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Edward F. Markquart

Good Friends, Best Friends

Confirmation          John 15:12-17

One thing common to all people in this room is the enjoyment of good friends.  All of us enjoy having a good friend, regardless of age, regardless of social standing, regardless of job.  For some of you, your best friend may be your husband or wife.  For still others, it may be a college friend from long ago, a high school chum or a military buddy. And for still others, your close friend may be from school or church. 

I have discovered that just because you spent a lot of time with somebody, that does not mean that person is a best friend.  For example, you can work with somebody side by side for thirty years, and that person may not be your best friend. You can grow up in a home for eighteen years, and relationships will be different.  That is, my brother is in the category of “best friend” and my sisters are not.  There is nothing wrong with my sisters at all, and I love them, but they are not my best friends the way my brother is.  My mother was a good friend and not my father, even though I loved my father and lived with my father, but my father and I were not really close.

A good friend has many qualities: someone you can be close to and honest with. Someone you share your ups and downs with.  Someone with whom you talk with, listen to, and rely on.  Someone you share the greatest intimacies of life.  You don’t share those intimacies with anyone, but only a good friend, a special friend.  A good friendship is always a two way street:  talking and listening, giving and receiving, loving and being loved.

A good friend brings joy to life.  I think of my childhood chums and all the joy that I shared with Jory and Mark and Nielsey and Bob and Arlie.  I can see their faces so clearly, although decades have passed.  In college, their names were Rick and Jim and Scott and Larry and Mike, all good friends and good memories.  Friends bring you great joy.

Friendships are often bonded in pain.  Sometimes, you go through some really tough times together, and those friendships share a common painful moment that very few are truly part of.  My good friend, Rollie Martinson. I was with him the night his infant child died, and he was with me all through the night talking in a hotel room in Seattle. These moments were so many years ago. For you confirmands, I know your good friends are those you telephone when the chips are down and life is ugly. 

Friendships are with those who endure long periods of pain with you, who are loyal to you for the long term.  I think that Stephanie taught me that.  Stephanie and Edward were a young couple, newly married, and there was a diving accident and Edward broke his neck, damaged his brain, and became a living vegetable. It went on year after year after year.  All those good friends from grade school, they gradually fell away.  All those wonderful friends from high school, they gradually disappeared.  All those wonderful friends from college, they, too, were seen no more.  After six years of living with her husband as a vegetable, Stephanie’s only friends who stayed with her were her mom and dad.  Your best friends are those who stick with you, through thick and thin, to the end, and often that person may be a parent. If you are lucky, you have more than one parent who is loyal to you.

Well, it is with this mood of friendship that we approach the Old Testament readings and Gospel story for today.  Abraham was called a friend of God.  He is the only person in the whole Old Testament who is given that high honor.  The Old Testament says:  “You are descendants of Abraham, my friend.” To be a called a friend of God is an incredibly high honor.  In the Gospel story of the rich man and Lazarus, we hear the same words, “Abraham, friend of God.”  King David says in the Old Testament that “the Lord is a friend to those who obey him, who live within God’s way” and certainly Abraham did obey God and lived in God’s ways.

But we also hear the Word of the Lord in the New Testament about friendship.  The situation was this:  Jesus was with his closest group of friends, the twelve disciples.  It was their last meal together, their last supper.  Jesus knew he was going to die the next day, and his disciples sensed it as well.  During the past three years, Jesus and his disciples had become very good friends, walking together, talking together, fishing together, sailing together, hanging out together.  Jesus was not only their Master, Lord and King, but Jesus had become their good friend, someone they could trust, someone they could count on, someone who would not put them down.  During this last meal together with his very best friends, Jesus then spoke these words to his very best friends:  “No greater love has a person than this:  than they are willing to lay down their life for their friends.  Now, you are my friends, if you do what I command you, to love one another.  You didn’t chose me, but I chose you.  I chose you to be my disciples and friends.  I don’t call you servants because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing, but I call you friends because you know what the master is thinking and doing.  You know the inside of the master’s head and heart. You are my friends.”

