I recently spoke to a group and afterwards a friend rushed up and enthused, “I really enjoyed your talk; will it be published?” With tongue in cheek, I said, “Yes, I hope to publish it posthumously.” “Good,” said the friend, “the sooner the better.”
It’s “back-to-school time.” How many parents are excited? Now, I’m going to give you a two-part quiz. Part one:
Name the last two movies to win the Oscar for best picture.
Who were the last two teams to win the Super Bowl?
Name the two wealthiest people in the world (according to Forbes Magazine 2017).
I don’t know about you but I didn’t get 100%. Now try part two of the quiz:
Think of two teachers who made a difference for the better in your life.
Name two friends who helped you through a difficult time.
Identify two mentors or coaches who taught you something worthwhile.
I bet you named two people in all three categories.
The point I want to make is simple: we quickly forget headlines. However, we become “heroes and heroines” when we make a difference for the better in people’s lives, when we help them through challenges, and when we affirm purpose or meaning in their lives.
That, my friends, is precisely what Jesus does. Yes, Jesus is: a rabbi or teacher who shows us purpose in life, to live in relationship with God; a friend whom we always can trust and who is always with us especially as we face challenges; and a mentor who inspires us to become the best version of ourselves.
Now what does the word of God have to say to us? The Book of Daniel is about a legendary hero who interprets dreams, survives a burning furnace and escapes a lion's den. Here the author describes in apocalyptic or “fiery” imagery a mysterious figure who is like a Son of man. He goes before the throne of God, the ancient One, who entrusts him with the universe. As we read on, the author urges his fellow persecuted Jews in the 2nd century before Jesus to continue in fidelity to God's covenant, even if it means martyrdom, because in the resurrection, they will “shine like the stars.” Stop worrying, the author pleads, trust in God who controls the universe. Good advice!
The author of the second letter of Peter alludes to the final coming of the living Christ. The disciples were eyewitnesses to the transfiguration. They saw the glory of God in the earthly Jesus; they heard God's voice affirm his identity. The living Christ will come again like a light out of darkness, like the dawn of a new day.
He is the revelation of God to us. In other words, everything God ever wanted to do for or say to us, God already did and said in the living Christ: that's why John says he is our way, our truth and our life.
The author of the Gospel according to Matthew speaks about a mountain and a cloud: mountains symbolize the human ascent to God and clouds, God's descent upon us. Here Jesus appears on Mount Tabor as a dazzling figure whose face is like the sun and whose clothes are as white as light. Peter, James and John saw Jesus's inner identity as Son of God burst through his outer earthly appearance. And the voice said: “listen to him.”
Who is this God-man, Jesus? And why listen to him?
Jesus, the Gospels tell us, was a real historical person, flesh and blood like ourselves. He was a rabbi, a teacher, a prophet who proclaimed the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. He worked signs and wonders; possessed authority to forgive; was one with the God of Israel; was crucified, died and raised up. Yes, Jesus Christ is alive. And because he lives, we live. That is the “good news.”
This living Christ invites us, so says John 15:15, to be “friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”
But what is a friend? I recently came across a survey of 800 people born between 1981 and the early 2000s, the so-called millennials. The results gave a snapshot of a lonely generation. More people today live alone than at any other point in our recorded history. This survey found that people had a very large number of “Facebook friends” but still felt a sense of loneliness.
Social media, of course, is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. After all Genesis, chapters 2 and 3, says we were created for friendship with God and one another.
The Bible of course is very realistic about friendships. We see examples of relationships at their best, but also at their worst. For me, friendships include at least three ingredients.
First, they include partnerships. Mother Teresa said, “I can do things you can't, you can do things I can't; but together we can do great things.” All of us need good partnerships. Perhaps that's why Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. Value our partnerships.
Second, nurture our friendships. From the beginning of Christianity we see examples of friends working together in partnership. Paul and Barnabas, for example, were partners in proclaiming the “good news.” They “dedicated their lives ... to Jesus Christ.” But as we read on in the Book of Acts, they had a “sharp disagreement” and parted company. But in the providence of God, it worked out well in the end. Barnabas found a new partner in Mark. Paul found a new partner in Silas and they “went through Syria and Cilicia, bringing strength to the churches” there. (Acts 15).
Obviously we want to do our best to resolve differences and avoid painful parting. But the point is: nurture our friendships. Martin Luther King Jr. gave some good advice about how to nurture friendships, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude” in our friendships with one another.
Finally, make loyalty a priority. If we sow loyalty, we will reap loyalty. Be loyal even when friends are not in our company. We will become trustworthy among those who aren't our friends.
Yes, friendships value and nurture our partnerships and make loyalty a priority. Above all, think of Jesus as our best friend and soulmate and confidant, especially in prayer. Jesus calls us friends because he has told us everything he has heard from his Father. Value that relationship, nurture it especially in prayer and make loyalty or fidelity a priority.
Perhaps our prayer might be: Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us. Help us to work together in our partnerships so that we can bring “good news.” to one another. Nurture our friendships, especially with You, and help us with your grace to stay loyal to our friendships so that we can keep on doing all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, for all the people we can, as long as ever we can. Amen.