Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Lord of Lords, Friend of Friends

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, MI
Wednesday, January 12th, 2004
On the feast of St. Aelred of Rievaulx

O Lord, be present in my speaking and in our hearing to your glory. Amen.

I still remember quite vividly my first day at Seabury-Western, my old seminary, not least for my embarrassing gaffe.

The grounds of Seabury contain beautiful old gothic buildings. A dinner for new students had just finished, and a number of us along with some returning students, sat out on the manicured lawn of the quad, just soaking up the cool of the early evening. I sat with two people that I had met that day, and, overcome with a profound sense of joy and well being, I murmured something about how blessed it is to be surrounded by such beauty, and able to enjoy it with friends.

To which one of the two men said “what?” Not “what?” as in “I didn’t hear you”, but “what?” as in “what are you talking about, I don’t know you, I’ve only just met you.” In the exuberance of the moment, I revealed how little I really knew about friendship by granting the title to someone I had only just met.

In this way, I’m not so different than most, these days. Partly, it’s because as Americans – or maybe just denizens of the Upper Midwest, I’m not sure – we’ve always been quick to embrace another as a friend. But I think something else is afoot, too. There are many factors at work in contemporary society which discourage or hinder adults making true, deep, long-lasting friendships with others.

I won’t take the time here to rehearse those factors, but I want to remark on how troublesome this is for Christians. From the beginning, Christians have held friendship in high estate as a school for virtue and discipleship to our Lord; it can be argued, in fact, that it was prized even more highly than marriage.
[1] It is particularly in the context of friendship that one can exercise the kind of love that Aelred of Rievaulx talks about. He writes:

“There are four qualities which characterize a friend: loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. Right intention seeks for nothing other than God and natural good. Discretion brings understanding of what is done on a friend’s behalf, and ability to know when to correct faults. Patience enables one to be justly rebuked, or to bear adversity on another’s behalf. Loyalty guards and protects friendship, in good or bitter times.”

One of the reasons, as I said, that Christians have prized friendship is that it is a means by which we encourage each other to grow into the image of Christ. But another reason is that Christian life has been thought of as being Jesus’ friend, and through him, being a friend of God. And when we look at Aelred’s four qualities, loyalty, patience, discretion, and right intention, we see that we are not only God’s friend, but that God, through Jesus Christ, is a Friend indeed.

[1] Paul, for example, did not advocate marriage in all cases, but never prohibited friendship.

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