The past several weeks we have been discussing friendship in worship. The importance of friendship of God, to God and how disciples were promoted from servants to his friends. What it all means is that if we are going to be friends with God we have to take God’s ideas about friendship seriously. As it turns out, what God most seems to want in the end is for us to be friends with each other. Let us pray. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us. Open to us the meaning of your word and the reality of your love for each of us. Amen.
One of the great needs for any of us is for a friend. I was waiting in line at the post office on Wisconsin Ave this week with my family and saw all the Valentines Day cards. There are all sorts of cards for romantic relationships and familial relationships. Yet I hardly saw any cards for friendships. And yet what we often need most in life are friends. Honest to goodness friends. What most of us long for is a deep, definite and dependable friendship with someone we can trust. As a result, many of the most popular shows on television tend to be about friendships. The single most watched program of the last decade was the finale of a show called Friends.
I received an email from someone this week asking for my prayers for this person for friendship. This person was missing and longing for friendship. And I prayed for that for them.
In a world of hectic work schedules, distractions and inevitable periods of loneliness, where many of us find ourselves “friending” people on Facebook rather than connecting in person, there comes a time when we all long for a real life friend. This makes us appreciate friendship when we experience them.
And so when you say at BHPC that you are “a joyful community of spiritual friends,” you are tapping into a deep human need for connection, understanding and support. When you highlight that as a church you underscore for me that friendship is not only a social good for you, but a spiritual virtue.
We see in John 15 verse 14 that Jesus shared a difficult to understand idea. He said “you are my friends if you do what I command you.” “If you do what I command you?” What does that mean? Does that mean that we are not Jesus friends if we don’t do what Jesus commands us? Is Jesus more interested in getting his way than in his disciple’s friendship? Does it mean that if Jesus told his disciples to go get him a hot dog and they refused he would stop being friends with them? The meaning of this passage lies two verses before when Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” and three verses later when he says “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” Ah ha. This is the commandment we are to follow. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us. What began with God developing a friendship with humanity through Abraham, the Father of Faith, and then Jesus calling his disciples friends, now shifts to the quality of our relationships with each other.
An important tenant of our theology, perhaps the most important, is that the Christian faith is about love. Kath Barth argued that a unique aspect of Christianity is that it introduces a new way of understanding God. God is not fundamentally about kingdom or judgment or power but about love. In the second century, St. Jerome is said to have spoken of his friendship with John and tells that at the end of his life John would say, “Little children, love one another.” People would ask what he meant and John would say, “It is the Lord’s command. If this alone be done, it is enough.”
John wrote that “God is love.” Jesus says that as God has loved him, Jesus has loved us. We are to abide in his love by keeping his commandment to love one another. Jesus wants us to be like him. He wants his disciples to carry on and carry out his message of love. And we do that through friendship. The Greek word for friend, philos, is a form of love. Jesus wants us to live as friends with him and each other. That is why Jesus states in John 13, “By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What sets Christians apart is not our views on issues or personal piety, it’s our love for one another.
Being a friend to someone and receiving someone’s friendship is to abide in love. As fans of the 19th century hymn Abide with Me or the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski know, abide means to remain or continue with, not just to pass through something. Friendship is a continuing state. We can have work acquaintances that are contextual. We can have romantic encounters that are fleeting. We can have school relationships that are here today but if we don’t invest time in go away and we really don’t miss when they are gone.
But friendship means something that lasts for a while. When you abide in relationship with a friend, you abide in God’s love. And you find when you reflect that more often than not that your friendship is based on something you share. When I when camp as a youth in Michigan we would always ended the summer singing the Michael W Smith song Friends by singing, “And a friends a friend forever if the Lords the Lord of them.“
Lasting, loving friendships are profoundly spiritual. They fulfill Jesus’ commandment and connect us to God. They are gifts. We know this because when it comes to such love Jesus says in our lesson “you did not choose me but I chose you.” And “appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last. “
A character of friendship results from realizing that we have been chosen to love. That God has chosen to give us the gift of love. We don’t manufacture friendship as much as we recognize it. Some of my best friendships are ones where I wondered later, how did I possibly meet or come across this person? Why were we brought together? What made us click? And yet something did. And the relationship could be magical. It could be profoundly spiritual.
