One night in a church like ours, a single man came down the aisle, sat near the front and in the middle of the service lit up a big cigar blowing smoke high into the air. A few people sniggered to each other. Eventually an usher came and whispered in his ear. The man took no notice but continued smoking. Then a second usher came down and spoke to him with no more success. Then one of the women ministers, a young attractive blonde, came from the platform and sat beside him. Then two leaders from the youth group moved over to help her if she needed help. He continued with the cigar while the minister preached. No one paid any attention to the sermon at all! The front row drama got all the attention!
At the end of the service the minister came to him, gave him a warm welcome and asked him if he knew there was to be no smoking in the theatre. The offender replied: "Of course I do. I live on my own and have attended this church for the last two weeks and nobody spoke to me or offered me their friendship. Tonight I smoked a cigar which I never normally do, and two ushers, a lovely lady and two young people sat beside me and they all talked to me, and to top it off, you have given me your time and learnt my story! It was well worth one cigar."
I honestly hope you do not need a cigar to attract that much attention. In this church you are welcomed by several people. We get up and move round to speak to people in the service, and we invite you to stay for supper afterwards. But if that is not helping you to find friends, please tell us your story and let us try further.
The church has been concerned for centuries that people find a network of lasting friendships. Consider some attempts:
"The Friends of God" were a Christian fellowship in the early 14th Century throughout Switz-erland, Germany and the Netherlands. It was composed mainly of lay people, who built networks of friendships. "The Society of Friends", founded by George Fox for Christians who could inwardly comprehend God without the assistance of churches, creeds or clergy gave of themselves in many areas of social reform, continue to today a network of friendship known as The Quakers. "Friendly Society" was a name given by Christians for groups which developed medical, pharmaceutical, fire and funeral benefits for the mutual support of members to safe-guard them against poverty, fire, sickness or old age and friendly societies still exist today. "The Girls Friendly Society" is an Anglican Youth Movement found around the world.
Today, loneliness is epidemic. Loneliness is the urban disease of the twentieth century. Loneliness is being locked in a dark room without windows. Loneliness is being in a crowd but feeling left out. Loneliness is people looking at you as if you were invisible. Loneliness is shutting up your heart so no-one else can get inside to help you. We bring loneliness upon ourselves because of modern ideas. We interpret friendship in sexual terms. Friendship between women is suspect. Friendship between two men is regarded as queer. Friendship between mixed adults of other marriages is feared. Yet we need deep friendships. "Psychology Today", a magazine on human behaviour, devoted a whole issue to friendship asking readers to return a questionnaire.
40,000 replies indicated that 51% of people in trouble would turn to their friend before a member of their family or their spouse. We need to have a friend for our own survival! Some people are cynical about friendship: "A friend in need is a pain in the neck" they say. Politicians are cynical of the friendship of their leaders, as Jeremy Thorpe said of his Prime Minister who dropped him from the British Cabinet in 1962: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his friends to save his own life." George Bernard Shaw sent two tickets for the opening night of his new play to Winston Churchill with this note: "Bring a friend if you have one." Churchill sent the tickets back with a note saying; "Sorry I am engaged that evening. Please send tickets for a second night - if you have one."
The dictionary defines friendship as: "the state of being a friend; an association of persons who have an attitude of benevolence, others who wish you well." The Bible uses it of people who have an understanding binding them in close companionship in a way that is distinct from that of relatives or lovers. Few people find genuine friendship. People have acquaintances, colleagues, and neighbours, but few true mates, pals, friends! It is always sad to find that for many people, instead of a person, a dog becomes a man's best friend. Instead of a person a budgerigar is spoken to, and a cat is loved because no person is as friendly. So many people have a difficult life and it is only their friends who help them cope, as John Lennon said: "I'll get by with a little help from my friends." So many people are incredibly lonely, as he said in "Eleanor Rigby": "Look at all those lonely people, where did they come from, where do they belong?"
God is "a friend who sticks closer than a brother" "Some friendships do not last, but some friends are more loyal than brothers." Pro 18:24 The friendship between David and Jonathan has been quoted as ideal friendship for 2,500 years, although some in our generation have spoiled it by claiming they were homosexual lovers. Abraham was seen in such a close relationship with God, that God called Abraham "my friend." Even God needed a friend. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane needed His friends to watch with Him during the dark hours. Paul in prison wrote to his young friend Timothy to come and visit him before the winter.
Acquaintance becomes the basis of deep friendship, often the start of romance, hence friendships are important to single people. This week I have been in Canberra for two days at the reqest of the Prime Minister to devise a national policy to care for homeless youth. 57% of those who run away from home are girls, average age 15.1 years, almost entirely Anglo-Australians with few coming from non-English speaking families. The major reason is conflict with parents or guardians. They leave home to be with a friend who understands them, usually a male. Young people desperately need friends who understand and accept them.
