Friends with God

February 13, 2022
Isaiah 41:5-10; Luke 11:1-10

Hello Friends,

It’s good to be together today. Here in-person and connected with those who are participating via Zoom.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship this week. Pondering what I understand about it; what I’ve experienced in my life and considering and naming what it is I think I know or believe about friendship.

In my explorations, I looked to the scriptures to see what the Bible contains about the word: friend. I both was and was not surprised to find the word friend all throughout both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.

I was surprised because I think of friend as a very current word – I experience friendship in my own living and so to see something I am intimately acquainted with reflected in ancient stories is a bit jarring sometimes – in a good way – it helps me remember that these stories are first and foremost the stories of people and their own journeys through life.

I was also not surprised because, in my thinking about friendship, a recurring word kept coming up: relationship. Friendship is a relationship. And these same stories that are collected in scripture about other people’s journeys through life are at heart stories of relationship. People relating – to themselves, to the world around them, to their culture, their context, their community, and their God.

So, what did I find out about friendship in the scriptures?

I found that friendship in scripture looks like: helping and encouraging – like we heard in the Isaiah passage today:

they help each other

    and say to their companions, “Be strong!”

The metalworker encourages the goldsmith,

    and the one who smooths with the hammer

    spurs on the one who strikes the anvil.

One says of the welding, “It is good.”

Friendship in scripture also looks like: giving and receiving counsel, being present together, celebrating, challenging, sharing ideas, extending kindness, generosity, and compassion, sharing the load of whatever is, loyalty, accountability, truth-telling, blessing, affirmation, heartache, comfort, chosen connection, and embodied/practical love.

That’s a lot of stuff. And that isn’t even all of the representations of friendship in the stories of scripture. Which is reassuring because while that list is perhaps the beginnings of a recognizable reflection of the reality of friendship as we experience it in our own living, it surely doesn’t cover the multitude of expressions that friendship takes as we live out relationship in our time with ourselves (yes, we can be a friend to ourselves), the world around us, our culture, our contexts, our communities, and God.

Friendship is an active relationship that, in order to thrive, needs participation.

From a young age we learn that friendship is a bit of a negotiation – which is to say – it is an active relationship.

Kids – (and by that I mean kids of any age!) – how many of you have asked, or been asked the question: Do you want to be friends?

Young kids boldly and specifically ask each other – do you want to be friends? And in the asking of that question – is given a gift of agency to all parties – each participant gets a say in the creation of that connection. They get a say in if they are or are not willing to participate in an intentional, on-going relationship.

We as humans have plenty of interactions in which we don’t necessarily get to choose whether or not we would prefer to be involved, and that’s one of the features of friendship – it is a choice and then a commitment to participation.

As adults, we may less explicitly ask the question of friendship with each other – no one has specifically asked me to be their friend in a long time, yet I continue to make new friends and in that process we still navigate the unspoken presence of that question as we test the waters of intention and willingness to participate in connection as we get to know someone new.

I even had the opportunity this week to meet a person that I think will become a friend in my life. As we chatted for the first time it was clear we were both interested in what the other had to offer – our thoughts, our experiences, our shared love of Sherlock Holmes. We are not yet dear friends, friendships come in all shapes, sizes, and depths, and yet the possibility is present for us to continue to choose to connect with each other and learn and grow and play and share space together. And even the possibility of that expanded my world.

Friendship can expand our experience of life.

How do we make space for friendship in our living?

Friendship, as an active relationship, means both giving and receiving. And the nature of it being a relationship means it is a choice and a practice. Friendship is not something we accomplish and then it is finished – I have made a friend, check! That is done, what’s next. No. Being a friend and letting others befriend us is an on-going process. It is an ebbing and flowing tide of relationship – which means it sometimes feels super present, life-giving, and easy and in other moments it is an absence keenly felt, a challenge, a slog. Sometimes friendships are safe spaces of trust, support, and intimacy, while other experiences that we thought were friendship have been unhealthy, harmful, and manipulative. Which is why I used the words choice and practice. Because authentic friendship asks us to be continuously and actively engaged in choosing and practicing how we will extend and receive friendship.

