Sermon for Green Lake Church for Sabbath, August 11, 2018.
Texts: Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:6,:9, 10, 17. The language represents a melding of several translations.
2 Timothy 1:1-4
Tuesday evening I went for a run in our neighborhood. Many streets were blocked off– with cones or trash cans. One street was closed off with two cars completely blocking the street. What was going on? It was Magnolia’s night out. Neighbors came together to party, share food, play games in the street, connect with one another.
On one street there was a long table set up and people were sitting at the table eating, like it was a grand dining room. It looked like a lot of fun.
The idea behind this is that we will be better neighbors if we know each other. Which, of course, is true.
I like to think of church as a grand block party. It is a festival of the Holy City. And each congregation is a holy neighborhood. We come together each week to strengthen our connection with one another.
In the Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “I have called you friends.” This morning I want to talk about church as a society of friends, to echo the language of the Quakers. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are the family of God. We are a holy priesthood. A holy people. We are a gathering of friends.
Some of you here this morning have been friends with each other for fifty or sixty years. Others are new friends. You’ve gotten together in the last year. For most of us, social connections are one of the primary blessing of being part of church.
When I was in college a popular singing group invited me and a couple of other young radicals to travel with them and speak during their concerts. One memorable trip, we headed east over the mountains to some place in North Carolina. We ran into snow. The heater quit working. We huddled together and prayed as the driver of our van navigated the slippery roads. The next afternoon, we presented our concert. The music group finished a song and I was on for a brief commentary. I do not remember what I had planned to say, but as I stood in front of this auditorium full of students I was ambushed by a sudden realization. The song we had just heard was false. And the little speech I had planned was going to be equally false.
The song was this:
If you know the Lord,
You need nobody else,
To see you through
the darkest night.
You can walk alone,
you only need the Lord
To keep you on the road
Take time to pray, every day;
And when you’re heading home,
He’ll show you the way.
If you know the Lord,
You need nobody else,
To see the Light,
God’s wonderful Light.
We always need somebody else. That’s the way we are made. And we will have a happier, healthier spiritual life if we deliberately cultivate friendships.
Of course, those who sing this song, are singing its poetry. Its language is exaggerated to express how much we depend on God and how rich and constant God’s support is. Still, as a young radical committed to truth and careful definitions of theology, I knew the words of the song contradicted the actual life of the church.
The church exists in large part because faith grows most luxuriously in the garden of the holy community. Here at Green Lake Church, I’m constantly touched by the warmth and vigor of our faith. Not “my faith.” Rather, “our faith.” I hear you express solid confidence in God. You know for sure that goodness will blossom, that love will triumph, that God is at work even in the shadows to accomplish something glorious. And your faith gives strength to my own heart and in sermons I hope to reflect back to you that sweet faith which lives in this place.
On Facebook, I have 2000 friends. Most of them are people I don’t know which is to say, they are not friends. And even the people I do know are far too many for me to keep up with. They are not my friends. Sure, if I had the opportunity to sit down and learn their story, I would greatly enjoy the experience. But I do not take time to learn their story. If they disappeared I would not even notice.
Here at Green Lake Church we have 500 plus members. I cannot keep track of 500 people. Again, I would enjoy getting acquainted with everyone on our church roster, but there is not enough space in my head for 500 people.
But 500 people can keep track of 500 people. And when one of you tells Hanz or me about a special need in someone’s life, we are committed to acting on that information and responding. But let’s be clear: our response is on your behalf. We are actually carrying forward your caring intention, when we serve someone you have called us about.
Let’s take a few minutes to give close attention to the words of this morning’s Old Testament reading.
17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.18:24 A person with many acquaintances may still come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a sibling.27:6; Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.27:9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and heartfelt counsel from a friend brings pleasantness to life. 27:10 Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
I would like to add one more proverb, a truth that might get obscured in our world: Friendship takes time. And focus.
Attending church does not create friendships. It gives us opportunity to meet people, to begin acquaintances. But friendship requires time together outside Sabbath morning. Conversation and activity together. Shared life.
In the New Testament there are two very dramatic models for holy friendships.
Paul. Longed for Timothy to come. He remembered good times together. Paul did not merely “wish” for Timothy to come. He picked up the phone and called him, or I should say, he picked up the quill and wrote him a letter. I miss you. Please come soon.
Jesus. Nearly the first thing Jesus did when he began public ministry was to collect an inner circle of friends. He had thousands of followers and tens of thousands of people who were fascinated and admiring. Out of that mass of people, he chose just twelve to be with him constantly. Then among the twelve he chose three-Peter, James, and John, to be his special inner circle. Jesus needed friends he depended on his friends.
On the last night in Gethsemane, he repeatedly called on his three closest disciples to keep him company. They failed him. But the story stands. The Son of Man, the King of Glory, needed friends.
And we who count ourselves Christian, we are not above our Master. We need friends.
Friends don’t just happen. They are cultivated.
Like physical prowess.
Let’s deliberately cultivate friendships. Look around the place where you are, here at Green Lake Church. Consider who you would like to be friends with.
Invite them for coffee.
Invite them for a Bible study.
Invite them for a hike, a trip to the zoo, to come serve with you feeding the homeless.
Make time together.
I sometimes hear people complain that when they absented themselves from church, no one called them. It would be nice if we were better at noticing absent people and quickly getting in touch with them. But the reality is if you disappear from church, you probably will not get a call. People will assume you are an adult and that the reason you are not here is because you have another place you would rather be, a place that seemed better to you. So, being polite people, we are not likely to annoy you by asking, “Where are you?” “Why aren’t you in church?” You may wish we would do that, but the odds are, we won’t.
Instead, I ask, who have you become so close to, that if you go away, or are kept away, you would unhesitatingly pick up the phone and call.
We cannot control what others will do in our absence. We can control what will be our reflexive instinct when bad stuff happens. Let’s build friendships that will sustain us through difficult times.
Build friendships so that when you need a word of encouragement, when you need some counsel, when you need some help, you will automatically pick up the phone and call.
If you are not here, I will assume you are some other place that is good and happy for you. Like Adrian who is attending the Everett Forest Park Church. Ellen, who is tending a romance in Spain. Rohan who runs sound occasionally at Volunteer Park.
If you have done your work of building friendships, when you need the church, you will call. You won’t call the office. You will call particular people who have become your friends through sharing life together.
I want to specifically celebrate people who are helping us to build friendships here at Green Lake.
Bryan Carli who has organized campouts.
Karen Baker who has organized a hike and pizza making party at her house.
The Mehrers and their ice cream party.
The Lacys who provide burgers and ice cream at the conclusion of a hike up north.
Ken Fairchild and Mark Haun who organize Sabbath afternoon hikes.
This work of helping people develop rich, deep friendships is as crucial to the life of the church as is music or preaching.
Jesus called his disciples friends. Let’s engage in the necessary disciplines to cultivate and sustain our friendships here in the Christian society of friends.