Around 11 am every day, my wife comes home from work at the Seminary and we eat lunch together. We always watch the show Friends, which I wasn’t so sure of, until I watched every season with my wife, twice. We’re on the third rotation now. I’ve really come to enjoy certain characters (Chandler, Joey) and come to rue others (Ross, Rachel). But there is one oddball character on the show (Phoebe), and I was impressed by her in the episode we watched today.
In this particular episode, Phoebe needs to do some extra work because her massage therapy work isn’t as fruitful as she would like. She finds a telemarketing company that sells copier toner, which seems like the most boring job in the world. She has a little notebook that specifically tells her what to say whenever something is said. One day a callee (Jason Alexander), says he doesn’t need Toner. Phoebe follows protocol and says, “At our prices, everyone needs toner.” He then responds, “The reason I don’t need toner, is because I’m going to kill myself.” The statement was bold, and he even had it written on his whiteboard at his desk for anyone to take notice. No one did. For a hilarious second, Phoebe looks through her notebook for a proper response for “I’m going to kill myself” and does not find one. The scene hurts. The man goes on, saying that no one pays attention to him, no one knows he even exists. he then stands up in his office surrounded by people and states, “I’m going to kill myself.” Everyone ignores him, and not an eye is lifted. Literally no one pays attention to him. He then tells Phoebe he’s just going to do it, but she catches him before he hangs up. She tells him that she got his call for a reason. That she cares about him, and through some silly, completely fabricated proofs, she shows him that the universe cares about him. She then left work and found the man in his office, to show that she cared. By not ignoring him, Phoebe saved a life that was about to be lost, because no one cared about this man.
Like everything, this scene got me thinking. 1) I’m amazed at how a comedy/drama got me thinking so deeply. 2) I was deeply impacted, because that is basically what good ministry is (minus the silly proofs that the universe cares). Let me emphasize #2.
I know for a fact that everyone feels lonely sometimes. Some people are better at recognizing their loneliness than others. Some people try to solve it on their own and go out to meet people with varying degrees of success or failure. Others seclude themselves purposely and wait for someone to come and “save” them. Some have just given up, and aren’t expecting anyone good and caring to come into their lives. Many feel that they are not worth the time of others because of actions in the past, and the burden of that past weighs on their hearts.
A passage in Psalm 25 speaks boldly to this situation, in a time when David felt lonely and afflicted by his world:
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, For I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; Bring me out of my distresses. Look upon my affliction and my trouble, And forgive all my sins. Look upon my enemies, for they are many, And they hate me with violent hatred. Guard my soul and deliver me; Do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You.”
While Phoebe saved a life by merely showing up and listening, we too have that healing power. People all around you are standing in crowds, being completely ignored. They feel that their life is worth nothing. If the King of the nation Israel, a powerful nation in David’s time, felt lonely, how much so would someone without power find themselves trapped and insecure. As representatives of God and His Kingdom on Earth, it is our responsibility and joy to reach out and care for everyone, whether lonely and hurting emotionally, or whether they are literally falling on the road because they do not have food, water, or clothing. God has placed us all where we are so that we can reach out and bring the lost sheep to him. Jesus told a story during his ministry, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.” Though the term sheep is often used derogatively in the sense of “blind follower,” here that is not the case. In Jesus’ story, the sheep are really people. They choose to be with the Shepherd because the Shepherd is good to them. He is their protection, their companion, who they look to in times of danger, and the one who rescues them when danger comes.
God is looking across the globe at all the people who feel lonely, who have been imprisoned by literal and figurative walls, and wishes that they would be freed by the love that community in Christ provides. He has commissioned the church to go out to all the world and show every human being that God is working, alive, and the Great Shepherd – not like a Totalitarian Regime, but a Giver of Life. He is the One who holds the world on the edge of His figurative pencil tip, yet He is the One who stands before you, breath to breath, life to life, arms open for an embrace.
As Phoebe saved a life, we see the longing for connection that every human desires. Let’s learn from this, and be practical about living out the calling that Christ gave at His last moment with His students: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Be the ekklesia (assembly) of Christ, love one another, bringing more into fellowship and live as true representatives of The Kingdom of God.