Summary: Friendships are important to our spiritual health and spiritual growth

Good morning! And welcome to WestShore Community Church, on this our first-ever Friendship Sunday. It’s always good to see our members and regular attenders, but this week we’re thrilled to have with us so many friends, both new and old. It reminds us that many of the people Jesus ministered to were brought to him by their friends. Either that, or the friend brought Jesus to the person in need. And I’m sure that’s true of most of us here today. We are here because someone, at some time, invited us. Invited us to come to church, invited us to attend a Bible study, or invited us to place our faith and trust in Christ. And we said, "yes". That’s the power of the invitation. Friends bringing friends to see and experience something good that they have found. Because Christianity is an inviting faith, an open and welcoming faith. It’s not an exclusive club. You don’t have to be from any particular ethnic background, you don’t have to be wealthy, or a member of the social elite, you don’t need a PhD, or a CPA, or an MBA from MIT. All you need is an invitation.

President Calvin Coolidge was nicknamed "Silent Cal" for his habit of saying as little as possible. On one occasion, he attended church without his wife. When he got home, she asked him what the sermon was about. Coolidge answered that it was about sin. His wife pressed him further. "What did the minister have to say about sin ?" And Coolidge replied "He’s against it." Well, my topic this morning is "Friendship," and I’m going out on a limb to say that I’m for it. That’s not likely to cause any controversy, is it? Everyone is in favor of friendship, as least theoretically. People sing songs about it, write poems about it. We even named a city after it – ”Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love". When Senators stand up to give a speech in Congress, they always refer to one another as "My good friend, Senator so-and-so," even when they’re getting ready to call their "good friend" a complete idiot. We love stories about friendship, especially when it involves loyalty under pressure. And often, movies which on the surface are about something else – war, or sports, or adventure – really turn out to be about friendship. Such as the relationship between Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in the "Lethal Weapon" cop movies. Or the bond between the hobbits in "Lord of the Rings." Even the animated film "Ice Age" is really about an unlikely friendship between a mammoth, a sloth, and a sabre-tooth tiger. And what’s the most popular program on television? "Friends," with it’s hit theme song, "I’ll Be There For You." Please note that I’m not recommending all these shows, I’m just making a point: that friendship is something we regard highly; something we all find desirable and attractive. And that’s reflected in our popular culture.

If that’s true, then why are we so lonely? Why do we have so few close friends, people we can really talk to, people we can trust, people we can count on for help and support when we need it? Why is it that, while some people seem to make friends effortlessly, others have very few people they can really open up to, can share their heart with, can relax and be themselves with. Very few with whom they can be unguarded and un-self-conscious, confident that they will be accepted, warts and all.

The author Lee Strobel relates this story(1): A few years ago, a newspaper columnist named Marla Paul published a column (2) in which she revealed her frustration over her lack of friendships. "The loneliness saddens me," she wrote. "How did it happen that I could be forty-two years old and not have enough friends?" She goes on, "I think there are women out there who don’t know how lonely they are. It’s easy enough to fill up the day with work and family. But no matter how much I enjoy my job and love my husband and child, they are not enough." When this column appeared, letters poured in from housewives, executives, and university professors saying, "I’ve had the exact same experience." One person said, "I’ve often felt that I’m standing outside looking through the window of a party to which I was not invited." As Marla later wrote (3), "They wanted to share their frustration and estrangement. All were tremendously relieved to discover they weren’t the only ones."

And it’s not only women who have this problem. If anything, men have more difficulty forming and maintaining friendships. Why? Because it’s hard! It demands intentional, sustained effort. It requires that we make sacrifices, and take risks, and expend resources. It can be messy, and painful, and embarrassing, and inconvenient. But perhaps the most powerful thing holding us back is fear.

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