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Spiritual Friends

calledfriendsJohn 15: 9- 17
Acts 10: 44-48

Dear Abby: My sister-in-law is demanding to know why I won’t accept her friend request on Facebook. I don’t consider her a friend and prefer not to allow her access to my Facebook page. How can I politely and honestly answer her questioning?
- Prefer to Decline

Dear Decline: Because she is forcing the issue, be forthright and tell her that while she may be your sister-in-law, you do not feel close enough to her to be comfortable having her review your activities on a daily basis.

I see several troubling things in this situation and it’s not about the difficulties of being polite and honest.

First off, being related – being family – doesn’t necessarily mean being friends. That is too bad and sometimes actually grievous, but it happens.  Then there’s the insistence: how can one person demand that another be her friend, even on Facebook? Is friendship all about accumulating the most number of people who “like” you?

And then, Abby notes that friendship, on Facebook, means continual review, by friends, of one’s activities on a daily basis. Constant contact. Is that what friendship has become these days? I certainly hope not, although wherever you go, it seems, people are texting, texting, texting, even with a person standing two feet away. It is constant. Are all these people friends? Really?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - texting and so on - have become the way many, many people communicate and do business with one another. Once you get the hang of it, it is simple, fast, efficient and really pretty amazing. (This, I admit however, from one who is not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.)

But many of you are on Facebook; we had a show of hands when I asked you, about a month ago, as a lead-in to the sermon. Adele stays in touch with her grandchildren; others with relatives and good friends far away. Facebook can indeed keep you connected to people and events you care about. It can provide a forum for civil discourse, such as the one I read about last week, “Guns: An American Conversation.”

But… it is also shallow. You can’t hear the voice; you can’t see the look in someone’s eyes; you can’t read the body language. So we need to ask ourselves some serious questions:

  • Are we becoming a collection of individuals just talking with our fingers in meaningless tweets?
  • Are we still able to be present with one another? Do we even know how to be? We’ll explore that question in the session after worship today, a brief workshop on visiting ill or homebound congregation members.
  • Are we losing the art of listening? (also to be covered at the workshop).
  • Do we foster mob mentality – and even mob action – by constantly vomiting opinions and reactions over the Internet? And is the Web too manipulative, of our buying habits, of our political and social opinions? And so is it dangerous?

Amazingly, our ancient scriptures have something to say about true friendship. There are four sentences from the Gospel passage for today that I’d call to your attention.

  1. You did not choose me but I chose you. Remember how Jesus went down to the seaside and said to Peter and Andrew and James and John, “Follow me”? He picked people least likely to be leaders of a new movement, and he went on to choose others like them. He singled out women and others on the margins and held them up as examples of individuals who truly understood God’s holy presence and power, forgiveness and love. This is a friend, someone who sees into your very soul and holds you in high regard despite your weaknesses.
  2. I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. Jesus has opened up to the disciples, given full disclosure of what God has in mind for them, what God wants from them, expects from them – even if they didn’t always understand it. This is a friend, someone who does not pull rank, who is open and honest and clear…and loving.
  3. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last... Jesus invites participation in friendship with him. He has been to them the Holy Spirit and he leaves with them the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are friends, those who bear witness to the action of the Holy Spirit in how they are with each other.
  4. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. In the end, it comes down to love: love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus, the truest friend we will ever have, is our example of a love that is prepared and willing to endure all things for us, whom he loves.

We are the disciples of Jesus Christ today; he is our friend; we are his friends; and we are spiritual friends with one another under his name. This means growing together, just like those first disciples, in our understanding of who Jesus is, how he transforms our lives and somehow, we pray, this world. For the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us and into our hearts.

You know, even in this era of Facebook, Twitter and texting, people are still searching for real friendship. Even when the fastest growing church denominational affiliation is “None”, people are still seeking spiritual family relationships. Even in our time of constant motion and constant chatter, I believe that many people are still looking for a place where they can

  • grow spiritually,
  • find hope and healing,
  • answer the challenging call to serve others,
  • tap into the power of prayer and the energy of worship together,
  • know acceptance, forgiveness and peace,
  • discover joy and love.

A place where as God’s children, as brothers and sisters in Christ, they can make friends and be friends.

Certainly I pray that this small congregation of ours, the Peapack Reformed Church, is that kind of place. I pray that this is one of the most significant factors that will draw candidates to the pastoral opening here. You can find us on the World Wide Web, to be sure, but more importantly, we are here for real.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
May 6, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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