TRA 29th June, 2003
The Promise of Powerful Friendship
John 15:12-17, Matthew 18:12-20
It has been a tradition in Australia that one of the most important things you can have in life is a powerful friend. If you have a friend in high places it can make all the difference to you, your career, your work. As the Beatles sang, you "get by with a little help from your friends."
Researchers in Australia have asked what is the most important relationship that exists in this country. Is it the family relationship? No. Is it the bond between husband and wife? No. It is the bond between mates! In Australia what counts with men is "mates." Wayne Carey, Captain of the Kangaroos Australian Rules Football Club was caught committing adultery. He was blamed and forced out of the Club, not for having sex with another man's wife, but for having sex with his mate's wife! That was unforgivable. Mateship, as part of the Australian character, has its roots deep in the soil of our beginnings. Some historians say it began when a majority were convicts and had a common mind against all authority. Others argue that it was because of the sexual imbalance of our early community. For example, when our church began here in 1812, for every 100 men in the City of Sydney, there were only 25 women. For every 100 males in the rural areas there were fewer than 20 females. It became important for a man to get on with his fellow men and to get on with "my mates." This mateship became a kind of mystical union between men who shared the same outlook, the same ideals and the same future. There was even a hatred of those outside the group. Sometimes that hatred became very bitter: against coloured people, Aborigines, Chinese gold diggers, Englishmen, Pacific Islanders, and Jews.
Mateship was the fabric that joined people like "us", as opposed to "them." Australian mateship was fused in the fire of the South African war, on Gallipoli, in the mud of Flanders, on the Wallaby Track during the Depression, among the Rats of Tobruk, and up the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. For many, mateship became the most important of all relationships.
In the first century Christian Church, among a handful of fishermen, farmers and persecuted people - hated by the Romans, hunted by the Jews, despised by the rest of the world - the most important relationship was that they had with each other and with their powerful Friend. Instead of "my mate" the phrase expressing this relationship was "my brother" and "my sister". This was their new family and their most powerful Friend, Jesus, who would be with them despite all difficulty, under every threat, and even in death. In the closeness of that intimacy they would greet one another with a kiss to both cheeks, with a warm embrace that helped them to grow even closer to one another. They were basing their relationship on the words of Jesus, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other." John 15:12-17 That brotherhood held the early church together.
Throughout chapter 18 of Matthew's Gospel we are told how to relate to those who belong to Jesus, who are part of the Messianic community, who are the new people of God, the new Israel, the church, the Kingdom of heaven. These terms all refer to those who are joined together in the fellowship of faith. Matthew 18:1-5 Even the smallest person is significant and the one with weak faith is as much a brother as anyone else, indeed, it is better to lose an arm than to see a weak brother hurt. v6-9 In verses v10-14, Jesus teaches that if one of us goes wandering and gets lost like a silly sheep, then we are to go out and search for that brother until we find him and bring him back. We all belong to one another, even the lost one. Then v15-17 Jesus says that if we have a disagreeable person among us we must first of all talk to him about it. If he does not respond we must confront him and point out the right position. If he still does not listen we must find a wise counsellor who will talk to him. If that still does not work, then the whole church must gather round to encourage him. If he still resists he must be disciplined. Only then, if he still persists against the group, should he be regarded as a lost cause and treated as an outsider. That is the importance of the Christian relationship.
Jesus is saying: I want to know that when you get together as brothers and sisters of mine, even though there are only two of you or three of you, and you gather together in My name and pray, then God will hear your prayer and answer you because you have a united mind, and even if there are only two or three of you, I will be there in the midst of you. v18-20
Jesus is proclaiming a new relationship for those who have faith. We become members of the family of faith. It is interesting to note what scholars have to say about this fellowship of believers. Professor T.G.A. Baker, in his book What is the New Testament? makes this point: "The only thing Jesus left behind was a living fellowship, conscious of itself as the reconstituted people of God in the world." The early Christians found a friendship so close and tight it was like nothing that had existed before. It was mateship at its deepest without barriers of class or sex, race or colour. It was "one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth." J Oxenham When J.B. Phillips translated the New Testament he wrote, "What we are seeing here is the early church, valiant and unspoiled. Ordinary men and women gathered together in a unique fellowship, an unconquerable fellowship, never before seen on this earth." Note those words, "an unconquerable fellowship."
