New sermon: Friendship and Kindness

Friendship and Kindness

“The opposite of poverty is not plenty but friendship.”
—Kelly S. Johnson, The Fear of Beggars, pg. 209.

Dear Friends,
Companionship is what people really need to survive in this world. We need to learn to love and be loved. Nothing at all can substitute for the satisfaction of being surrounded by friends who will encourage us, remind us of life’s simple pleasures, and ground us in the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
In prison the Apostle Paul reminded his friends about the unity of the Spirit. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:1-6)
A wise man once said, “You only love God as much as the one you love the least.” As we grow in Christ we learn to suffer to the glory of God. Our friendship in Christ does not shield us from suffering in this life. The courage we get from serving Christ leads us into ever darker places where the Spirit of God calls us.
Jean-Pierre Decaussad wrote, “The life of faith is nothing less than the continued pursuit of God through all that disguises, disfigures, destroys and, so to say, annihilates Him. It is in very truth a reproduction of the life of Mary who, from the Stable to the Cross, remained unalterably united to that God whom all the world misunderstood, abandoned, and persecuted. In like manner faithful souls endure a constant succession of trials. God hides beneath veils of darkness and illusive appearances which make His will difficult to recognize; but in spite of every obstacle these souls follow Him and love Him even to the death of the Cross. They know that, leaving the darkness they must run after the light of this divine Sun which, from its rising to its setting, however dark and thick may be the clouds that obscure it, enlightens, warms, and inflames the faithful hearts that bless, praise and contemplate it during the whole circle of its mysterious course.”
Jesus told us that there is no greater love than what he demonstrated on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) That love is found in obedience to his command to love each other. The Holy Spirit binds us into commitment to each other, to strengthen and encourage each other whatever comes our way. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:8-10, ESV)
Let me explain this love a little further. In the love of God there is a commitment to the truth that is eternal. It is so much stronger than even the most hurtful, vile, untrue words spoken. It is stronger than the cruel violence that men show each other when they get drunk and roudy. It is stronger than the lust that people have for power, for beauty, and for youth. We share in the love of God that endures misunderstanding, mockery, and abuse. And the only way we share in it is by clinging to Jesus Christ and abandoning ourselves to His will.
James Martineau wrote that, “The only life which is not worth living is not of God’s giving, but of our own creation, the life of no duty, no love, no trust”, and then he went on to write, “No felt evil or defect becomes divine until it is inevitable; and only when resistance to it is exhausted and hope has fled, does surrender cease to be premature. The hardness of our task lies here; that we have to strive against the grievous things of life, while hope remains, as if they were evil; and then, when the stroke has fallen, to accept them from the hand of God, and doubt not they are good. But to the loving, trusting heart, all things are possible; and even this instant change, from overstrained will to sorrowful repose, from fullest resistance to complete surrender is realized without convulsion.”
Without having loving, trusting hearts there is no way to be a true friend. Friendships that endure transcend time and place. We pray for one another and encourage one another in doing the will of God, trusting that if that separates us physically, our love in Christ will continue. Does this make us impervious to pain and sorrow? Not at all, in fact, we feel the separation more deeply.
In the fall of last year I lost a good friend (Rev. Slim Cox) who I had made music with for a few years. We edited a book together. When my mother died I knew I could call my friend and he and his wife sang to me on the phone. There’s not a lot of people that will do that. Since he has passed away I have gained a new appreciation for his life and ministry. I’ve been listening to his music more, hearing many songs from their back catalog on LP albums that I’d never heard before. I marvel at the unique and energetic expression of faith that this friend and his family displayed for decades even before I ever knew them. Though I miss him I know that his ministry is still present in the lives of so many people, myself included, who love Jesus and tell the truth of the gospel.
That’s how it works. Friendship never really fades away because we pass into eternity glorifying the God who brought us through all our trials. My friend was always singing about heaven even though he’d never been there. He loved heaven because he loved Jesus and he trusted that all his friends were either already there or were bound to be there soon with him. How can that not be a reason for joy, and even for shouting!
I have a hard memory about myself and Slim though, too. The last time we played together on TV I felt like everything went wrong. His timing was off and I couldn’t tell what he would do next. I got so embarrassed that I just ducked out the door and back up to my office. Later when he had left I came down and complained about it to some other friends. I said mean things that I can’t take back about what happened, mostly out of my embarrassment. He never knew I said them, but when I think back on that day I ask, “Why did I not have more patience?” I couldn’t have known how much more time we would have together. I knew he was sick, but I didn’t know how sick. Within a few weeks he was gone.
