SERMON from 1-22-12: “Unstuck In Your Friendships”

John 15.7-17

7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Unstuck in Your Friendships

For me, it never fails.  I will be talking to someone about the topic of friendship.  Are they my friend?  Is there a friend who needs my help?  Is there a friend who’s getting on my nerves?  The conservation I am in will ultimately lead me down a path which leads right past the mental checkpoint where I start singing “Thank you for being a friend.”  Actually–for me–it begins with that distinctive piano intro (deh-neh-nah-nah), but you catch my drift.

The theme from The Golden Girls is something that sticks in my mind because that’s what I would watch during summer vacation and I had nothing else to do.  Lifetime played entire, uninterrupted blocks of that show during the day, and became a fan.  There was that one summer that I became obsessed with Days of Our Lives, but I digress.  The theme from The Golden Girls is significant for us today because the entire opening sequence of that show was a montage of how the lives of those sweet, old ladies were–as much as they didn’t want it to be the case sometimes–totally wrapped up in each other.  Even lovable-yet-curmudgeonly Sophia loved Rose, Blanch and her daughter, Dorothy.

That’s the ideal, isn’t it?  Your life is wrapped up in the actions, events and emotions of another person–or other people.  To be fair, what I’ve just described is something which more typically describes friendships between women.  Men still enjoy and hold on to friendships, but their different.  Pastor Nelson Searcy–who pastors a church in New York City called The Journey–tells a story of a night when he decided to take his 4×4 and off-road on a rarely-traveled path which ran parallel to a creek.  His plan was to take this ride at sunset, in order to get a great view.  He did two things wrong: he failed to check the weather report and failed to tell anyone where he was going.

Cut to this ill-fated ride.  It begins to pour.  The rain is coming down so hard that he can’t see six inches in front of him.  The road was typically muddy, not horrible, but muddy.  However, this night, the road turned into goo.  You know goo.  Goo is a great word.  It works better and better as an adjective the slower you say the word.  The road turned to goooooooo.  The truck got stuck.  S-T-U-K, stuck.  So, Nelson walked to the nearest payphone–two miles down the road–and started calling anyone he could.  No one was home.  He tried and tried, but got none of his friends on the phone.  With his last quarter–quarters, you know, before everyone had a cell phone that went off at in appropriate times–he dialed the last of his friends.  He did catch one of his friend’s moms, who said she would tell her son when he got home.  He got off the phone and waited in the dark night as the rain soaked him to the bone.

After what seemed like hours, his friend showed up with his 4×4 truck.  Then, another, and another, and another and another.  Outfitted with ropes, chains and winches, the calvary showed up to help.  After some good natured ribbing at his expense, Nelson’s friends showed up in his time of need.  Now, there are many women who wouldn’t dream of chastising their friend in a similar situation.  Despite those differences, the point is that there was someone there to help Nelson out in his time of need.

Whether it’s The Golden Girls or The Good Ol’ Boys, we all have these same romanticized ideas of what friendship is supposed to be.  And I am, by no means, instructing you to understand your friendships outside of those definitions.  However–and you all know what I am talking about–not all our friendships are like that.

When you came in this morning and saw the cover of the bulletin or realized what the title of the sermon was, you either saw a mental picture of one of your friends or the person who is your friend–and you kinda wish they maybe weren’t.  I’m not saying that there will be any type of person like that in your life, but we all know a friend with a friend or have a friend like that.  There are multiple reasons for this.  Possibly, they have hurt you in some way.  Maybe, they have hurt someone you love.  There are those kinds of friends take advantage of you, right?  What I am saying is that as romanticized as we can make our friendships, they can be just as real and just as hard as any other part of our life.  In other words, we can feel stuck in them.

The goal of the Unstuck sermon series is to get you unstuck in your lives–in every aspect of your lives.  This could be in your finances, your field (job) or your friendships.  And just as with every other area of our life, the keys to getting unstuck lie in and are centered around God.  But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

First, getting unstuck in your friendships begins with being a good friend first.  You must be a good friend first.  This comes from that age-old advice our mother’s gave us–and that they got from a very reliable source: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  The Golden Rule.  This is, of course, an off-chute of The Great Commandment: love God and love others.  From our passage this morning, Jesus said, “love others, as I have loved you.”  Being a good friend first requires that you show love to your friends–though not only to your friends.  And sometimes, not just to your friends.  This love is not the eros, or the love we commonly equate with passion, but pathosAgape is an empathetic love.  This love is one that is able to see the humanity and need within the other.  It is a love that doesn’t seek anything in return, but is engaged anyway.

Being a good friend first means that we need to take on attributes of love.  We give good advice in order to help our friends achieve their God-centered goals, and avoid going astray.  We are loyal to our friends.  We help them in their time of need.  We forgive our friends.  Being a good friend means keeping short accounts.

Second, getting unstuck in our friendships means we may have to make some hard choices when it comes to the friends we do have.  Do you have a friend that leads you astray?  Are they a bad influence in your life or faith in any way?  Of course, the law of love that rules our lives means that we do not abandon our friends at the first sight of these negative behaviors.  We are called to be strong and positive influences on those around us–including our friends.  This step is very difficult.  This could be true for you, but some of us may have had–or currently do–have friends that we have considered cutting ties with.  It’s never an easy decision, is it?  Maybe you aren’t a strong enough person to resist their negative influence?  Maybe they are influencing your family in a negative fashion?  Naturally, some of our friendships come and go.  However, some of our friendships may be keeping us stuck in one way or another.

Lastly, getting unstuck in our friendships requires tending to our most important friendship–God.  As if you didn’t see it coming, if our friendship with God is out of kilter, none of our other relationships are going to feel right.  Romans 12 says, “And so dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice, the kind He will accept.  When you think of what He has done for you, is this too much to ask?  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will know what God wants you to do and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect His will really is.”  So do you want to know what God wants you to do in your friendships?  Do you want to see how good God’s will is for your life?  This verse says—don’t copy everybody else, don’t look to the rest of the world.  It says—begin with your primary friendship.  Look to Jesus Christ first and let his example transform the way you think–and center all your other actions around the Center of it all.

Friendships are a strange thing.  You have no choice about who your family is.  You are born with–and in many ways–stuck with your family (which will be our topic next week).  Friendships are a whole other matter.  It is almost completely by choice with whom you are friends.  But, it can sometimes seem like you are more involved with and stuck in your friendships.  The great thing about friendships, though, is that they ultimately are based upon our first and foremost relationship–God.  And the words I am going to leave you with this morning are from His word given to us by His son.  “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”  Our friendships can become unstuck if we follow that advice.  And thanks be to hiim for that.  AMEN.

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