“FriendShifts” James 2:1-10 & 14-17 9/9/2018
A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following:
- “One, who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is unbreakable.”
- “One who understands our silence.”
- “A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.”
- “A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down.”
The winning definition read: “A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”
Friends; who needs `em? Some argue that friends are the latest casualty of the lifestyle wars as we struggle to balance the full-time demands of career, family, travel, and retirement. With spouse, mortgage, kids, grandkids, schedules, work and travel, moving to a new location, or health issues, there doesn’t seem to be room for anything else. Something’s gotta give.
Friends seem expendable, so friends are the first to go. Take for example Jim Hoffman. About twice a year, when Jim can’t handle the guilt anymore, he sits down and answers neglected
e-mails from a half-dozen pals he hasn’t seen in ages: “Sorry I stink as a friend,” he begins.
The New York Internet executive says he’s too busy, and friends are a luxury he can no longer afford. With a wife, a young daughter and a busy job, “I’m already at 120 percent, there really is no room for anyone else.”
No big deal. Or … maybe it is.
Recent research tells us what we’ve long suspected: friends are important. That’s why so many organizations use the word “friend” in their name: Friends of the Sea Otter, Friends of Libraries, Friends of Freedom, Friends of the Environment, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Ocean and Friends of Norway.
There are friends of gardens, parks, countries, cities and states. There’s even a group that calls itself Friends of Tobacco, headquartered in -surprise – North Carolina! You need a friend? You can find one at Friend Finder (www.Friend.com).
When the medical community chimes in, the value of friendships is dramatically underscored. Fewer friends lead to higher stress and a shorter life. In a study of 2,800 men and women over the age of 65, those with more friends had a lower risk of health problems, and they recovered faster when they did develop health issues.
A Yale University study of 10,000 seniors showed that having friends reduced the risk of death by about 50 percent over a five-year period.
Friends can help you reduce stress, improve the quality of your life, live longer, get a better job, expand your business, improve your marriage and other relationships, and derive more joy from your life. So there you have it. There is value to having friends over the long term. No surprise.
What is intriguing is the notion that our friends will come and go throughout life, and that this is absolutely normal. Dr. Jan Yager, in her book, FriendShifts – the Power of Friendship & How It Shapes Our Lives (from which I stole the title of today’s message), argues that it is very rare for a person to have a friend for a lifetime.
Instead, we tend to shift our friends as our own needs and circumstances themselves shift. Typically, adults today have one or two “best” friends, four to six “close” friends, and 10 to 20 or more “casual” friends. But let’s be honest, even these numbers seem high.
Healthy friendships take time just to get going – up to three years according to some experts. Then they require nurturing and attentive planning. But just when the friendships are in place, they vanish, victims of some new component in the social equation: new job, new school, new baby, new spouse, new home, or whatever.
The bottom line is that we not only don’t have as many friends as we used to, but we’re probably going to lose the ones we have because of something going on in our lives or in their lives. But that’s okay. We will pick up new friends in a cyclical pattern of friend shifting that will continue for the rest of our lives.
The reading from James today takes the discussion to another level. Christians tend to exaggerate their claims of friendship. They’ll say we’ve got the friendliest church in the world, but we’ll walk right by the stranger or guest in the narthex. We say we love one another, but we’re just as likely as the next person to badmouth someone – a work colleague, a neighbor or member of our faith community, etc.
We say we’d never stoop to the behavior of what appears to be a nearsighted usher in today’s text, but we forget that the church has a shady past. As one example, the church must never forget its complicity for centuries in promoting slavery and segregation and in resisting their demise. But that was then; this is now, we say. True.
But the reading from James today argues that it is not enough to assert love and friendship.
There must be signs of this friendship or else both the friendship and the faith are dead.
- Partiality (2:2-3) is not a sign.
- Withholding forgiveness is not a sign (2:13).
- Refusing to feed and clothe the hungry and homeless is not a sign (2:15-16).
Moreover, today’s reading from James makes it clear that we can’t be an enemy to our friends (read: neighbors) and still be a friend of God. To be a “FaithFriend of God”, we’ve got to keep faith with our friends. And therein lies the lesson. We must keep faith with our friends. If we don’t, we have neither faith nor friends.
In today’s reading James is adamant. There must be signs. Friendship – whether with our neighbor or with God – requires faithship which requires workship which results in worship.
Every friendship enriches a person’s personality. Friendship gives every person an insight into the life of another who has been led by the Holy Spirit. A solid friendship enables a person to realize that in the presence of a friend a person’s secrets as well as sins are sacred.
Friendship is an antidote for boredom and loneliness, but also a quality that enables a person to grow up in the friendship of God and in the sight of a person’s neighbor.
And who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is our friend. Our friend is our neighbor. And what does it mean to keep faith with our neighbor?
Consider the following true story:
Shifra Penzias, a Jewish student, tells of her great-aunt, Sussie, who, in the 1930’s rode a bus home on a snowy evening in Munich during the time of Adolf Hitler & Nazi Germany. Suddenly, the Gestapo stopped the bus, got on board, and began examining the identification papers of the passengers.
Most of the passengers were annoyed and a few were terrified. The Jews were being told to leave the bus and get into the truck around the corner.
Sussie watched from her seat in the rear as the soldiers systematically worked their way down the aisle. She began to tremble, tears streaming down her face.
When the man next to her noticed that she was crying, he politely asked her why. “I don’t have the papers you have. I am a Jew. They’re going to take me.”
blank),” he roared.
“I can’t stand being near you!” The SS men asked what all the yelling was about.
“Damn her,” the man shouted angrily. “My wife just told me that she has forgotten her papers again! I’m so fed up. She always does this!” The SS men laughed and moved on.
Sussie never saw the man again. She never even knew his name.
If we must keep faith with our friends, we must also keep faith with God. This is one friendship that need not shift. If it does, it is not God who is doing the shifting.
This faithfulness to God is an “active faith.” Not a “do nothing faith.” Not a faith that says “I’ve done that before.” The Christian faith in God is a “do something faith.” The Christian faith never rests on its laurels or on the past. It always asks what do we do next?
God may be almighty, all-powerful, and all loving. But God seems to need, or value the friendship of God’s creatures. It is what God was after in the Garden of Eden story; it’s what God sought in Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, Rahab, Moses, David, Elijah and other personalities from the Old Testament.
And in such New Testament and 1st century personalities as Joseph, Mary, Peter, James and John, and the rest of the 12 disciples, Mary Magdalene, and Paul, Mariam, and Darcus to name a few. It is what God wants in us.
Our earthly friendships with each other come and go with time and the circumstances of life.
But God wants – needs – friends who will keep faith with God. And in keeping faith with God there is no shifting allowed.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, September, 201
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 9-9-18” name of the sermon.