Sunday, March 04, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent: The Truth of Friendship

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.
It is an intelligence above language.
-Henry David Thoreau

A number of years ago I was involved in the development of a Christian renewal movement within our denomination. One of the directions of the movement was “evangelism” which at that time (mid-1970s) was not quite as loaded a word as it has become. In any case it was a gentler version that we talked about in that movement. It was based on “friendship” with the mantra being
  • Make a friend,
  • Be a friend,
  • Introduce your friend to Christ.
Not a bad idea in and of itself. It was always based on the idea that when something is important to you, or touches you deeply, you are almost always ready and willing to share it with your friends. We often talked about how when we see a good movie or read a good book, we are excited to share it with friends. Our natural conclusion was we should be ready to do that with our faith.

There were those, however, who saw it from a slightly different angle. They saw it as a technique to win souls. I am over exaggerating a bit, but it became for some, “Let me find some non-Christians, befriend them, and then when they are ready I’ll talk about Jesus.” (As I said, an over-exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

The problem with that was often in the reasoning and not in the ideal. Becoming friends with people had turned into a technique to get someone to believe. In its most raw form it lacked the true heart of both friendship and evangelism. It lacked caring and compassion and was simply the often seen “numbers” game of “How many have you saved today?” It was “Who can I make friends with?” not “Who needs a friend?”

A big difference!

I always liked the “Make…Be…Introduce” approach to evangelism. I still do. I liked it because it was how I became a Christian.

A close friend and his family befriended me when I needed it. They reached out to a lonely teenager whose mother had been sick and died. They were already friends before my mom got sick, but they saw a greater need than just being a friend. They became a second family with many hours spent with them. They eventually invited me to church with them. Of course they did- it was an important, an essential part of their life. Why wouldn’t they want to share it with me? They weren’t out to “win souls”; they were out to help me be introduced to their friend Jesus.

It took a number of months for me to say okay to their invitation. When I did, I kept going back. They knew I needed something and were sure that Jesus would be right for me.

They were right! The rest is my own history. From my baptism at age 15 through college and then seminary, years of being a pastor and a counselor until now, just two months shy of 55 years later, their friendship at that important point in my life made all the difference! They were kind to the hopes I didn’t know I had and to the dreams yet undreamt!

Friends . . . They are kind to each other's hopes. 
They cherish each other's dreams.

I have had many friends over these 55 years. They have all known about my faith in its various stages and understandings. Some were members of my church; many were not. Some were Christian; some were not. My faith always informed my relationships. Again, not because I wanted to win them to Christ, something I cannot do, but because my faith is who I am. I can no more separate my faith from my personality and personhood than I can change the color of my eyes or the genes of my European ancestors.

I reflect on all that today with the quotes from Thoreau for this Sunday of Lent. It is tempting to use the friendship thoughts to think about my friendship with Jesus or God. (What a friend we have in Jesus / All our sins and griefs to bear…) That is naturally the foundation. Instead, what I have been led to this week is to think about the friends I have had- and the friend I am being. Jesus’ friendship toward me is the model of what friendship means.
  • It means openness to the friend and their needs. 
  • It means supporting their hopes and dreams for them.
  • It means sharing my hopes and dreams with them. 
  • It means caring and compassion, not asking for anything in return. 
  • It means grace.
All trite cliches I know, but cliches become time-worn because they are true and get repeated.
  • Lent reminds me of the spiritual path of friendship as Jesus himself lived it.
  • Lent reminds me of the treasure of friendship that I have been given by and with my friends.
  • Lent reminds me of the gifts of friendship that I have to offer to my friends.
[S]urely my Friend shall forever be my Friend, and reflect a ray of God to me,
and time shall foster and adorn and consecrate our Friendship,
no less than the ruins of temples.

  • This Lent, how am I living out my friendship to others?
  • This Lent, how can Jesus teach me more about being a friend?
  • This Lent, how can I grow in my closeness to God through Jesus?
  • This Lent, how can all these be consecrated by the Holy Spirit working in me?

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, 
not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; 
it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one 
when you discover that someone else believes in you 
and is willing to trust you with a friendship.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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