I Have a Friend
28 Jun 2008, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
I HAVE A FRIEND
(this was a sermonette delivered on the day of our Pathfinder Investiture)
Among the richest experiences human beings can ever have is that of being a friend and having friends. It is a phenomenon that is very difficult to analyse or fully understand. However, there have been many down through history that have tried to put the characteristics of this marvellous happening into words. I would like to share a few of these thoughts with you this morning.
The Greek Philosopher Aristotle suggested that 'Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods. A friend, he says, is a single soul dwelling in two bodies' (Water, 2000: 383).
The writer George Eliot, speaking from experience wrote that 'Blessed is the influence of one, true soul on another' (Ibid: 384)
Basil Hume said that 'From acquaintances, we conceal our real selves. To our friends we reveal our weaknesses' (Ibid).
Christi Mary Warner says that 'A true friend is one who knows all about you and likes you anyway' (Ibid: 386).
An unknown author, with great insight was to suggest that 'Insomuch as anyone pushes you nearer to God, he or she is your friend' (Ibid: 387).
A number of years ago, when an English publication offered a prize for the best definition of a friend, it selected the following thought from thousands of responses. It is one that many of you would know well and possibly have displayed in your homes.
'A friend - the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.' (Tan, 1991: 463)
It is when the winds of adversity blow, that the real worth of a friendship is revealed. 'As gold is tried in the furnace, so friends are tried in adversity' (Water, 2000: 385). It is during such times that it is impossible to fully estimate the value of genuine friendship. The following French proverb would even go so far as to say that 'A faithful friend is an image of God' (Ibid).
Yet, in spite of the wonderful gift of friendship, the most precious of all possessions, it is the one where we take the least thought about acquiring.
The following verses were written by writer Rosalie Carter and may give us the key to understanding this precious gift. It is entitled 'Only God gives a Friend'
'I think that God will never send,
A gift so precious as a friend,
A friend who always understands,
And fills each need, as it demands,
Whose loyalty will stand the test,
When skies are bright or overcast,
Who sees the faults that merit blame,
But keeps on loving just the same,
Who does far more than creeds could do,
To make us good, to make us true,
Earth's gifts a sweet contentment lend,
But only God can give a friend!
Proverbs 17: 17 seems to confirm these sentiments by saying that 'A friend loves at all times.'
We should prize those who are able to give birth to lasting friendships and who are able to demonstrate their love through trust, reliability, constancy, courage and even sacrifice.
If we were to make an attempt to summarize and enlarge upon all the thoughts presented thus far we could possibly say that:
- A friend is one I can trust, and he trusts me.
- He doesn't misinterpret my actions nor attach evil motives to my mistakes.
- I can relax in his presence.
- When we are together laughter comes easily, and conversation is not guarded for fear that rumours may begin.
- If I have a worry or a problem I can openly talk about it and then not wish I hadn't.
- I can sit in quietness and not have to force a conversation.
- Criticisms become acceptable because they are designed to help.
- A friend can laugh at some of my predicaments, and I can understand because no undertones of ridicule are there.
- A true friend contributes to each dimension of life.
- They will not take away or diminish any true joy, but will add to it and enrich the experience.
Jealousy, a sign of both insecurity and distrust, is not there. Its presence merely reveals how and where that fellowship needs to grow and improve and will disappear as love grows.
The story is told from the 15th century of a young man who came to the reformer John Huss of Bohemia, as he was going to the stake, and, as a show of love and friendship, gripped him by the hand. Huss turned to him and said that only God and he himself knew how much that gesture meant. This courageous action may have seen this young man follow him to the stake and yet he was willing to risk all for this small measure of love to a fellow human being (Wooler, 1985: 4).
A further illustration of what friendship really means can be seen in an incident that took place in the life of a young African-American who had been chosen to represent the United States of America at the World Olympics. The year was 1936 and the world was on the verge of the Second World War. Global politics was becoming enmeshed with the Olympic Spirit as athletes from all round the world came together to show the results of years of intense training hoping to win Gold for their respective nations.
The place was Germany and the city was Berlin. It was a city bristling with Nazi propaganda as evidenced in the red and black swastikas erected throughout this now beautiful European city. Brown shirted storm troopers were to goose-step their way around the streets while Adolph Hitler was in the process of building his seat of power.
The drama about to unfold at the Games involved two young men. One was the son of an African/American sharecropper, whose heritage was founded in slavery. The other was a tall 19 year old, blue eyed, blonde German youth representing the pinnacle of Hitler's Aryan superiority.
James Cleveland Owens (Jesse Owens) born in 1913 had been brought up on a southern cotton plantation in Oakville Alabama before eventually moving to the city of Cleveland in Ohio. While not a good student at school he became well known for his prowess in track and field, winning all events that were put before him.
A world away, Carl Ludwig Long (Luz Long) was also to be born in 1913 in the city of Leipzig and was destined to become Germany's star athlete in the long jump competitions.
As Jesse Owens walked into the Berlin Olympic stadium in 1936 to the applause of 110,000 spectators Hitler was there to observe the outcome of his theory of Aryan superiority. His perverted idea revolved around the belief that all people not born of the Germanic race were inferior, particularly Jews and moreso at these games were the African-Americans. With this racial slur playing on his mind and a practice run now being counted by the umpires as an official attempt, Owens was not performing to ability. One more failure in the long jump would have seen him eliminated. It was at this low point, as he sat on the side of the track, that 'Luz' Long came to give him encouragement and advice on how he could qualify. Even though Long was competing against Owens, he was prepared to help this son of a black sharecropper even if it meant that he might eventually lose the coveted medal.
It was to take a lot of courage for this 19 year old to befriend this coloured athlete in front of Adolph Hitler and his supporters that day.
That very afternoon Owens made an Olympic record, eventually beating his main competitor, 'Luz' Long, and winning the gold medal. The first person to congratulate Owens, in full view of Adolph Hitler, was to be his new friend. Over the next few years, these two men, continued to help and strengthen each other and remained very close until Luz's death in a Military Hospital during the war in 1943. Even after his death Owens continued to make contact with his family and later made the comment that 'You can melt down all the medals and cups I won and they wouldn't even make the gold plating on the 24 karat friendship I felt for Lutz Long.
As we contemplate all of the aspects of friendship, it may become easier to see the beautiful qualities to be found in another special friend. He is the best friend you will ever have and He will not let you down.
In a world that thrives on change, the greatest friend that we can have is to be found in Jesus who was prepared to lay down His life for you. This morning, let me share the words of an old familiar Hymn written in 1855 by a man called Joseph Scriven. With thoughts flowing from his own experience, he says:
What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful? Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden? Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge, Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He'll take and shield thee; Thou wilt find a solace there.
It was Jesus who said in John 15: 14, 'You are my friends, if you do whatever I command.' Those who accept these words are those who the apostle John describes in Revelation 14: 12 as keeping '…the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.'
Let's make Jesus our friend today.
Hilde, R. (1979) You can live Radiantly Every Day. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association
Tan, P. (1991) Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations. Hong Kong: Nordica International Ltd.
Waters, M. (2000) The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Hampshire, UK: John Hunt Publishing Ltd.
Wooler, K. (1985) The Worth of a Friend. Australasian Record. Warburton: Signs Publishing
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