cash to the poor! What a transformation!
The transformation of Zacchaeus was more than just a verbal proclamation; this transformation made him reach out to others. His transformation converted him from being the town villain, the most hated man in Jericho, into a generous giver and a true witness and example of God's loving Kingdom! 
When we reach out and offer others what Jesus has done for us, we will start overcoming our grief and loneliness! When we reach out to others, we are doing what God wants us to do! When we reach out, we will find friendship. He wants us to give ourselves for his Kingdom, when we do that, barriers will be broken and other people will be touched and transformed by the Kingdom of God.
A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....  
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question.Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 5/27/14, in response to this question;
"Loneliness and Grief"
I’ve messed up a lot, and it’s left me all on my own, and I can do is sit around and feel grief over it. What am I supposed to do about it? I think about “medicating” myself over it, but that’s how I got in this mess in the first place. What’s the right way to feel about this?

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