This is also part of friendship. We know that because we are sinners we never really get it completely right. We don’t speak up when we should, and other times we say things that are misplaced and hurtful. This is where trust and kindness come in. For example, my wife trusts that I love her even when I get angry and say things I shouldn’t, because she has seen me return and work it out with sincere repentance again and again. She knows that I love Jesus. That love for Jesus has grown deeper and stronger over the last 18-19 years we’ve been together. We’ve been through some seriously dark times, times when there was no way we trusted each other. But God has brought us through.
So now I want to look at five things the Bible says we need for true friendship in this world today. First, to be a true friend you have to be God’s friend. Some might say, “Well that let’s me out. I can’t be God’s friend because he hates me. I can’t ever do right enough to be God’s friend.” If God had not loved you first, that might be true. But let me tell you what God did in my life. God took a man so full of himself, so proud and isolated, a preacher’s kid who just wanted to run from God, and he broke me down until I slowly really got to know God. It took me a long time but I came to learn that as sick as I was, God was for me. That relationship with God is for you too.
Now here’s a second thing: the Bible makes it clear that being full of the love of God means that the darkness in this world will feel threatened and will fight back. Being full of the light of Christ is threatening. God’s love shines a light on sin, and this world loves sin. The churches that St. James wrote to probably didn’t like it, but he said, “You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God.”(NLT) 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”(NIV)
Let me put it in plain terms. If you are serving in ministry and you have to lie about your love for someone to your coworkers, than before God you know something is wrong. If you are new in downtown and you have been warned not to go to a particular place alone and you think you’re smart and strong enough to do it anyway, than when you get hurt you should know something is wrong—not with downtown but with you!
Third, we might wish that following Jesus meant that we didn’t have to deal with our own sin anymore, but we are told to crucify the flesh. In theory being righteous is a clean business. It’s easy to say, “He shoulda just stayed away from that woman.” But in reality we battle temptations to sin every moment. Sin involves self delusion and of course when you’re deluded you think you’re seeing straight. That’s why we need friends to help us see the truth! Here’s how I roll with that. It would be much better if you walked up to me and told me that you were quitting the ministry because you want to have five beers and watch porn every night, than to lie to me that you’re going to care for your dying sister in Albuquerque. Why? Because telling someone the truth just might give you the chance to see yourself rightly.
Remember what Paul said to the Galatians (5:16-26): “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
We have so much to look forward to for ourselves as we walk in the Spirit. I want to be full of the love of God. I want to be full of his joy and peace, don’t you? I need patience. I want God’s kindness, goodness, and faithfulness to infect me all over to where every pore of my skin just exudes his faithfulness! I expect that with God’s gentleness and self-control there is nothing that God can’t accomplish. The price of living by the Spirit of God is giving Him all the credit. When you give God all the credit for what He has done in your life, than you can also say that when the world wants to kill you, it’s because of the good God is doing.
Finally Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” When we are caught up in the love of Christ, when we are loving one another in His love, it makes it easier to know what to do. I won’t say that there’s some easy formula to love because people are all unique and we all have our own set of needs and barriers. But I will say that the love of Christ has the power to free the soul from sin and self and set it in right relation to God in the Church. You don’t have to have all the answers to let God’s Spirit use you. The truth will set you free if you let it.
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer now.

You have blessed us, Heavenly Father, with the gift of friendship, the bonding of persons in a circle of love. We thank you for such a blessing: for friends who love us, who share our sorrows, who laugh with us in celebration, who bear our pain, who need us as we need them, who weep as we weep, who hold us when words fail, and who give us the freedom to be ourselves. Bless our friends with health, wholeness, life, and love. Help me, O God, to be a good and true friend.
To be always loyal, and never to let my friends down; never to talk about them behind their backs in a way in which I would not do before their faces; never to betray a confidence or talk about the things about which I ought to be silent;
Always to be ready to share everything I have; to be as true to my friends as I would wish them to be to me. This I ask for the sake of You who are the greatest and the truest of all friends, In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris L. Rice

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