Rhythms of Friendship, Practices for a Jesus-Centered Love with Rev. Morgan Schmidt.
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Rhythms of Friendship, Practices for a Jesus-Centered Love with Rev. Morgan Schmidt.
Grace and peace, my friends, graduates, everyone, friendship is a really big deal. We probably don’t talk about it enough and we mostly have to learn as we go our decisions about what kind of friend we want to be and what kind of friends we want to have are hugely formative in terms of who we are over the course of our lives. There’s a Harvard study of adult development that is the longest study of its kind. It’s kind of an amazing thing where they have tracked seven hundred twenty four people over seventy five years to try and figure out the factors that keep people happy and healthy.
And if you had to guess right off the top of your head, you’d probably be like me and say, I imagine healthy eating and being physically active, maybe having economic security would be one of those factors really high up there at the top of that list. But it turns out that the number one indicator of health and happiness over the course of a human lifetime is having good relationships, good friendships. The truth is that social connections are good for us and loneliness can kill us, not just not just in our emotions, in our soul, in our hearts, but it has physical ramifications for our health and our happiness.
People who are more isolated than they want to be are just more likely to struggle to flourish. And unfortunately, it’s heartbreaking to know that one in five Americans at any given moment will report feeling lonely. Of course, you can be lonely in a crowd or you can be lonely in a marriage. So it’s not just about the quantity of those social connections, but it’s also about the connections, quality, like having good friendships, good relationships, good connections and good community.
And of course, friendship is complicated and messy, and we fail each other and we drift apart sometimes in a thousand different ways. But building friendships and community is essential, even though it is hard work, even though it can be costly, it makes all the difference in the world. And so we might as well be mindful about it. You might as well be intentional about it because we don’t talk about it enough. I don’t know about you, but no one like sat me down and really taught me how to navigate friendship, especially as an adult.
You just don’t we just don’t have that built in in our society. We kind of figure it out as we go. I bet we also don’t really associate Jesus with the concept of friendship. Right. The first person I talked to about this week when I said, have you ever thought about if Jesus had friends, just looked at me and said Jesus didn’t have friends. He had like disciples. He had maybe they were kind of friendly, but it was mostly like his job.
Friendship is essential to our humanity. So if that’s true and if we believe that Jesus was fully human in some mysterious way and still connected to God, then that tells me that Jesus must have counted friendship to be an essential and an essential part of a whole flourishing human life that he must have experienced friendship. And I think it’s really fun to start to wonder and explore and talk about Jesus rhythms of friendship. So there is a portion of scripture where Jesus actually calls his disciples friends.
The context is that they’re in the upper room after having the last supper together, sharing communion washing where Jesus washed their feet and Jesus is speaking in the moments after Judas has left the room to go and turn Jesus into the authorities. And this is what Jesus says in his really what is his message to his closest friends before he knows he’s going to die? This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You honor our friendship. If you do what I command you, I don’t call you servants because the servant doesn’t know what the master is doing. But I call you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from the Creator. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit. Fruit that will last so that the creator will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command.
Love one another. In Greek, the word for friend is philos, and it has the same root as the Greek word for love, and so it’s very simple in the language of the gospels, in the Greek that a friend is simply one who loves, one who loves. And I find it so profound in this passage in John 15 that Jesus says he chooses his disciples. He you didn’t choose me, he says, but I chose you almost as if to say, like, I will never stop choosing you.
Like, it’s not an obligatory friendship thing. It’s not like Jesus as the presence of God and body is obligated or has to be friends. But he chooses and and does so willingly and with delight, called to call his friends. And he doesn’t say, I’ve been your friend. He didn’t say you’re welcome. You had a really good friend in me. He says, I call you my friends, which I just think is this beautiful moment of mutuality and reciprocity that that shows us a little glimpse in that relationship between Jesus and the disciples that they really, truly had like a friendship going on.