At church meetings I sometimes wonder, how did these people all get together? But then over any length of time I see your interactions as a community and realize it works beautifully, every time. And then I hear you tell me how spiritual and special friendships are in your own lives, and I then I understand why you work together so well as a church. Because spiritual friendship matters to you. Because you are chosen to love and you recognize a spiritual friend when you see one. You realize that your friendships are gifts from God. Thomas Hughes put it well, “….making friends is one of God’s best gifts. It involves many things, but above all, the power of going out of one’s self, and appreciating whatever is noble and loving in another.”
Why are we given gifts of friendships? Jesus tells us saying “I have said these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Friendship is a gift meant to bring us joy. So our joy can be complete. How many of you know the movie Jerry McGuire. Tom Cruise character appears out of nowhere to surprise the girl and tells her “you complete me.” There is something about a connection with another person that completes us. That makes our joy complete.
Coming out of worship last Sunday when we talked about the responsibilities of friendship one of you told me at the door that you thought Presbyterians are probably pretty good at doing responsibility. What we have trouble with is joy.
That is where friendship is important. Because you can fulfill your responsibilities and you can have all sorts of successes, but if you don’t have anyone to enjoy them with it becomes lonely at the top. We recognize friends so our joy may be complete. I had a meeting on Thursday with the CEO of a major non profit. This person had just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos. The New York Times did a front page story on this person in December. I asked if the path has been fun. And this person expressed to me that while it’s been exciting, there is not enough joy. What this person said they miss most in their busy life is friends. Honest to goodness friends. Who will visit them and share joy and sorrow with them.
And yet friendships are not always easy to find or maintain. My grandmother used to tell me that if you had even one or two really good friends in your lifetime you are lucky. Having a friend means working hard, investing time, being willing to forgive, recognizing a spiritual friend and abiding in love by being a friend to someone else.
The reason I was at the post office during this week was to try and get a passport for a member of our family. Perhaps my closest friend growing up lives in Sweden now and we hope is to visit him sometime. We remain close but it’s hard to keep up a friendship overseas. It makes me feel for military families who struggle with this each day. What I have found special about friendship with this childhood friend is each time we are together we pick up the same language and inside jokes that helped us connect originally. Having the same language helps especially when there are differences and obstacles, like an ocean, to separate you.
I am impressed each time I gather here with Men’s Fellowship or experience or hear of the sharing at Daybreak Devotions or watch the interactions in Bible study. You are a church that cares about friendship. This church is a good place to find friends and to practice being a friend because here you share the language of faith. You share a common core of a belief in Christ and a language of worship. You share an open Spirit embraces each journey. You share a love that transcends, indeed, enhances the value of your diversity. It makes Bradley Hills a special place to find a friend when it’s hard to elsewhere. Any community where your parish nurse, the first person who might call on you if you need support, is named Friend, should tell you something about the heart of friendship here.
This past Wednesday evening, as I do the last Wednesday of each month, I went to Haven pizza with group of friends from college. It was raining hard on Wednesday so only one other guy showed up. He had lost his father right before Christmas and this was the first time I had seen him since the death. As we sat it was a chance for us to talk about loss and regret and life and celebration. It was a special talk. But what made that special talk possible was all the little talks about minor things long forgotten we have had over the same food and drink once a month for years. Ordinary days and common acts that led to deep friendship.
Friendship can bring love to each of your days. Friends make the big moments more joyful as you share them. Friends make the sorrowful moments more bearable by bringing the familiar to you so that you can rediscover yourself when your world seems shaken. And friends make the routine special. Eating pizza may seem routine and boring by yourself but with a friend it’s special. It’s sacred. It’s why “where two or more are gathered in God’s name,” God is there.
Therefore, it is appropriate that we celebrate communion today. Because communion is all about Jesus taking the routine things of life and making them special, even sacred. We gather for communion once a month to eat and drink in the same way each time. And yet it’s special because you do it as friends with each other and with Christ. You practice worshipping together. You disagree, dream and decide together. You find unity in your diversity. And when you live and serve as friends you abide in love. When you gather in the name of the one who told us to love each other as he has loved us it is a special, sacred time. It prepares us for life. When you live as friends you turn the common experiences of life into something sacred. In the name of Christ, be a joyful community of spiritual friends. And give thanks that you are one. This is Jesus’ commandment, that you love one another. You are Jesus friends when you do so. May it be so. Amen.