The distinguished American Methodist historian, Dr Albert Oulter, said that the early Methodists were given a new sense of dignity by Christ who died for them. They understood their new personal worth and dignity and when they gathered in their class meetings for instruction and mutual service, they found a bond of friendship which nothing could break. They were brothers and sisters and they called each other by those terms. Today, the Christian church has lost much of that closeness. We still call any gathering within the church a "fellowship" but when that term was used in the New Testament it meant a close mateship of those who would give themselves for each other and who would even lay down their lives for one another.
Jesus makes this great promise: "I tell you that if.. two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." He is not speaking of people in the street, nor of people who just believe in God; He is talking about the family of God, those mates within the Kingdom. "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." v19-20 This promise gives us great encouragement.
1. WE HAVE EACH OTHER.
That may not sound much to some, but when you have each other it is more than many have. Do you know the most deadly disease in our city? It is called "loneliness." It is called "alienation." It is called "having nobody." It is called "living in a crowded city and not relating to a single person." It is called "sitting down at the telephone and having no one to call." It is called "waiting at night knowing that the doorbell will not ring." It is called "looking at people in a crowded train and never seeing a face that cares for you." It is called "walking around the city streets, not knowing where you are going or why you are going there." It is called. "being loved only by a cat." That disease of urban living is loneliness.
From the design of our Wesley Centre, to the openness of our restaurant, the comfortable lounges which encourage people to sit and stay, to the programs we run every day in this centre, Wesley Mission seeks to be a central home for members of the family. People need friends. "Psychology Today" ran a survey of 55,000 persons and discovered 51% said that they could not get by without a little help from their friends.
In the Australian National University at Canberra there has been a project running for many years on the influence of friendship among Australians. They discovered that 25% of people cannot cope with life without someone outside their family or their marriage helping them. It is said that 12% of all Australians cannot survive emotionally without a friend to help them get by. Barbara Streisand puts it beautifully in singing, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." Why? Because they are the people who can have a friend. I once saw a bumper sticker on the back of a car which read, "A friend in need is …a pain in the neck!" That may be true for some, but in the church a friend in need is welcome. We have each other! Belong to the family! Mothers often hold the family together. That is why every year we honour some mother who is important to the whole family of Wesley Mission.
2. WE HAVE THE POWER OF A COMMON MIND.
Again, you may think this is not very much, but behind that thought lies the power of prayer. Jesus said, "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for…," When you agree about something and pray for it, you are being unselfish. It requires two or three of you to agree upon that matter. Then you are thinking about others and you are not thinking about negative problems but about the great resources of God. Further-more, you are looking at answers and not merely problems. You are beginning to look at God's part in this affair, not only you own. There is nothing more powerful than united minds with one purpose, with one direction, with a single meaning.
God does not always answer prayers in the way we might expect them to be answered. He may not answer them according to our time schedule. But God promised He will answer our prayers in the way we need. "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16
3. WE HAVE HIS PRESENCE ALWAYS
When Jesus speaks about two or three gathered together, He is not thinking of the ideal size for a church. He is talking about a minimum size. You cannot have a meeting of less than two persons. He is saying: Whenever you get, even in the smallest of meetings, three, or even two, then I am with you. I, your Friend, am in that meeting to give you support and encouragement by My presence. Jesus is our closest Friend.
I remember praying with a small group of residents in one of our Aged Care hostels. One man was blind. Two others were totally deaf. One man had a stroke and could not speak. We just put our heads together and we all knew we were in the presence of Another who had promised to be with us and He heard and answered our prayers. That is a great promise to us from Jesus, "I am with you." It ends forever our urban loneliness. It ends forever that feeling of alienation in our hearts. It invites us to be one of His friends, to belong to the unconquerable fellowship, to be part of the brotherhood of believers, to be part of the family of God, to know His powerful friendship! Join with His family here, and accept His friendship now! Jesus is our best mate. Everyone of us can get by with a little help from this Friend. Accept His friendship offered to you now! What a friend we have in Jesus!
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