And there’s an element of choosing when it comes to our friends and our relationships and our community. You may have heard the phrase chosen family that in life right now, especially as things are always in transition, we choose our people, we choose our friends, we choose our community. And maybe the pandemic has messed with your community and messed with your friendships and messed with your connections to one another. And so I hope this will be a reminder, a friendly nudge to figure out how you want to be connected again.
And maybe there are friendships who have have been with you for a season and and it’s OK to just say that was for a season. But it’s so important for us as we navigate kind of reentry into the new normal that we figure out how we want to be in community with one another and who we want to be in community with. And as we heard, it’s essential to our health and our happiness as human beings. Jesus chooses us. Friendship is one of the most powerful ways I think that God’s love can enter the world through us.
It communicates love. Hey, I’m sorry. Even with all the complications of what it means to be a friend and how hard it can be, sometimes friendship is just one of the most vital ways that love enters the world as part of this larger whole, as we have conversations about what love looks like and of course, as we’re trying to follow in the way of Jesus, that’s one of our primary questions, right, is how we follow in the way of love.
How do we find the work of love that is ours to do? One of those things is to be a friend and to have friends and to be connected in community. Jesus could have looked at the disciples and he could have looked at Peter and said, I, I call you Denyer. I don’t call you friend. He could have looked at any of them and said, I call you cowards because I know that you’re about to flee and you’re not going to stand up for me tomorrow.
I could I could call you unbelievers because everything I’ve told you just hasn’t sunk in yet and you don’t really believe me. But instead, Jesus says, I call you my friends and then goes on to say, what are some of those aspects of friendship that Jesus embodies? One of those is that friends, friends share themselves with each other. There’s a sense of vulnerability, authenticity and risky self exposure. Right. Like it’s it’s a risky thing to show someone our heart, to reveal that which is most precious to us, to another person.
But Jesus has everything that he has learned from God, the creator, everything that is most dear to him, that which is most sacred. He has revealed to his friends he has pulled back the veil and had an open posture towards them. And of course, Jesus is out of this Jewish tradition where he has stories like David and Jonathan, where the scriptures tell us their souls were knit together in friendship, or the story of Ruth and Naomi, who never leave each other’s sides in faithful friendship to one another.
And so a big part of this friendship is in that self exposure, in that vulnerability, that authenticity. We find that we aren’t alone anymore. We find that we can be seen and accepted and loved and held for who we are and who we hope to be in ancient Greek philosophy to there was this sense that a friend was someone who wants the same things as you and opposes the same things as you, which might seem a little bit extreme. Right.
Like we benefit from being friends with people who are different than us, who see the world from a different angle and have different perspectives. But at the core, I think this really resonates with Jesus when he says, you know, if you do what I command, you’ll be my friend. I don’t think he’s saying you have to. You have to. Well, maybe Jesus is saying you have to be just like me. But if not trying to make a whole bunch of Jesus clones, so to speak, he’s really saying, follow in my footsteps, follow in my way.
You’ve seen how we engage with the world, how we bring grace, God’s grace into the world, and how we work towards and long for God’s shalom to be the reality and not the exception on Earth that everything would be made whole. May you, in a lot of ways, may you want the same things as me, may you long for peace. May you long to be connected to one another. May you long to see everything that is broken, made whole, and may you oppose things like injustice.
May you oppose people being separated from community. May you oppose systems where people go hungry or are stranded in poverty. May you oppose all that is contrary to the dream God has for the world. And so it’s not just Jesus saying if you do this, then you get to be my friend. He’s saying assim a sign of our friendship is that you want what I want and you oppose what I oppose through that lens of God’s love and God’s dream for humanity.
And of course, Jesus friendship is all about presence. Right? Like even now, that’s one of the most comforting things to me when I think about God and Jesus is that good news? Is is their presence with me that God is with us is some of the best news that I can remind myself of on any given day. And so in friendship, we see that manifest, right? Like we have each other’s backs. When when we’re with our friends, we show up for each other.
