Friday, December 1, 2017

True Friendship (Luke 5:17-26) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In an article on the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Ginsburg fondly recalled her closest friend, Justice Scalia.   He always gave her roses on her birthday and shared her reverence for the law.  She said that Justice Scalia was once asked how they could be such dear friends with such different views. Justice Scalia answered, "I attack ideas. I don't attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas. If you can't separate the two, you'd better get another job."   Not a bad friendship.  Not a bad concept.

Think about your friends. Who are your friends? Writer Mark Twain said: “I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell—you see I have friends in both places.” There was a 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 makes new friends and expands genuine friendships or whether it is an illusion which creates virtual and superficial friendships.  It certainly raises interesting questions. An article in Hemisphere 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 $30.00.  Sounds like a bargain.

An interesting article discussed the overall decline of friendship in our society.  It stated that fewer people have authentic friends and described a growing phenomenon about loneliness and mistrust.  Do you agree?  The article particularly addressed the issue of friendship as it related to men.  It pointed to studies and surveys which show that men are less likely to have meaningful relationships than women do.  Men have fewer friends, first of all, and the friends they do have are not nearly as close.  What do you think?

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.”   One of the sad realities of life is losing our friends to death as we age, as I mentioned last week about my childhood friend Bill Frost who died recently.  I have had many conversations with people over the years who have talked about the difficulty of seeing their circle of friends shrink as they age and how they miss them.  I have likewise had many conversations about the challenges of making new friends.

I thank God for my wife Nancy, my best friend (who else would put up with me) and our two sons who now as adults, are our friends.    That thing about being parents to your children as they are growing up and then transitioning to becoming friends when they reach adulthood can get a little complicated.  We knew we weren’t our sons Best Friends Forever when they were teenagers.   I am grateful for the new friends we have made here during our over eleven years at PBPC and in San Diego.

God made us with the need for relationships, friendships and community.  The late Dr. 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 or she doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job.”  The Bible is filled with inspiring stories about friendships.   Biblically speaking, friendships are far different than acquaintances.  One can have many acquaintances, but few true friendships.  Becoming a friend is a choice.   Becoming a friend is also a surprise, a gift.  Becoming a friend requires dedication and commitment.   Jesus says:  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  Perhaps this is the ultimate definition of friendship.  A friend is someone you are willing to die for or who is willing to die for you.   It’s been said that friendships are like investments; you get what you put into them and they take time to mature.  But the dividends are worth it.

Today we will examine one story from the New Testament. What are some lessons from this story?  First, friends are loyal, they stick by one another, you can count on them, even in times of adversity.   Fair weather friends are the antithesis of true friends.  Friends don’t abandon you when you need help.   Friends don’t give up on each other when the journey gets tough.  They are in for the long haul.

In the story from Luke Jesus is teaching in a house which is bursting with people.  People are literally stepping over one another to hear what Jesus has to say or to be healed.   Suddenly some men arrive carrying a paralyzed man on a bed.  We don’t know if these men were family or friends.  But in a way it doesn’t matter.  Their actions should be consistent.  These men didn’t abandon the paralyzed man, they didn’t give up on him, but instead did everything they could to get him help.    They believed in their hearts that if they could get him near Jesus, the man would be healed.  The only obstacle was in making their way through the crowd of people.

Not to be deterred, they climb up on the roof, tear open a section of the roof, which was made out of tightly bound twigs mortared together between heavy wooden beams, and start lowering the man down on his bed in front of Jesus.  Now that’s creative problem solving.  That’s dedication.  That’s ingenuity.   No obstacle is too great when it comes to helping a friend.  These men don't care if they are causing a big commotion.  They are resourceful and imaginative and they are on a mission.  They are willing to go to great lengths for their friend.  Author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “A true friend is one who multiplies joys and divides grief.” They were true friends.

Friends also support each other, encourage one another and are willing to sacrifice for one another.  Clearly these friends of the paralyzed man fit these criteria.  A friend says: “I’m here for you, and if I can’t help you, then with God’s help I will find someone who can.”  These men all exhibited this attitude.  And I believe they also either paid the owner of the house for the damage to the roof or repaired it themselves.   They were true friends.

Further, true friends are at times direct and honest with you.  They are not afraid to say what you don’t want to hear.  They speak the truth in love.  This is a characteristic of true friendship.  These friends would have been direct with the paralyzed man.  They would have told him: “We are taking you to a house where Jesus is teaching and healing.”  The man might have said: “Ah, I don’t feel like going today.”  I could hear them replying:  “It’s no use arguing, we are going there so get ready.  We are doing it because we love you.”   It sounds like an intervention.

Jesus is also direct.  He says to the paralyzed man, “Friend your sins are forgiven you.  I say to you stand up and take your bed and go to your home.”  Jesus was also frank with the Pharisees and says:  “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins I will show you,” and he performs a miracle.  Honesty, truthfulness, is a significant quality for a friendship.

Imagine going to the doctor's office for a check-up. The doctor says to you, "You are a superb physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian.  None of my patients are as healthy as you.”  Such words alone should raise a red flag and cause us to question the doctor’s credibility.  Later that day while climbing the stairs, you suffer severe chest pains.  You find out that 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, ah, well because if I tell people the truth, they get offended, they know it’s going to be expensive and they don’t like me.  It’s terrible for business.   I want to be a friend to my patients.”  You'd say:  “Doctor, next time, tell me the truth or I’ll find another doctor.

The story finally reminds us that true friends also care about your spiritual life.  This man is helpless.  He depends upon others.  His friends realize that his hope lay in bringing him to Jesus.  They are committed to this end.  When we are in want or in crisis, we need to go to God.  A good friend reminds us of this.

We were not created by God to make our journey alone in this life.  Friends contribute immeasurably to the richness of our lives.  Think of friends whom God has used to shape your life and faith.  Jesus was extraordinarily impressed with the faith of these friends of the paralyzed man.  “When Jesus saw their faith, he said:  Friend, your sins are forgiven you.

Thank you, God, for the gift of our friends. I close with these surprising words of Jesus from the Gospel of John in speaking to his followers, past and present: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business, instead, I have called you friends.   Amen!

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