Friday, October 18, 2013

Best Friends Forever (I Samuel 20:1-13; Luke 5:17-26) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you know what the acronym BFF means?  Best friends forever.  It was coined in the 1980's.  On emails, texts, face book people often sign off with this descriptor.  It's a positive sentiment because without a doubt  - we need friends.  Writer Mark Twain said:  “I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell—you see, I have friends in both places.”  Author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:  “A true friend is one who multiplies joys and divides grief.”    You may recall the popular sitcom Cheers in the 1980's, it was about friends and the theme song was - “Where everybody knows your name.”  There was another sitcom in the 1990's titled Friends and the theme song was “I'll be there for you.”

The debate continues today about whether social media actually builds and expands genuine friendships or whether it is an illusion which creates virtual and superficial friendships.  It certainly raises many questions.   An article in Hemispheres magazine explored a number of sites that are dedicated to helping you find online "friends." For instance, on the site you can buy 500 friends for $30 or 20,000 friends for $699.

I remember reading an article that discussed the overall decline of friendship in our society.  It stated that fewer and fewer people have real friends and described a growing phenomenon about loneliness.  Do you agree or disagree?  The article particularly addressed the issue as it related to men.  It pointed to studies and surveys which have shown that men are far less likely to have meaningful relationships than women are.  They have fewer friends, first of all, and the friends they do have are not nearly as close.  What do you think?

Whom would you call a true friend in your life?  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I didn’t find my friends, the good Lord gave them to me.”   Yes, when we think about our friends, old and new, past and present, we too are moved to say:  “I didn’t find them, God gave them to me.”   I know one of the sad realities of life is losing our friends to death as we age.  I have had many conversations with people over the years, who have talked about seeing their circle of friends shrink as they age, how they miss them dearly and that its not easy to make new friends. 

I thank God for my wife Nancy, my best friend (who else would put up with me) and our sons who now as adults, are our friends.    I know you won't believe this but Nancy and I didn't feel we were our sons Best Friends Forever when they were teenagers.   I am grateful for longtime friendships that we have renewed since returning to SD and for new friends we have made here during our seven years at PBPC.  

God created us as social beings.  God made us for relationships and for community.  Norman Cousins wrote:  “The highest expression of civilization is not its art, but the supreme tenderness that people feel and show toward one another.  If our civilization is breaking down, it is not because we lack the brainpower to meet its demands, but because our feelings have been dulled.” 

Someone said, “You can always tell a real friend because when you’ve made a fool of yourself he doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job.”  The Bible is filled with inspiring stories about friendships.   Today we will examine two stories, one from the O.T. and one from the N.T.    What are some lessons from these stories?

First, friends are faithful, loyal, they stick by one another, even in times of adversity.    Friends don’t give up on each other when the journey gets tough or even dangerous.  In the story of David and Jonathan, we discover that King Saul of Israel has turned against David. David raises his deep concerns with his friend Jonathan.  

Why is David frightened?  David was a young man, a shepherd.  He had become Saul's armor-bearer, and also entertained Saul by playing the lyre.  But King Saul has become insanely jealous, he is consumed with jealousy.  For it was David, not king Saul, who slew Goliath, the giant leader of the Philistines, the enemies of Israel.   There is a new hero in town.  The people are beginning to chant the name of David in their poems and songs.  “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Saul becomes outraged with jealousy and plots to kill David.

David asks Jonathan, King Saul's son, to help him, to intercede with his father, to find out what’s going on and what Saul has against him.   And Jonathan replies: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”  Jonathan warns David about his father from then on.  It was a dangerous thing that David was asking Jonathan to do.   Jonathan was risking his father’s wrath by doing this, but Jonathan’s answer is,  “Whatever you want me to do, I will do for you.”   Are you a friend like that for someone?  Do you have such a friend?

Further, friends are honest with one another and speak the truth in love.    Jonathan and David make a covenant.  David is trying to find out if or when Saul truly plans to kill him.  He asks Jonathan:  “What have I done?  What is my guilt?  What is my sin against your father they he is trying to take my life?” Jonathan replies that David will not die.  David asks Jonathan a favor.  David tells him that he is not going to sit at a meal with the king, but instead go and hide out in a field.  He asks Jonathan to tell him Saul's reaction, if the king is angry or accepting that David is absent.  Jonathan promises by the Lord, the God of Israel, even upon his own death, to tell Jonathan the truth either way.  And he follows through with his promise.    

I mean imagine picking your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up, and the technician says, "This car is in mechanically sound. Clearly you have an automotive genius to take great care of your car." Later that day, your brakes fail. You find out you were out of brake fluid. You could have died or injured someone else.  You go back to the shop, and you say, "Why didn't you tell me?" The technician replies, "Well, I didn't want you to feel bad.  Plus, I was afraid you might get upset with me about the brake problem.  I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted."  Wouldn't you be upset? You'd say, "I didn't come here for you to make me feel good, I want you to be honest about any problems with my car and repair them.

Or imagine going to the doctor's office for a check-up. The doctor says to you, "You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated." Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out later your arteries were so clogged that you were one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper. You go back to the doctor and say, "Why didn't you tell me?" The doctor says, "Well, I know your body is in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy, but if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It's bad for business.  You might not like me.   I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted." You'd say:  “Doctor, I could have died, tell me the truth.” Do you have friends who speak the truth in love to you?   Are there friends you can be truthful with?

Friends also support each other, encourage one another and are willing to sacrifice for one another.  In a story from Luke Jesus is teaching in a house jammed with people.  People are stepping over one another to hear what he has to say.   Suddenly a group of men interrupt Jesus and bring a man who is paralyzed into the house.  They believe in their hearts that if they can get him near Jesus, the man could be healed.  The only obstacle was in making their way through the crowd of people.

Not to be deterred, they climb up on top of the house, rip out a section of the roof, made out of tightly bound twigs mortared together between heavy wooden beams, and start lowering the man down on a stretcher right in front of Jesus.  Now that’s creative problem solving.  What ingenuity.   No obstacle is too big when it comes to helping a friend.  The friends don't care if they are causing a big commotion.  They are resourceful and imaginative.  They are willing to go to great lengths, to persevere,  even to dismantling  a roof.   A friend says: “I’m here for you, and if I can’t help you, then I will find someone who can, but with God’s help, I will get it done.”   These were true friends.   And I want to believe they also paid the owner of the house for the damage to the roof.   Do you have friends who would go that far for you?   Are there friends you would go to that extent for? 

The story finally reminds us that friends care about your spiritual life and seek to bring you into the presence of God.  This man was paralyzed, totally helpless.  His friends realized that his hope lay in bringing him to Jesus.  They are committed this end.  Just as this man needed his friends to help him make a life-changing connection with Christ, so do some of your friends today.   We were not created by God to make our spiritual journey alone in this life.  Friends contribute immeasurably to our spiritual formation.  Think of friends whom God has used to shape your faith.  Jesus was extraordinarily impressed with the faith of these friends.  The story says:  “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man:  “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 

Most people come to God or to a worship service at the invitation of a friend.    They need someone who cares enough about them to bring them into the presence of Jesus Christ.  You can do this by praying with and for them, by ministering to them in the name of Christ, by inviting them to church, by offering them the encouragement of Jesus Christ.

Best Friends Forever.  I close with this surprising and astonishing word of the Lord.   Scripture declares that we were God’s enemies because of our sin, but all that has changed through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.   Jesus says in the Gospel of John: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business, instead, I have called you friends.”  Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world, calls you friend.    Amen!

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