We take care of each other. One of my most profound friendship stories where I really tried to lean in and see what kind of friend I was going to be going into my adult life was just before college graduation, a friend of mine named Maggie. I was about to graduate with me and her mom had been really sick, and so our our prayer for a long time had been, you know, we hope that your mom will be well enough to attend graduation.
And unfortunately, before graduation came, she got the call from her dad that she really needed to get home, that her mom wasn’t doing well. And so we were in Boston and we we drove down to her family home in Rhode Island. I insisted. I said, you know, you’re in you’re in no state to drive home alone in all of this. And I’m incredibly awkward anyway, but it was really hard to figure out once we got there, what is my what is my role here with someone whose mom is dying?
And it’s just a matter of days, you know, am I a nuisance? How do I help? I don’t really know how to cook. What do I do? And, you know, it was quiet in the house and her dad came in and just said, Maggie’s mom wants to talk to you. And and I went in and, you know, she’s a frail, beautiful woman in her bed. And I sit down next to her and she just grabbed my hand and she says, Maureen, you need to stay.
Maggie needs a friend, you need to stay. And that was kind of all the energy she had. And despite feeling totally useless, I just stayed. And and her mom, her mom passed away that night. And I was able to to just be there, frankly, not not helpful in like a productive sense, but just to hold her dad and give him a hug in the morning and and talk through things with Maggie as she was experiencing it.
And, you know, it got it got actually a little bit too heavy and it probably was like underfoot. And so, you know, Maggie said, you know, you should probably go. And. And so I did. I left. But it didn’t feel right to just totally leave and, you know, move on to whatever my summer held. And so I actually just drove back to my my college campus. And and I stayed in the parking lot, like, in my car and used the, you know, the gym, whatever to shower for for three days just in case, just in case Maggie needed me, you know.
And on the third day she called me and she said, are you still are you still around? And I said, yeah, I can be there, you know, in a few hours and. And I really had no idea what I was doing. Like, I’m not trying to my own horn and I trust me, I have failed in friendship in so many ways as recently as this past week. But there is something sacred and beautiful and powerful about how we choose to befriend one another and how we choose to show up for one another.
And that’s a vulnerable thing. And and just the most vital thing, to have each other’s backs and to show up, even if we don’t know what to do, even if we aren’t sure how helpful we can be. And so I’m I’m always struck when I hear he what’s called the apostolic greeting, which is when when Paul and other writers will greet great communities with their letters saying grace and peace to you, friends. Grace and peace, my friends, grace and peace to you, my friends.
It’s it’s like a blessing that begins a conversation rather than closes it. And of course, wishing someone grace is to wish someone just a gift that we receive something that we don’t have to strive for, something that puts us in harmony with that power of love in the world that is bigger than ourselves. Grace says to us, you already possess the love that you’ve been striving for and longing for. All that is left is to receive. There is nothing more you need to do grace and peace, my friends.
And then, of course, peace speaks to this deeper sense of shalom, not just an absence of conflict or drama, but but a dream of a future reality that overlaps with us now where things are the way they’re meant to be, where everything that is broken is mended, where we heal, all that is wounded, where we write all it is wrong. It’s the restoration of all things. And so what greater blessing to offer in our presence as friends and just to keep that phrase in our minds as we navigate reentry into community and in public life, grace and peace.
My friends maybe walk through this world with that posture, that love already belongs to each of us, that we can embody that love to one another without striving for it, without earning it, just because we are loved. And with this vision towards both experiencing and working towards the sort of shalom that God dreams of for the world, because friendship is hard and community is hard and the world just feels hard sometimes and we will fail and we will be amazing friends and everything in between.
But I hope we can move through the world in that spirit of friendship that Jesus had and and greet our friends with that spirit of grace and peace, being open with one another, being faithful in our presence to one another, having each other’s backs and embodying that love and and really holding that dream of shalom on each other’s behalf right here, right now. And so, friends, may you seek to become that friend. And I pray that you would find those friends, that you would do the hard work of seeking community and this circle of chosen family who bring you alive and who invite you into God.
Shalom, grace and peace, my friends.