Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Friendship and Courage

   At his last meal with the disciples, Jesus said to them, “No longer do I call you servants. I have called you friends.” Jesus is my friend, and your friends – and so we in the church are friends.

We need friends, even the most introverted among us. Church at its best will provide friendship – but not as a hook-up place where you can connect with people like you. Church friendship is deeper, more attentive and God-focused. Church friendship is all about mercy, forgiveness, our shared interest being Church, the Scriptures, God, missional serving.

Church friends can and do disagree – and for this disagreement we thank God. In society, increasingly, people only wish to be around those who think like they do. So you find like-minded folks, or you just never talk about weighty matters. Church friends heartily disagree, and do so full of love, knowing we make each other better this way. Christopher Lasch: “It is only by subjecting our preferences to the test of debate that we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn. Until we have to defend our opinions in public, they remain half-formed convictions based on random impressions and unexamined assumptions.” It takes some courage to be a friend.

Sometimes church friends, trying to help, wound each other. William Blake painted Job’s friends pointing fingers at him. They only did that implicitly – and by doing what friends don’t do. Friends don’t log religious nuggets at their friends who are suffering, little banalities and even falsehoods, like “He’s in a better place,” “God won’t give you more than you can endure,” “God needed another angel,” “If you just stay positive you’ll kick cancer,” “Just pray,” “Everything happens for a reason,” etc., etc., etc. Friends show up, but often are silent. If they speak, they speak words of love, and pledges of prayer.

I suspect that when we see someone we love suffer, it frightens us. A young person dies – and you think, Gee, I’m not safe either. A marriage unravels – and you fret over what’s going on at your house. Somebody gets fired – and you wonder what your boss is thinking. I have this sneaking suspicion that Walter Brueggemann was onto something big when he told Krista Tippett “Most of what we’re arguing about with gays and lesbians has nothing to do with gays and lesbians. It is rather that the world is not the way we thought it was going to be. I think what has happened is that we’ve taken all of our anxiety about the old world disappearing, and we’ve dumped it all on that issue. I have concluded that it’s almost futile to have the theological argument about gays and lesbians anymore because that’s not what the argument’s about. It is an amorphous anxiety that we are in freefall as a society. I think we are in freefall as a society, but I don’t think it has anything to do with gays and lesbians particularly.”

Friendship takes courage. God gives us church friends courage. What do we fear – deep down, at the heart of things? Church is a safe place to be afraid, or not to have to be afraid. Church is love. Church is welcome. Church is debate. Church is friendship. Church matters.

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