The Importance of Friends
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 7: 1 – 10. Focus on the importance of friends who sustain us and our faith. Check out Jody Sinkway and the choir as they sing – Precious Lord.
When folks hear this story they think of two things: Jesus’ power to heal and the Centurion’s faith – But if you notice – neither Jesus nor the centurion ever meet. In fact this story would never have been recorded had it not been for those who remain un-named and often over looked – the centurion’s friends, which brings to mind the importance of friends in our lives.
You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends, which is why Jesus says, “Who are my brothers and sisters? But those who do the will of my Father.” Without friends think how empty your life would be. In many ways my friends have been as close to me throughout my life as my family has been to me. In fact they have often been the one’s who have carried my deepest needs to God in my toughest times.
Since kindergarten I have been blessed with great friends. From Guy Freesen, who was my best bud in kindergarten through grade school to my dearest friends today they have been the people who have stood with me, by me and for me through good times and bad. So when I read this story in Luke’s gospel the first thing that comes to me isn’t the centurion’s great faith or even Jesus’ power to heal but my friends especially those in this church who have carried me to Jesus when I could not get to him by myself.
After 59 years on this earth one of the things I’ve come to know about myself is that I like to set down roots. Growing up – I lived in Ottawa, Illinois, Edinburgh, Scotland, Jacksonville, Illinois, Galesburg, Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri, St. Paul, Minnesota, Princeton, New Jersey, New York City, Flemington, New Jersey and now for the past 18 years, the longest place I’ve lived so far – Oradell, New Jersey.
I’ve found each place that I’ve lived to be a place I call home, but in each case the moves from one place to another have taken their toll on me too. Picking up and moving away from close friends in each of those places has been hard and moving here was no different. So it was during a season when my faith was not at all strong and I was questioning my call to ministry that my friends in this congregation carried me in prayer and with words of encouragement to the Lord.
In fact, I used to say that it was here in Hackensack that I was called to be healed and to heal. It may not sound like a great trauma but believe me when I tell you that making each place I’ve lived a place that I could call home was not easy. It is one of the reasons that I suffered with depression through out my life.
In hindsight I know that my faith did not totally evaporate because like the centurion I had friends who faithfully carried me to Jesus in prayer and in deed. My faith was sustained in large measure because of you who are my friends, who lifted me up, who offered gracious words and support for me, my family and my ministry even when I was not always fully aware of it.
Luke’s story isn’t a story that took place so very long ago. It’s also my story that took place here because of friends like you. So while the centurion may have had great faith, he like me did not get his needs met by a singular encounter between himself and Jesus but because of his friends who carried him to the Lord in ways spoken and ways unspoken, in ways known and ways unknown, but it was the community of believers who connected the centurion and me to the Lord.
I think this is the great lesson of this story. What I’m saying is not so different for you too. I think you come and are sustained not just because you have great faith in Jesus, but because of family and friends who lift you up when you couldn’t lift yourself up.
In essence you bring the kingdom to me and hopefully I do the same for you. Without the Christian community this thing we call the Christian faith would not be nurtured. And we would not experience this thing Jesus calls the kingdom of heaven on earth. So if you want to make the world a bit better know that it can’t be done alone. We need each other.
I can list countless ways in which we are like the centurion, not because of our great faith, but because, like him, we have friends who lift up our concerns each and every week to the Lord.
But there is another list we should make: the stories in which we play not the centurion, but the friend. We should be able to tell stories in which we have carried the faith, the doubts and needs of others to the Lord.
So the question I leave for all of us this morning is this: Are we taking our cues from the friends of the centurion and going to Jesus on anyone’s behalf? Amen