September 22, 2019 – LIFE-SAVING MEDICINE

Text:  John 15:12-17, Sirach 6:14-17


Keep your passion alive –
It will warm you when the
world around you grows cold.
It will not allow comfortable
familiarity to rob you of that
special glow that comes with
loving deeply. It can lift
you over stone walls of anger
and carry you across vast
deserts of alienation. But its
greatest gift is that of touch –
for passion cannot dwell in
solitude – it thrives best in
loving embrace. So keep your
passion alive – hold one
another as a tree holds the
Earth and your love will
Bear the fruit of many,
many seasons!

“Hold one another as a tree holds the Earth.” Nothing can hold us as friendship. It’s one of the most precious gifts in our lives. We may survive without it, but no one can thrive without it. It accompanies us from the beginning to the ending. Babies instinctively reach for each other before they are 11 months old. When one cries, another often joins in, and they exchange smiles back and forth. Although it doesn’t always come in order, often friendship is the last one to go after saying goodbye to our loved ones. Friendship seems so common that we sometimes take it for granted only to realize that it actually has lasting impact on our lives. At each different stage of life we experience and develop different kinds of friendship. What’s never changed is our need for authentic friendship. It’s not quantity but quality that makes true friendship. It involves equality and mutuality, and it requires time and commitment.

I am not just saying that we need friends. Of course, everyone needs at least one. My point, however, is that when we build our relationships based on friendship in its truest form – equal, mutual, tender and free – there is a possibility to be changed and transformed by it. A happy mature couple will say when asked about the secret of their relationship, ‘we are best friends.’ An ideal case for the parent and child relationship, though it’s easier said than done, is also to become the best friends in the world. Friendship is not limited to only human relationships. Your pet, if you have any, can be your friend and vice versa. We often refer to our planet as Mother Earth. Though it’s a beautiful image I wonder if we miss the aspect of mutual dependence in our relationship with her. What would happen if everyone in the world started acting like we are the faithful friends of the earth? We can’t just exploit or take advantage of her. We must do our part to save our friend who is in crisis.

Friendship has the power to change our lives and the world. Jesus knows the power of friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus chose to become our friend by loving us to the moon and back. We don’t usually associate friendship with love as if we have to choose one over the other – a mindset that one can have as many friends as they want, but can only have one lover. But Jesus is not shy away from making that connection. Love and friendship are interchangeable. We don’t have to reject one or the other. This idea may confuse some of us. The love and friendship Jesus showed indeed made the people around him confused. His boundless affection toward others was a threat to the social order, the way things were. It’s not surprising that historically the state power in conjunction with the church took control of the most personal and intimate choice one could make: love.

We can reclaim friendship, the powerful and enduring love that can challenge the status quo, including our way of living. We as a church must reclaim friendship. I have been reflecting on why it is extremely difficult for the church to experience transformation, especially in the United Church context. One thing I have noticed is that there is lack of friendship in its truest form – equal, mutual, free, boundless, courageous, tender and fierce. Most of us like to stay in our comfort zone when it comes to friendship. We make friends who are like us. We just keep extending the circle of people who are like us. The friendship we need to cultivate can also be cross-cultural, inter-cultural and counter-cultural. Look around us and see who is missing in our circle, and let the seed of longing for friendship grow so we can continue to reach out. Radical friendship can deepen our relationship with God, and can transform the church as life-saving medicine. (Sirach 6:16)

Jesus turned the world upside down by becoming a friend of all. He kept his passion alive by embracing all, and being embraced by all. He was holding everyone as he was held in love. Like a tree holds the earth, his love bore many, many seasons. Following Jesus, let us keep our passion alive by embracing one another, and being embraced by each other. Our love and friendship will bear many, many seasons.