Sunday 5-6-18, St. Monica’s Naples, “Feast of Our Patron Saint, Monica”
Friendship in 21stcentury
Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” I Googled the top 50 songs about friends the other day, which I will not name all fifty, but I will share just a few. See how many of these songs, your have heard before: Queen, “You’re my Best Friend,” The Beatles, “With a Little Help from my friends,” Andrew Gold, “Thank you for Being my Friend” (Golden Girls Theme), Bill Withers, “Lean on Me,” and my favorite by James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.” If you were to look at the lyrics of each of these songs, you will get a pretty good idea about friendship in postmodern times, but do the words of these songs capture what Jesus meant?
Today, I think we may be losing the whole idea of friendship, especially the level of friendship Jesus desires for us with him, and with each other. Here is an example. According to Facebook, I have over 1,000 “friends.” I am not bragging, but most of the people I am “friends” with on Facebook are people I have merely only met before. The idea that all 1004 are my real friends, or are people in my life that even meet the friend standard of some of those wonderful ballads I just named is just not possible.
According to a 2016 Huffington Post article, “Science says we can really only have five close friends at a time.” (3) The researcher says, “we are only capable of having a finite number of people in our social sphere — 150 to be exact — due to the size of our brains. The closest emotional layer — the one we consider to hold the most meaning and connection — contains approximately five individuals, according to Dunbar.”(3)
We may think social media makes it possible for us to have an unending group of so-called friends, but that holds no water. Our capacity the kind of intimate, committed, close friendship Jesus desires for us may seem according to science, to be impossible for we mere humans, but Jesus to have that kind of relationship with us all IS possible.
Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” That means all of us are friends of Jesus; close, intimate, connected, and transforming friends. So, who are your true friends, and how are you transforming your friends’ lives? What does it mean to be a part of “Jesus and His Friends?”
True Friend or Flatterer (Frank talk)
Have you ever had the so-called friend who “butters you up,” “blows smoke,” or simply stated, gives you nothing but insincere flattery? Jesus said, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” A real friend does not need give insincere flattery of puffed up feedback. A real friend shares with you what you need to hear, and no always what you want to hear. When I worked for Sears back in the early 90’s, we went through a difficult and lengthy corporate culture shift. One of the core values we shared during those times was a new commitment to giving “straight talk.” Before the transition, the company had a long-held culture in which, people never spoke truth with love and care about problems, and Sears struggled to break out of its old stuck ways. Systems no longer worked, employee relationship problems were never addressed, and strategies never had solid planning and financial underpinnings. Finally when people began speaking truth in love, or as we called it “straight talk,” many of the operational and personnel problems were addressed, and a new culture of cooperation emerged.
Theologian Gail O’Day wrote, in first century Greco-Roman culture, “To be someone’s friend was to speak frankly and honestly to them and to hold nothing back.” (1) Jesus was all about straight talk with his disciples and the religious system of his time. He told Peter when he tried to deter him from the cross, “Get thee behind me Satan.” He also told him to “feed his sheep” after he had to ask him three times if he loved him. Jesus challenged his disciples about their trust in him, “O You of Little Faith.
I believe we need that kind of “straight talk” and loving frankness in the church today. We need to lovingly remove our masks of so-called good Christian culture, and be real with one another, and have a closeness that allows us to share, what we often might not want to hear, but what we need to hear, all for our own good, and the good of the community. Friends need a little straight talk but also, we need to walk the talk.
Friends: Following Jesus’ commandments
Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Gail O’Day wrote, “Friendship is not simply an abstract social and moral virtue; it achieves its real worth when it is modeled and embodied in practice.” (1) Jesus taught us the simplest of commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.” That kind of love transcends oneself. Jesus explains that loving God and neighbor describes how we should be willing to lay down our lives for our friends.
I know I would risk my life for my wife and daughter, my mother and siblings, but would I risk my life for others? I sure hope I would when the moment comes, but maybe Jesus means something even more simple than sacrificing our life for someone. Maybe Jesus is telling us that laying down our life means, setting aside our own agenda, our own desires and wants, for what may very well be the best thing for our friend, for our community, and for God’s will.
O’Day also wrote, “Friendship moves a person from being a private individual to a member of a social group based on something beyond kinship.” (1) “Jesus and His Friends” move outside ourselves and follow the life giving, sacrificial approach to following God’s will. According to the Urban Dictionary, “A friend is someone who would sacrifice their life and happiness for you. A friend is someone who will come with you when you have to do boring things like watch badrecitals, go to stuffy parties, or wait in boring lobbies.” (2) Simply said, “Jesus and His friends” make time for cultivating the connection of love between the other, even if it means setting aside our own desires, needs, and wants.
Friendship: Monica and A Toy Story
“Jesus and His Friends” must walk the talk. We can find examples of that kind of friendship throughout the history of the church. We could not ask for a better Patron Saint, Monica whom we commemorate today. She was the Mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of the church. Her life was dedicated to her son’s secular success in life, but despite her own desires, she eventually committed herself to seeing him become a person of faith and a convert to Christianity. I am so glad she did because Augustine’s writings and theological work have become the basis of our understanding of the faith today.
Thanks to his mother’s friendship, straight talk, and acts of love we have a deeper understanding of God today. “Monica is the saint of married women, abuse victims, alcoholics, alcoholism, difficult marriages, disappointing children, homemakers, housewives, mothers, victims of adultery, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, widows and wives.”
St. Monica’s Episcopal Church is a haven, a respite, a spiritual home for all of us who have endured such terrible trials and troubles in life. Monica is an example of what it means to be a part of the tribe of “Jesus and His Friends.”
“Jesus and His Friends” speak frankly and say what a friend needs to hear, but may not want to hear. We lay down our own agendas and well-being, so that God’s will, and the good of the other comes first. We center our lives on God’s mission of love. In a world where friendship has become distorted, and racking up friends on a social media site has become a badge of false connectedness and community, we need to recapture a simpler understanding of friendship in Christ. Jesus said, “I have called you friends.”
Have you ever heard the song “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me,” the theme song of the movie “Toy Story?” I found an incredible version on YouTube the other day. The song is sung by a three-year-old named Claire and her Dad. I think the lyrics of this song, might give us with a simple picture of the kind of friendship Jesus is talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzhk2aheNfI
The song goes like this:
You’ve got a friend in me When the road looks rough ahead And you’re miles and miles From your nice warm bed You just remember what your old pal said Boy, you’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me You got troubles, I’ve got ’em too There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you We stick together and see it through Cause you’ve got a friend in me
Some other folks might be A little bit smarter than I am Bigger and stronger too Maybe But none of them will ever love you The way I do It’s me and you, boy, you’ve got a friend in me.
And as the years go by Our friendship will never die You’re gonna see it’s our destiny You’ve got a friend in me, You’ve Got a friend in me.
(1) O’Day, Gail R. “Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John.” Interpretation, vol. 58, no. 2, Apr. 2004, pp. 144-157.
(4) “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukD8zj6ngVY