Today is Confirmation Sunday, and I would like to preach on the Biblical theme that Jesus Christ is our friend, and we are a friend to Jesus.  I would like to do this because I know how important friendships are to teenagers.  For example, some of you kids can talk for an hour on the telephone and your parents ask what you had to say, and you respond with one word, “nothing.”  Or, I see you kids on retreats and you normally cluster tightly together with your very best friends. Or, when I go to the Federal Way stadium to watch games and meets, I always see kids there and they never are alone.  They don’t come to the stadium alone but they come in packs and an individual teenager joins the pack that is passing the stands.  Or, when I go out to the movies, I see kids coming out from a movie and they rarely come out alone.  They come out from the movies in clusters, groups, friendly mobs.  I know that you like that popular song, “That’s what friends are for.”

Many of you kids think of Jesus as being your friend.  Many of you wrote your confirmation paper, My Relationship to Jesus Christ, and several of you wrote that Jesus was your friend, your best friend.

But I am also aware that there are many adults out there in this congregation today who are also aware of the importance of friendship and who also think of Jesus Christ as being your friend.  Many of you adults grew up with your favorite hymn, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” 

And so to both groups today, the younger people and the older people, we would like to focus on the Biblical theme of friendship:  What does it mean that Jesus Christ is my friend?  What does it mean when God said to Abraham and to you:  You are my friend? What does it mean when you call God, friend; and what does it mean what God calls you a friend? 

Sometimes, when I hear the phrase, “Jesus is my friend,” that makes me feel a bit uneasy.  The word, friend, almost sounds too casual.  The word, friend, isn’t strong enough.  The word, friend, doesn’t do justice to who Jesus is.  In the Bible, Jesus is called friend only two or three times.  Almost all the time, Jesus is addresses as Lord, king, master, savior.  The word, friend, almost seems to belittle Jesus.  The word, friend, is too palsy walsy, too chummy, too buddy-buddy, to teenagerish. Jesus is Lord of Lords and God of Gods who is to be worshipped.  Jesus is not merely a pal, a chum or a buddy.

Even so, I think that the word, friend, referring to Jesus, does reveal to us something about God, and about God willing to come down to our size.

There was man by the name of J.B. Phillips who wrote a book entitled, YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL.  He should have written a follow-up book, YOUR GOD IS TOO BIG, because sometimes I think that our God is too big, and we don’t let God come down to our size so we can understand him.  To think of Jesus as a friend is to allow God to come down to our size, so we can understand who God is.  The word, friend, brings God down to my size.  Every person here in this room understands the word, friend, and therefore everyone here in this room has a feeling or a sense of what the core of our relationship with Christ is to be.  Friends.

What does it mean that Jesus Christ is my friend?

The first is this: a friend is someone you share your intimate personal and private thoughts and feelings with.  You don’t share your most intimate thoughts with anybody and everybody,  that is for sure.  It is only with those special people you share your deepest fears and greatest joys. 

For example, John O’Neal and I have become very close friends through the years, and I have been in his office many times and he has embraced me, as I was crying, totally upset and tears flowing.  I trusted my feeling with John and almost no one else. This means I really trusted him.  I wouldn’t share those private feelings and moments with all of you.  That would be embarrassing; it wouldn’t be normal.  There are certain things that you risk only in the privacy of a very personal relationship.

And so when we say that Christ is out best friend, that is what it means.  It means to share our most intimate, personal and even embarrassing thoughts and feelings with God, to share our sorrows, the good, the bad and the ugly.  To say that Christ is our best friend means to share the intimate insides of our souls.

But a good friend not only listens; a good friend also talks back.  A good friend does not only go…hmmmmmmm, like some professional and silent counselor.  Finally, after all that listening, a good friend talks with you.  They share with you what they think and feel.  They tell you their perspective, and this is good, a sign of a true friendship. Good friendship means that a friend is willing to honestly share their thoughts and feelings with you. 

God also has a way of speaking to us in our needs.  Christ our good friend always talks with us. 

Let me give you some examples of the ways that God through Christ talks to you.  In sermons for example.  Was it last week or two weeks ago, when a person said, “Pastor, why are you picking on me during your sermons?  That last sermon was directed right at me.  It was as if God told you what to say.”  There is a moment during a sermon, a person knows that the voice of God is speaking directly to them.  God talks to us, not only in sermons, but much of the time, if we have ears to listen.

