We’ve been talking about friendship this weekend with the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth. We looked at the story of David and Jonathan to see what we could learn about friendship from them. We studied the passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus calls his disciples friends, and thought about what it means to be a friend of Jesus. And we watched and discussed the play, “The Shape of a Girl” – a play about friendship, and bullying, and things getting out of control, and having the courage to speak out.
More than any of us, the youth are probably most used to thinking about and talking about friendship. At their stage of life, making and keeping friends is a big part of life. When we are young, we learn about being friends… maybe from our parents, and maybe from our peers… we learn how to play together with others, how to share, how to care, how to listen to someone else and share our feelings with others too.
I want to invite you now… no matter how old you are… to think about the friends you have had over the years. Remember your friends at school or in the neighbourhood when you were a child. Think of your high school friends. Some friends you had for a time, and others have remained close over many years. Maybe you remember college friends with whom you studied or partied. Maybe you remember work friends who supported each other and shared burdens or challenges along the way. Maybe you remember good neighbours or folks who shared a common interest or membership in a group. Maybe friends from church come to mind, people with whom you have worshipped, served, studied the scriptures, and prayed.
I invite you to remember your friends, past and present, and to consider what makes a good friend.
When we studied the story of David and Jonathan, we found that good friends are honest, loving, loyal, and respectful. They are humble, trustworthy, and caring. Good friends take time to listen and care, and they are faithful. They do their best to keep their promises.
When I asked the youth to think beyond the story of David and Jonathan, and to consider what our faith and the scriptures teach us about being friends, they said, “Jesus teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” They said, “Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us first.” Some pointed out that there are many ways to learn right from wrong and what it means to be a good friend – from our parents, from our teachers, from our various faith traditions, even from TV and movies sometimes.
But our Christian faith especially encourages us to work hard on our relationships. For example, one youth pointed out that she learned when she was young the importance of settling any arguments or disagreements she might have had with friends during the week before Sunday came. As the Gospel teaches, before we come to worship God, we should consider whether we have any unresolved issues with our brothers and sisters. We should go and seek forgiveness and reconciliation before we come to worship.
I wonder how many of us think about that kind of spiritual accountability on a weekly basis? Hopefully it won’t lead to us skipping church because we’re in the middle of a fight with a friend. But maybe it can encourage us to make working things out a priority, so that we can worship God in spirit and in truth, as well as strengthen our friendships and relationships.
When we talked about friendship this weekend, some of the youth pointed out that good friends learn to be selfless. They learn to put their friends ahead of themselves. That might mean something as simple as choosing an activity that their friends enjoy, or taking the time to listen when a friend is struggling. In many friendships there is a give-and-take between friends, as they each care for the other. But good friends don’t count how much they have given and received. They give their time, attention, and care freely, and give thanks to God when they receive blessings in return.
I wish I could say that making friends is easy, and keeping friends is easy, and being a good friend is easy… but many of us struggle with some aspects of friendship. In the busyness of life today, some of us find it difficult to give enough time and attention to our friends. It takes work to arrange get-togethers, and it costs us quite a bit to change or drop our plans when a friend needs our help or attention.
Others struggle with relationships that are supposed to be friendships, but in which the supposed friend bullies, bosses, or manipulates them. These situations call us to learn how to be loving and loyal, without allowing ourselves or others to be abused.
Last night we watched a play called, “The Shape of a Girl.” It was a play inspired by the terrible bullying incident in BC a number of years ago. A girl was so terribly bullied and harassed by her peers that they eventually killed her. Teenage girls got so out of control, and so deep into a pattern of abuse, that a girl actually died.
The real incident some years ago, and the play we watched last night, both pointed out that regular girls and boys, and people in general, have a terrible capacity for hatred, and evil, and abuse of one another. Like the main character in the story, Braidie, any one of us could get caught in situations where we participate in ridiculing or hurting others. Although we look like girls and boys, men and women, we too can become monsters.
But the play also reminded us that we also have the capacity to change, to choose another way. Like Braidie finally decided to go to a teacher that she trusted and tell what was happening with her friends, we also can find the courage to speak up and to act for what is right, and good, and just. Even if that seems unimaginable, we belong to a community of Christians that is here to help us, and we have the gift of the Spirit, both to teach us what is right and to empower us to do it as well.
Sometimes in church we can get pretty focused on what Jesus teaches and commands us to do. As Jesus loved us, we ought to love one another. As Jesus lived selflessly, giving his time and attention for others, we should live and give selflessly for our friends. As Jesus became a friend of sinners and outcasts, we should not just choose friends who are popular or fun, but we should become friends to those who are lonely, unpopular, or even bullied by others.
But before we even think about living up to those commandments and expectations from God, we must remember that Jesus has made us his friends. Jesus says to his first disciples and to us who follow him today, “I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends.”
In other words, we are not forced to do what Jesus commands or made to follow his instructions. Instead, Jesus has been a friend to us by loving us selflessly, giving his life for us, and being there to love us, and listen to our prayers, and care for us every day.
And Jesus invites us to be his friends as well. He invites us to spend time with him in prayer, to listen to his wise advice by reading his teachings in the Bible and studying his life. Jesus gives us the opportunity to choose to follow him and to do our best to love others as he has loved us… because we are his friends.
Even when there are times in our lives when our other friends fail or disappoint us, when our friendships falter and we feel alone or afraid… Jesus is the most faithful friend who never leaves us or forsakes us. Jesus is the friend who stays by our side like the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23, through good times and scary times, through this life and into the eternal life promised by God.
As we celebrate friendship today, let’s rejoice in the perfect friendship of God in Jesus Christ for every single one of us. Let’s give thanks for the ways that we have experienced God’s love through human friends who have been faithful, honest, caring, loyal, trustworthy, loving, and fun. And let’s pray, and ask God to help us, day by day, to be the best friends that we can be to others. Let’s ask God to guide us when friendships are difficult, to give us strength and courage to love selflessly and do what is right. Most of all, let’s ask God to help us to love as Jesus loves us. Amen.