Sermon for Sunday, May 14, 2023   Sixth Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day “Loneliness and the Spirit of God”

Reverend Amy Zalk Larson

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church   

 Decorah, Iowa


Click here to read scripture passages for the day.


Beloved People of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

My mom was an early adapter of just about every health and safety measure that is now standard practice. My sister and I had car seats and wore seat belts during the era when my friends were climbing into the back windows of their cars to nap in the sun. Mom would slather us with thick white zinc oxide and make us wear t-shirts over our swimsuits to guard against the sun. Meals in our house were mostly “nutritional opportunities”. 

Mom also prioritized relationships with other people. I’ve been thinking about her as I’ve been reading the Surgeon General’s recent report, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” I  wonder if mom knew, intuitively, about the link that science now confirms – the link between social connection and our physical health.

The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote a beautiful letter of introduction to this report. He says that when he was first appointed to his position, back in 2014, he didn’t view loneliness as a public health concern. But then he embarked on a cross country listening tour. He kept hearing stories from people that highlighted the ways they felt “isolated, invisible, insignificant.” People from all walks of life, of all ages, from every corner of the country would tell him, “I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself,” or “if I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.”

Murthy says this was a lightbulb moment for him, when he saw how many of us are struggling with social disconnection. The scientific literature confirmed what he was hearing. One in two adults in the United States reported experiencing loneliness, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Murthy then describes the impact of all this, writing, “Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling – it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.” 

In his letter, our nation’s doctor translates these troubling scientific findings into a stirring mes- sage of conviction and hope. Parts of his letter sound downright biblical. The letter is grounded in story – his own story of a listening tour and “lightbulb moment”, the stories he heard of brokenness and need. Murthy also issues a prophetic warning: “If we fail to [tend to social connection] we will pay an ever-increasing price in the form of our individual and collective health and wellbeing.  And we will continue to splinter and divide until we can no longer stand as a community or a country. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will further retreat to our corners—angry, sick, and alone.”

He summons us to act, calling us to reimagine how to shape community and saying, “We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation.” Finally, Murthy offers words of assurance writing, “We have the power to respond … we can rise to meet this moment together.” I hear, in Dr. Murthy’s letter, a very clear call to us as followers of Jesus. Our faith speaks directly to this epidemic of loneliness and isolation.

Our Triune God IS relationship, relationship between three unique yet interconnected persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is mother of us all. God is relationship, giving, receiving, loving, abiding. God longs for us to be in life-giving relationships with God and each other. God knows how much it hurts us to be disconnected, isolated, and lonely.

So, the Word of God became flesh and lived among us. That is, God showed up for us, becoming a down-to-earth relationship with us. In Jesus, God became what we needed to reconnect us with God. All our brokenness, all our sin led to Jesus’ death. Yet even death cannot hold God back, cannot stop God from reaching us, loving us, forgiving us, raising us to new life. Jesus gave us the Spirit to be our advocate, the comforter who will not leave us orphaned, who empowers us to love.

We are not alone. You are not alone. We have all that we need for life-giving relationships in the world. We are given all this not just for our own well-being, but for the sake of this world that God so loves. Scripture and our nation’s doctor are calling us to use what we’ve been given now to help heal our country. Can we rise to this moment of need? Yes! Because of the Spirit, our advocate.

By the power of the Spirit, we too can listen to others and offer words that connect, that build bridges. We can offer and receive help. We can keep showing up in relationships, in community, in public discourse even when it is hard. When others do and say things that harm, that disparage, that seek to deny our humanity or the humanity of those we love, the Spirit assures us that our identity is not up for debate. No one’s identity is. All people are made in the image of God, beloved of God. No one can take that away no matter what they do. The hatred of others hurts but it cannot harm what matters most.

We are loved and forgiven. We can love and forgive by the power of the Spirit, and this forgiveness releases us from being tied to those who would harm. I see the Spirit at work among us now: helping us to build deeper relationships in this congregation through the new Flock Ministry, through the way guests are welcomed, through the work we’re doing to dismantle our own White Supremacy, and through changes to our council and committee structure.

The Spirit also propels us all to work beyond the congregation for the sake of the common good. The Spirit of our self-giving, living, mothering God raises up all within us that is stuck in sin and death, loneliness, and isolation. The Spirit empowers us to reimagine, to rebuild, to mend.

The Spirit is as close as our breath and as mighty as fire and wind.

Let’s take a moment to breathe in the Spirit together.