I distinctly remember an example of this in my own life.  It was way back in 1968, and I was working as a chaplain at Hastings State Mental Hospital.  I would drive from Minneapolis to Hastings every Sunday morning.  It took forty-five minutes.  My wife and I had just discovered that we had a problem with infertility and we couldn’t have any children biologically.  What were we to do?  Adopt?  When? How? We were never any biological children? It was a bouncy, emotional time in our marriage, and we kept on asking, “What are we going to do?”  It was a Sunday morning and I was driving to Hastings to work at 7:00 A.M. and I was listening to the radio station and Dr. Morris Wee, my old mentor, was the preacher.  I was listening, listening, listening, wanting for God to speak to me. In that moment, it just wasn’t Dr. Wee who was speaking to me that morning; it was the very voice of God.  And I said, “Yes, Lord. I accept.” God does speak to us, clearly and directly, sometimes.  God is forever speaking to us, if we have ears to hear.

Our God is not like a Buddha. Buddha, what do you think?  His the big statue?  His the big belly?  His the big stare?  Sitting there in statuesque form, staring.  Or, when you think of an Indian totem, you think of a carved raven there on the top of a totem pole…saying nothing.  Does a totem pole talk back to you?  No. Or,  when you look at the icy clarity of a star filled sky, what  words does that star filled sky say?  Nothing.

But at the heart of the Bible is the awareness that our God speaks to us.  There are God’s mouths, God’s prophets.  The very word, prophet, means “mouth.”  God talks to us through the mouths of the prophets. 

God is our good friend, and therefore God not only listens to us but God speaks to us.  And God does not tell us what we necessarily want to hear, but what we need to hear.  God speaks to our deepest needs.  God speaks to you through sermons, devotions, reading your Bible, your conscience, your prayers, your friends.  God often speaks to you through your good friend, through your best friend.  Many of you have told me that God often speaks to you through your grandma and grandpa. God usually speaks to you in the moments when you are finally willing to hear.

The other thing about good friends is that they know you really well, and they still like you.  That always amazes me.  Now, there are many different levels of friendship.  There is that level of friendship which says, “hi there,” and you can’t even recall the person’s name but you have a feeling of friendly good will to that nameless person.  There is that next level of friendship where you say, “Hi Rick” and the two of you talk casually for five to ten minutes.  There is that next level of friendship where you invite people over for dinner and you chat for a few hours and you talk about their kids and they talk about your kids and you enjoy an evening of friendship together.  You then  move to the next level that is “best friend.”  A best friend is someone who knows you inside and out and still really likes and loves you.  Even though they know you, they still like you. That is one reason why you are the best of friends.

And so it is with God, our best friend.  God knows you and me inside out, the darkest sides of our personalities, and God still likes and loves us.  In the Bible, it often says that Jesus was the friend of sinners, and I take comfort in that.  God is a friend of imperfect people.  God knows our shadow side and still likes and loves us. That is a good friend.

The last thing the Bible says is the mark of a good friend is that the friend is willing to die for you.  I have been thinking about my good friends this past week, and I don’t think that any of them are willing to die for me.  I have a great friend in Rollie but he is so busy running around the country giving lectures, he is too busy to die for me.  And my good friend, O’Neal, he wouldn’t die for me either.  He has three daughters to take care of.  My brother Lee, the man I admire as much as anyone in the world and is almost godlike in my affection and esteem for him, he wouldn’t die for me either, come to think about it.  In fact, my only friend who is willing to die for me is Jesus Christ.  The only friend I can think of who would die for me is Jesus, and I don’t get it.  I don’t comprehend it.  Somehow, in the death of Jesus on the cross, I know that Jesus died for me, therefore God must love me more than any other friend I have ever had. 

Well, today is about friendships.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ is our best friend. Is that too teenagerish for you?  Too palsy walsy?  Too buddsy-wuddsy?  Is that too down to earth for you to say that Jesus Christ is the best friend who even died for me?  Or does this word, friend, reveal something about the very intimate and tender nature of God?  Does it reveal something about our relationship between God and us as best friends?

Jesus said:  “You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know what his master is doing, but I call you friends. Amen.”

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