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The Community of FRIENDS (Trail Blazing #3, 2016-1016)

. 5 min read

Call to worship, Psalm 25.11-22
Children, Acts 12.1-17
Message, Acts 6.1-7
Two
weeks ago, we introduced this series of messages on the spiritual practices
that help us walk with God. Last week, the focus was on the LIFE of Worship;
this week, we look at the Community of FRIENDS. Next week, we’ll examine the
PURPOSE of Mission. We’ll wrap it all up on October 30 with an invitation to
step out on new adventures, to follow the trail blazed by Jesus and the great
cloud of witnesses, and to leave a few blazes of our own for those who come
after us.
      The white blaze that we show is from the
Appalachian Trail, the “AT”, that Steve Ross is hiking. He told me about the
tradition of “Trail Magic” – unexpected kindness and friendship encountered
along the way. This is one of those stories:
      VIDEO – Steve Ross
Theme Scripture
for the series:
Since
we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let
us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and
let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking
to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who
for the sake of the joy that was set before him
endured
the cross, disregarding its shame,
and
has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider
him, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
from Hebrews 12:1-3
We
are made for connection, for
friendship. Yet, we struggle with it. I had a friend in college who told me
about a class assignment in which he had to list his best friends, and he named me among them. The problem was … he
wasn’t one of my best friends. Awkward.
      We want to make friends, but we feel lonely. Two’s company, three’s a crowd
… so we blend into the background in a larger group and remain friendless
because we haven’t found the right person with whom to connect. None of us want
to be a third wheel, but we don’t want to be solo either.

This
week, we look at the practices that nurture a Community of FRIENDS, a safe
space where each of us is welcome to be real. There are some basic things that
are necessary for such a Community: hospitality and care, reconciliation, and
smaller groups. Sociologists indicate that much
beyond 40
persons in a gathering and, even if you know all of them, you
won’t know who all is there. [Story].
If you want to be somewhere where everyone knows your name, and knows that
you’re actually present, you’re looking for a smaller group than our
congregational worship gatherings.
      That’s
why the primitive
church gathered as a congregation for worship and also
gathered house-to-house (Acts 2.42-47). And that’s why we used the story of Peter’s escape from prison. Yes, it intersects with themes of a
LIFE of Worship and the PURPOSE of Mission. But notice how the story ends:
After announcing his deliverance at Mary’s house to the folks gathered there,
Peter leaves to tell others. He knew that on every Tuesday night, the people of
God were gathering not just at Mary’s house but at a few other homes, and he
wanted to inform each of those Communities of FRIENDS.
We
are made for friendship, and it’s God’s
idea
(e.g., Psalm 25.11-22, Isaiah 41.8, Exodus 33.11, Judges 5.31).
      Again, friendship is difficult, particularly across major differences. Most of us prefer
friendships that reinforce our views
of the world. No wonder most supporters of Donald Trump have few friends who
support Hillary Clinton. And, most supporters of Hillary Clinton have few
friends who support Donald Trump. And, now we read news stories of families and
friendships that are breaking up over our presidential campaign. We like our
friends to agree with us, to see the world the way we see it. We know, deep
down, that differences not only make the world more interesting but actually
make us better people. But bridging the gap seems almost impossible.
      It is this very kind of friendship that
Jesus pioneers. Jesus got a reputation
as
a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11.19), and Jesus is
the sinless one! In his disciple band,
he recruits a Zealot – someone who favors armed resistance to the Roman
occupation – and a tax collector – someone who collaborates with the occupation
authority (Luke 6.15, Matthew 10.3). When
Judas
came to betray Jesus to the authorities, Jesus, knowing full well
what was happening, still greeted him as “Friend” (Matthew 26.50).
      The greatest friendship story in the Bible
is the friendship of David and Jonathan, a pair of “star-crossed friends” if there ever was one. Jonathan is the crown
prince, and David becomes – unwillingly – the rival to his father’s crown.
Jonathan’s father tries to kill David, repeatedly. David keeps trying to save
Jonathan’s father from himself, and Jonathan keeps trying to save David from
his father (e.g., 1 Samuel 20).
      In Acts
6
, the church encounters a major crisis. This one is a crisis over their
care ministry, particularly what we call here “Meals that Heal”. But, like most
conflicts, it’s as much about what is below the surface as it is about what is
at the surface. The huge question is about equal treatment of widows who come
from a different language and cultural background than their sisters who spent
their whole lives in the Jerusalem area. For this reconciliation, the apostles
admit that they cannot continue to administer this expanding ministry, that
they need help. And, the church selects new leaders – all of them from the
minority group. Every single one. If anyone said, “I think we need to select
someone who has been here a bit longer”, that is not reported in the text and
it certainly is not the decision that the people made.
      Because God creates community out of
difference, because Jesus pioneers friendship across boundaries, because the
Spirit unites hearts in diversity.
      Stanley Hauerwas and Michael Budde
describe this as “discovering friends we
did not know we had”
(“The Ekklesia Project: A School for Subversive
Friendships”, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 2000, p. 3).
      Story
of “Joanne” and “my new friend” “Jim”
      It is time to discover friends we did not
know we had. Here’s some testimony from our own people about the nature of this
particular Community of FRIENDS, and how they have been blessed by it. It
includes clips from Mike Case talking about a card he received after his knee
surgery, from a couple recent confirmands, and from Sue Strittmatter sharing
her experience in the Thursday evening Covenant group.
      Video
I
want to turn your attention to the grey
sheet
in your program. It has a list of the three basic practices
associated with community – hospitality and care, reconciliation, and smaller
groups – along with practical suggestions for us to take our next steps. On the
final Sunday of the month, as we wrap up this series and tie it all together,
we’ll each be invited to indicate the next steps we believe God is calling us
to make together. Today, we simply preview some possible steps in the practice
of community, “discovering friends we did not know we had”.
READ THROUGH
and comment.
      New
Reader group

The
practices of community – hospitality and care, reconciliation, and smaller
groups – are what help us not only walk with God as a friend but also discover surprising
friendships among God’s people. Community out of difference, friendship across
boundaries, unity in diversity. “Trail magic” for “all the lonely people”. It
is time to discover friends we did not know we had.