This weekend we consider the significance and power of friendship in the life and work of Jesus, and in our own lives.
Words from the Song of Faith, about the Church:
We sing of a church
seeking to continue the story of Jesus
by embodying Christ’s presence in the world.
We are called together by Christ
as a community of broken but hopeful believers,
loving what he loved,
living what he taught,
striving to be faithful servants of God
in our time and place.
Our ancestors in faith
bequeath to us experiences of their faithful living;
upon their lives our lives are built.
Our living of the gospel makes us a part of this communion of saints,
experiencing the fulfillment of God’s reign
even as we actively anticipate a new heaven and a new earth.
The church has not always lived up to its vision.
It requires the Spirit to reorient it,
helping it to live an emerging faith while honouring tradition,
challenging it to live by grace rather than entitlement,
for we are called to be a blessing to the earth.
We sing of God’s good news lived out,
a church with purpose:
faith nurtured and hearts comforted,
gifts shared for the good of all,
resistance to the forces that exploit and marginalize,
fierce love in the face of violence,
human dignity defended,
members of a community held and inspired by God,
corrected and comforted,
instrument of the loving Spirit of Christ,
We sing of God’s mission.
We are each given particular gifts of the Spirit.
For the sake of the world,
God calls all followers of Jesus to Christian ministry.
In the church,
some are called to specific ministries of leadership,
both lay and ordered;
some witness to the good news;
some uphold the art of worship;
some comfort the grieving and guide the wandering;
some build up the community of wisdom;
some stand with the oppressed and work for justice.
To embody God’s love in the world,
the work of the church requires the ministry and discipleship
of all believers.
1 Thessalonians 5:5-18 (New International Version)
You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Learning Time: We need to know we are part of something beyond ourselves
I listened to a podcast this week from the series called “The Next Big Idea”, about friendship. There was a story about a woman named Paula, who’d retired from her career as a flight attendant, and found herself living a solitary existence. No close family, no close friends, because her work always had her in the air, flying from place to place.
One evening, after yet another day with no actual human contact, a lot of television, and supper alone, again, she’d just finished the dishes, and as she headed back to the living room for more television, she felt her chest tighten, and she could barely breathe. She became dizzy, and close to passing out. She feared she was having a cardiac event, and managed to call 911. When the paramedics arrived, she was relieved to learn that she was not having a heart attack, but a panic attack.
The panic attack was a jolt. She joined a church, and started to meet people. One of the people at the church told her about Generation Exchange, a non-profit that pairs seniors with under-served schools. During her training, she met a lot of people like her, retired, sedentary, lonely and anxious. She heard how for these people, volunteering to go into schools and work with kids has helped them be happier, and improved their health.
Paula became a classroom volunteer, found that she loves helping the kids. She began having lunch in the staff room with other volunteers. One day she sat with a woman named Linda who lives just blocks from her. They made plans to get together, and a friendship was born. Paula said that she is no longer quite so lonely, or afraid. I love that she found her way by reaching out to help others.
Our Gospel reading for today tell a story of the adult Jesus, on a visit back to his home village of Nazareth. If you follow the story in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has just concluded a soul-searching retreat in the desert. He faced temptations, and emerged with a clear sense of his mission in life.
He joined the folks from his home village for worship, and took his turn to read scripture. The reading was from the Book of Isaiah. Jesus stood, and read from the scroll,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The hometown crowd enjoyed his reading. I can imagine them smiling with encouragement, like we would, when someone we’ve watched grow up does good. Jesus finished the assigned passage, and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” which was not the traditional way to finish, but what what the heck, that’s our Jesus up there!
Then things took a turn. It was as if Jesus recognized they weren’t hearing him, when he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled.” I think he was telling them, “We are doing this now. God is using me, to tell you, it’s time to bring good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, and sight to the blind.”
The hometown crowd not only doesn’t get it, they become restless. And it got worse.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Jesus retrieved stories from their tradition, of prophets from the past. In both stories, the prophets are very selective about who they can help, and who faces hard times on their own. Jesus may as well have come out and said, “If you can’t understand what I’m telling you, how can I help you?”
Luke’s story tells us, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
Jesus proclaimed a year of Jubilee, a kind of social and economic re-boot, in which all debts are forgiven, slaves freed, prisoners released, and lands returned to their original owners. This is good news for those who are in debt, or enslaved, or in jail, or who had lost their land. It’s bad news for those of us who would have to give up our riches, position, and power, to make it all happen.
It’s not surprising the hometown crowd didn’t want to understand what their formerly favourite son was going on about. Even so, I wonder how it felt, to be Jesus that day.
“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
If we were to read further in Luke’s Gospel we could follow Jesus as he kept walking, all the way to a new town, called Capernaum. In Capernaum Jesus does not go to the synagogue, where all the respectable people congregated. He spent his time amongst the poor, the sick, the homeless, those who were considered possessed by evil spirits. Pretty much the crowd he’d been talking about in Nazareth, who were due for some Good News. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and made new friends.
It wasn’t long before a fisherman named Simon invited him to his home, because his mother-in-law was in need of healing. Simon became Jesus’ disciple, and as Luke’s Gospel continues, is one of the first to leave behind his boat and his nets, to follow Jesus, and become a fisher of people.
The people in Jesus’ hometown, and home synagogue weren’t ready to help with his work. Jesus could not do what God had in mind for him, all alone. His mission was all about bringing people together, and showing them their connection to God, and to each other, a connection that transcended typical concerns about wealth, position, status, power. Jesus brought that message of God’s unconditional acceptance and love, to people who were ready to hear it, and his mission took off. This was the beginning of something new.
God gave Jesus a job, and a way to live, that he could not do on his own. He needed friends.
In the last few years, and even moreso during the pandemic, psychologists have been taking a close look at the meaning and power of relationships and community in our lives. One study reported, after surveying people who were standing, looking at a hill they were about to climb, that for those who stood before the hill with a friend, the hill did not look as steep.
I love that image. We feel stronger, more able to face challenges, less afraid, when we know that we are not alone. That is true about hills, and likely, a lot of other aspects of our lives.
We need each other. It’s harder to climb the hills, even to imagine climbing the hills, on our own. When we work from that awareness, of this basic human trait, we may find that our vulnerability becomes kind of a superpower.
If we are lonely, or afraid, or bored, disappointed, feeling lost, having a friend equips for living better. If we feel kind of okay, but wish there was more to life than our four walls and what’s on tv, reaching out to offer friendship can help us find meaning. That’s just the way we are built, and it’s very much related to Jesus’ mission, of bringing people together, and helping them understand how their hearts and lives are connected to each other, and to God.
Maybe you aren’t lonely, or finding this pandemic time difficult. If that’s the case, I need your help. The congregation needs your help, because we do know some folks who are lonely, and who could use some friendly attention. If you are feeling like you are ready to climb hills, or help others to not feel quite so alone, as they face their own tough climbs, call me or email me, and we can set you up with a new church buddy, that you can call, or write, and let them know they are not alone.
Or maybe you are a little lonely, like many of us, and wonder if it might add some joy, purpose, meaning to your days, if you could connect with someone who also needs a little boost. Same deal. Call, text, or email me, and we will give you the name of someone to call. I can even suggest some topics for your first phone conversation, to make it a little less weird. Amen