Growing in Friendship

Growing in Friendship

by the Rev. Dr. Jenni Liem,Vicar, St. Nicholas', Tahoe City; Executive Director, Camp Noel Porter

This week I sent an email to a friend who I haven’t talked to in three years. I have been so bad about being in contact with her. I emailed her on a whim, after reading part of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s Gospel. I should confess that I am a bit obsessive when it comes to replies from other people. I get really anxious when I extend communication and then have to wait for a reply (it’s a character flaw). Part of my anxiety centers around being liked by my friends, and part of it centers on my desires to avoid conflict with those same friends. I think my obsessive desire for a reply, in this case, is because I really want to be back together with this friend. I have so many things to share with her. I want to be able to tell this friend, who challenged my sense of complacency so many years ago, that the light has finally dawned. I want to share the new revelations of my life with her. Here I find myself waiting to hear from a friend, who I hope still chooses me.

In Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, he proclaims a change in his disciples – from servants to friends. Jesus says, “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father" (John 15: 11-15, The Message). There is probably no doubt that even before this moment in the Gospel, that these people were indeed friends, but here is Jesus' declaration to them of friendship.

In The Message, Jesus uses the word “named” and in other versions he uses “called,” but I think the underlying concept here is choice. Jesus chooses this group of people, with all of their humanity – triumphs and failures – to be his friends. These might not be the most successful people to choose as friends, but still Jesus does chose them. And Jesus chooses them not only for comic relief, but because he believes that these people are the ones who will continue the revelation of God’s Good News. This is the group that will walk forward after Jesus’ betrayal, trial and execution to reveal the whole of God’s love for all of creation. Again, even though this is a group of people who lived on the fringes of their society, Jesus chooses them. If friendship is then something Jesus extends and takes seriously, is it then something we too should be careful and serious about? I think so.

In a world that moves at a breakneck pace and relationships that are many times relegated to a "Like" on Facebook, we are called by Jesus to give serious attention to the friendships we cultivate. In our friendships we, like the disciples, are challenged to take them not at face value but to invest in their continuing development. Through our friendships, we can grow and learn and change. Because of our friends, we can be more authentic, more introspective, more compassionate and more joyful.

In my work at Camp Noel Porter, I have seen friendships in all shapes and sizes. On the first day of camp, I see kids who have not laid eyes on one another  a year rush at one another in ecstatic joy and embrace. There is real affection in those greetings! I see kids who hang back on the fringe of the group – trying to stay under the radar – being invited to join in and make those first steps toward friendship. I have seen the depths and heights of friendship.

I recall a story of first time campers, who on their first night at camp, stayed awake through the night because they were offering comfort to one another. A lifelong friendship was forged that night in Girls 2. Those women are not friends because they had things in common, they are friends because they walked through the anxieties of life together, and continue to support and love one another. I also know of alumni who travel great distances to be with one another in the important moments of life. There are people who have experienced camp friendships not just as a moment in the summer, but connections that continue and lead them to deeper and more authentic expressions of self. There are, of course, young people who not only come to catch a glimpse of who they will be, but also who Christ is in their lives. As they grow into an awareness of self, they also grow in deeper ways as disciples of Christ, and run out into the world telling God’s Good News. The possibility of camp is that young people will find peers to be friends with, and will also come to know that Jesus is their friend too.

In this season of camp, we are looking at the promise and power of reconciliation. Our clergy chaplains are working with the words from the Paul's second letter to the Corinthians: "All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you" (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, The Message). Camp Noel Porter is committed to forming a place where friendships are started, continued and strengthened. We are also hopeful that while young people are here they can catch the sense of how much hard work there can be in friendships, and the fruits of doing the hard work.

I look back on these words and understand that I don’t always act as the best friend to those around me. I also understand that friendships are ever evolving, and if they are true friendships, there is always the invitation to reunion. So, I am off to find a better way to contact my long-lost friend. May we continue to choose and be reconciled to one another.


1 comment (Add your own)

1. Tina Ferriot wrote:
Awesome Sermon Jenni! Hope you have a wonderful and blessed summer in God's Creation and with God's Creation. I feel grateful to know you. Your heart shines with Joy from The Way, The Truth, and The Light of Life. God's Peace, Tina Ferriot, TSSF

Thu, May 28, 2015 @ 7:44 PM

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