Summary: Non Christians asked about friendship and I realised I had preached many a sermon about being friends with Jesus, but I had never preached and I could not find by anyone else, a sermon about how to be friends with our fellow human beings
I heard on Wednesday how the Christian Union up in St Andrews went round other students in the university with a camera and asked “If you met God at the pearly gates, what questions would you ask him?” Interestingly there were very few questions about bone cancer or wasps that live inside eyes. No the questions asked were not what the CU were expecting. They were things like “what does it mean to be good?” “What is a good life?” or “How can I form deeper friendships”.
That last question stuck with me. I realised - I don’t think I have ever preached a sermon on friendship.
So I went on line, and I looked up sermons on friendship - and all the sermons I could find had a similar pattern. They started by saying one or two uncontroversial things about human friendship and then led on to the point that God can be our friend. Do we want to be friends with Jesus.
Now I have preached lots of sermons about being friends with God. Isn’t it amazing when you read that passage from the last supper and Jesus says “I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Who can’t be moved if we start singing
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!....
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.
on the same sort of them - possibly my favourite quote from outside the bible comes from Cardinal Basil Hume “Holiness involves friendship with God. There comes a point in our walk with God when we need to move from being Sunday Aquaintances to weekday friends”
I could go on - Theresa of Avila says “Prayer is nothing else than being on terms on friendship with God”
So yes - I have given plenty of sermons about being friends with God. But what about us being friends with each other? I realised I have never yet preached on that.
And that Got me thinking -does Christianity have anything to say about friendship? In a moment I am (don’t worry I am) going to ask that question specifically to the Gospel reading we have just heard from Mark 9:2-11 about the Transfiguration).
But before we do that, let’s think of some of the problems about asking this question.
You see Christianity says some quite unusual stuff about love. In Matthew 5:44 we are told to “love our enemies” to pray for those who treat us like (no I won’t use that word here). “Love our enemies” Elsewhere we are told are told to love our neighbours. That’s more comfortable. I can be good mates with my next door neighbour. And then someone stupidly asks Jesus “but who is my neighbour” and he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Now that is less comfortable, because Jews and Samaritans [pretend to spit to one side] hated one another. It’s like asking the Ulster Protestant to love the Catholic who lives next door, the Muslim to love the Jew who lives next door, The Tamil to love the Singhalese who lives next door.
The bible says some pretty challenging stuff about love. We are clearly meant to love EVERYONE, even those people we would naturally dislike. we are meant to be kind to people and serve them and do favours for them, regardless of how well we know them or what they do to us. We are meant to forgive people, even when they do pretty horrid stuff to us.
So that’s love. Where does that leave friendship? Afterall, if you ask most people out there, your friends are the people you love. Your friends are the people you are kind to, the people you serve and do favours to, Your friends are the people you forgive (unless it’s so bad that your friendship is over). All that stuff that people out there think friendship is all about - we are told to do to everyone. So where does that leave friendship?
In the 19th and early 20th century there was an idea that parish priests should not have friends - because of course you are meant to love everyone. If you have no friends, you have no favourites. Isn’t that the ideal? Well I have to say, I think that is WRONG, but what does the bible have to say about that? Or am I wrong?
Let’s then ask this question to the passage from Mark 9 - the story of the Transfiguration. Here we see Jesus with three of his friends.