The week, the Central Coast Coroner, conducted the inquest into the death of a 14 year old girl by hanging. She had hung herself just after her 14th birthday. The Pathologist said her liver was yellowing from the effects of drug use and alcohol which she drank in such large quantities the doctor said was "unbelievable." She had been regularly sexually assaulted.
She left her home where violence and alcohol abuse was regular by both mother and father. She went to a home of known criminals where she was raped on her 14th birthday. Before she hanged herself, she wrote a poem "The Fatal Day":
"But this poem is about us kids, Who
haven't been told by our parents what life is like.
That is why in the gutters we lie crying at night."
Friendship is a matter of trust and personal vulnerability. Friendships may fill different needs in us at different ages. Friendship is not enough to provide a basis for living together when you are fifteen but friendship is the best basis of a great marriage. Married partners who are not good friends are often trapped in a closeness that is a prison. Other marriage partners who find their close friendship within their own marriage, have little need for other friends.
2. A NETWORK OF FRIENDSHIPS.
Jesus built a network of friends. Jesus had deep friendship with John, His closest friend and James who often came with Him; with Peter and Andrew the fishermen brothers, with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in whose house He stayed in Bethany. He was always seeking to make new friends. Jesus was friend of sinners and publicans. Matt 11:19 He called Judas friend. Matt 26:50 He called a cripple friend. Lk 5:20 He called listeners friends. Lk 12:4 He called Lazarus friend Jn 11:3 He challenged us to be willing to lay down our lives for our friends. Jn 15:13-15 He gives us a ministry of making friends for God. 2 Cor 5:18-20
Can we learn from the example of Jesus how to build a network of friendship? His example can teach us all how to grow a network of friends.
3. HOW TO BUILD A NETWORK OF FRIENDSHIP.
1. Give priority to your existing acquaintances. Jesus turned casual acquaintances in lasting friends.
2. Build bridges to others. To have more friends requires us to build bridges to others. Make greater effort to speak to random contacts, people you meet after church or getting into a lift; social acquaintances, people you meet in another's home, on holidays or in a church fellowship group; long-term comrades, people you have known for years, from school, work or neighbourhood. Those three groups become your bridges to deep friendships.
3. Give your self esteem a shot in the arm. You gain friends by being friendly. Lift your self esteem.
4. Care for others needs. Ann Landers, the inter-national journalist, announced the break-up of her 30 year marriage, saying: "Each of us is lonely. We cry to be understood because we are frightened and confused inside. We wear a mask. We become strangers even to those we love. Be kind, be friendly, it is the most important thing we can do for each other." Jesus cared for others.
5. Learn the gestures of friendship. Find a place to belong. Put your roots down. Help with work that has to be done. Help others. Smile. Learn names.
6. Be liberal with your praise. People enjoy being built up. Encourage others as Jesus did.
7. Learn to listen. Dale Carnegie "How to Win Friends and Influence People" says: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
8. Talk about your feelings. True friendship grows when you are willing to say how you feel about things, and be willing to be vulnerable to being hurt with defences down.
9. Find the friendship of the truest Friend. Find the lasting friendship of Jesus. Leave the door of your heart ajar, so that your Friend may enter. "Jesus! What a friend for sinners, Jesus! Lover of my soul". He is the truest friend who comes to us in our time of need. His friendship lasts.
The transforming friendship of Jesus makes the essential difference. I was privileged to preach in Dr Leslie Weatherhead's famous church, City Temple London. Dr Weatherhead in the last piece he wrote said, "It is with a sense of deep humility and reverence, almost of awe, that I, having recently passed my 70th birthday, now sit down in my quiet study to write about the Person who has meant more to me than any other over the past 60 years.
As a child of nine I made my little act of dedication to him on 3rd January, 1903, and I determined to serve Him the rest of my life. I remember writing that in red ink in the new diary someone had given me. Needless to say, I have gone back on Him a thousand times since, then, but always He has held my heart enthralled and I know no peace outside of His will and no joy to compare with the experience I have of His friendship. I pray that I have written no word or said anything to dim the belief of others in that transforming friendship."
That is the key thing that makes the difference in the real Christian. The real Christian is a person who knows the friendship of Jesus and has known the transforming power of His friendship.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
Proverbs 18:24; John 15:11-17; 2 Corinthians 18-20;
Central Coast Express Advocate 20/3/98.
THE CHRISTIAN AGNOSTIC Dr L Weatherhead Hodder & S. 1965
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