Gathering and Connecting?

45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter7 said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!”[1]

Luke 8:45

We are years into a global pandemic, and we have witnessed the resiliency and creativity of Christian communities all over the place.  We’ve learned how to create and maintain virtual spaces where we can continue to gather.  We have accepted the fact that technology must be a part of our strategic plans if we are going to thrive amid the uncertainty of our times.  Some of us have, against all odds, expanded the reach and influence of our local ministries to those who may never physically attend our services.  These years have taught us many lessons.

Over the next several weeks, I as well as my colleagues will be considering how we maintain connections in an environment that seems to be driving us farther and farther away from one another.

We are, perhaps, more divided, dislocated, disjointed, and distant from one another than we have ever been.  Whether because of politics, the pandemic, or even personal issues that we all sometimes go through – we find ourselves disconnected and lonely.  Beyond our grandest efforts to return to our gatherings, sustain our gatherings, maintain our gathering places, and even as we try to remain hopeful, something is missing.

I’ve been picking my wife’s and daughters’ brains over the last few weeks with my questions about ‘connection’ and what experiences inspire deep feelings of ‘connectedness.’   In some ways, my ad-hoc research was fueled by my desire to say something meaningful about ‘connection’ in this article.  But, honestly, my drive is really an expression of my growing anxiety that something is missing from (or perhaps even present within) our gatherings that undermines our ability to deeply connect with God, ourselves, and others.

When I asked my wife about what stories came to mind when she thought about ‘connection,’ she immediately responded with Jesus’ healing of a woman with an issue of blood.  This woman’s healing story climaxes with Jesus being surrounded by throngs of people and asking, “Who was it that touched me?”

Jesus is surrounded by people on all sides, pressed and jostled about.  Many have gathered to get a glimpse of, to be in the company of, to glean something from, to gain some advantage from an encounter of Jesus.  Surprisingly, all those who gathered were not able to connect with him.  This alone gives good reason to pause.

When I think about the small congregation I serve, and I consider my desire to regain some normalcy and consistency to our meeting schedules – what is really my goal when we gather? 

Is my goal my convenience?

Is my goal my comfort?

Is my goal my certainty?

Is my goal to amass a crowd that legitimizes the ministry that I’ve poured my life into? 

Or is it my goal to connect with GOD and others in ways that facilitate healing?

One thing, for sure is this – gathering crowds are not a reliable sign of deep and meaningful connection!  There must be something beyond ‘regathering and getting back to normal’ for connection to occur.

Connection occurs when our deepest needs and concerns, when our brokenness and desperation are met by a gracious GOD who feels with us and stands still amid the crowd and asks, “Who was it that touched me?”

Perhaps a part of facilitating deep ‘connection’ beyond simply gathering demands that we aim at creating spaces where those encountering profound pain, loss, doubt, frustration, and despair can stretch their hands and receive the grace that emanates from the fringes of Jesus’ garments.

Perhaps, part of facilitating deep ‘connection’ beyond just gathering a crowd demands that we eliminate the press that hinders those who would open their hearts to Jesus.

Perhaps, part of facilitating deeper ‘connection’ demands that we learn to stand still, to feel, and to ask… “Who’s reaching out?  Who’s hurting?  Where is the pain?  Where is the despair… the loneliness?”  “Who is that that touched me?”

Of course, we may focus our attention on the tenacity and faith of the woman in our text, but for a moment a least today, I’m thinking about the crowd. And I am thinking about how never before, have I longed so deeply to be just a thread in the fringe of Jesus’ garment that allows someone to ‘connect’ with Jesus!

7 Some manuscripts add and those who were with him

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 8:45.

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