And a practice is not something that has a set answer or solution – it is an invitation to try and try again in a new way if the trying doesn’t work or if the trying that used to work doesn’t any longer. Practice is another way to embody, think about, and say: relationship. To practice friendship is, in part, to be curious about that which we are in relationship with.

We see this in the disciple’s request that Jesus teach them how to pray: Jesus, teach us to pray!

And as Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, he places that prayer in the context of friendship. There’s a quirky story about persistence and care through connection and friendship. Even before telling that story he first invokes the idea of friendship through the naming of God as Abba – a title of intimate connection. By teaching them to use this greeting, Jesus invites the disciples to engage in intimate relationship, in friendship, directly with God.

As Father Richard Rohrer put it in one of his daily meditation emails the other week:

Jesus introduces his friends (the disciples) to his other friend (God) in the daily prayer known as the “Our Father,” perhaps the spirit of which is better captured by “Our Father-Friend” or just “Our Friend.” This idea of “Our Friend in heaven” was a revolutionary one, as Jesus, acting as a mediator of divine companionship, collapsed the sacred distance between God and us. . .

I am guessing that, at some point in your life, you have had the experience of knowing a friend of your friend without realizing that you both have a friend in common. There is a connection that sparks to life when you each realize the other person is a friend of your friend. I had one of those encounters this week as well! This week we learned that one of our neighbors down the street, who we are friendly with, grew up as a close family friend of one of our dear friends from a different context. When I saw our neighbor, as Simon and I were walking to school one morning, I said to her: “hey there – we have a friend in common!” She looked cautiously curious for a moment and then, as I named our mutual friend we both began to glow with a warmth and joy about our mutual friend and we also seemed to appreciate each other in new ways because of the connection that we both hold to another dear soul. Life-giving friendship doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it breathes life into expansive connections, support, and possibilities in all sorts of ways.

This, of course, can also cause moments of uncertainty at times if you discover connections between folks that you are a bit wary of – but in this context – Jesus is inviting us into a space of authentic connection – a space of life-giving friendship – with God.

What does it look like for us to apply what we know/expect/experience of friendship to our relationship with God?

Remembering first and foremost that friendship is a practice, not something that has a set answer or solution, something that is instead an invitation to try and try again, and is both an extending and a receiving. What might be revealed if we get curious about the state of our friendship with God?

As I pondered that this week, I began to think about all of the kinds of friendships I have and have had in my life – those friendships that are active and present in this season, from deep friendships to casual acquaintances, those friendships that are more dormant, in hibernation till an opportunity for  revived connection presents itself, those friendships that have been lopsided for a season or more, the friendships of others that I knowingly or unknowingly support by extending acts of love, kindness, care, and justice in my living, those friendships that have run their course – that are now lost to me other than in memory, those friendships that are just beginning, and those that haven’t even come across my path yet.

I realized that my friendship with God has aspects of all of these experiences.      …My mind goes back to what I said earlier about the practice of friendship – tweaked a bit:

Being a friend of God and letting God befriend us is an on-going process. It is an ebbing and flowing tide of relationship – which means it sometimes feels super present, life-giving, and easy and in other moments it is an absence keenly felt, a challenge, a slog. Being a friend of God is to open ourselves up to a radical connection that mysteriously and persistently tethers us to the Holy and the Holy to us through all ebbs and flows and seasons of stillness. A connection that expands our living and tethers us to relationship with the world around us in life-giving ways that foster love, compassion, justice, and grace.

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow – and as much as hallmark and our society might try to make it a day focused around romance, I choose to believe that the spirit of Valentine’s Day at its core is about radical connection. It is a celebration of love and friendship.

As you ponder and practice being friends with God, I want to invite you to imagine yourself digging through a bowl of candy hearts – you know those sugary/chalky ones with messages on them. And this isn’t a standard set of candy hearts – this bowl has hearts of every kind of word or message you can imagine.

What candy heart message would you offer your friend God at this time?

And because friendship is about giving and receiving – also consider this:

What candy heart message do you imagine your friend God might be offering you?

May you seek, find, and experience the expansive connections of friendship in the week ahead. Amen.