Reflections on Friendship

Link to Service

Our Gospel reading today includes some important wisdom that Jesus sought to share with his disciples about what it means to embrace another in true friendship.   He says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love… love one another as I have loved you. 15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  He is  speaking both about the  witness of his own life, of his willingness to risk everything for the sake of his friends and about the legacy of true discipleship that he hoped to encourage in them.   In our own lives, we are truly fortunate if we have a few precious friends, aren’t we?  And while we hope to never be put in a situation in which we have to risk everything, we are often willing to make sacrifices to help others whom we love.  Let us pray, 

It was about a year ago that the Surgeon General of the US released an advisory report entitled, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,”  in which he described the real epidemic of loneliness in the United States and its effects on people’s health and wellbeing.  He shared that lacking social  connections can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. The report  warned that the physical consequences of poor connection can be devastating, including  increased risk of heart disease; stroke; and of developing dementia for older adults.

“It’s hard to put a price tag, if you will, on the amount of human suffering that people are experiencing right now,” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in an interview. “In the last few decades, we’ve just lived through a dramatic pace of change. We move more, we change jobs more often, we are living with technology that has profoundly changed how we interact with each other and how we talk to each other.”

“And you can feel lonely even if you have a lot of people around you, because loneliness is about the quality of your connections.”

‘A cultural problem’

(Eric Liu, the CEO of Citizen University — a  nonprofit that aims to build community and civic awareness nationwide  explained

A broken heart is both a physical and a social diagnosis.

“When you are alone and disconnected there’s more stress, there’s more inflammation, there’s more anxiety,” he said. “And that has effects not only on the body but the ways in which we see each other in community and feel connected to one another.”)

Friendship can be such an important gift to our lives throughout our lives.  Friends bring depth and texture to our lives.  At its best, true friendship is one of the most precious gifts we can have because real friends accept us, bring out the best in us and mirror back to us who we are at our best.  It’s a dynamic relationship when it is mutual as we seek to mirror to them how precious they are and they hopefully do the same for us.  And, how fun to be among old and dear friends, the laughter, the stories, the shared memories.  

Brian McLaren in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? shares this story about reaching out in friendship,  “Many new friends have come into my 

life . . . Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, and others—including lots of atheists and agnostics, too. One of the most dramatic of those friendships began in the aftermath of 9/11/2001. Like a lot of churches, our little congregation held a prayer service. While praying, I felt a voice speaking, as it were, in my chest: Your Muslim neighbors are in danger of reprisals. You must try to protect them. The next morning, I wrote and made copies of a letter extending, belatedly, friendship toward Muslim communities in my area, and offering solidarity and help if simmering anti-Muslim sentiments should be translated into action. I drove to the three mosques nearby—I had never visited them before—and tried to deliver my letter in person. . . .

[At the third mosque,] he went on, “I clumsily introduced myself [to the imam] as the pastor from down the street . . . I then handed him my letter, which he opened and read as I stood there awkwardly. I remember the imam, a man short in stature, slowly looking down at the letter in the bright September sun, then up into my face, then down, then up, and each time he looked up, his eyes were more moist. Suddenly, he threw his arms around me—a perfect stranger. . . . I still remember the feeling of his head pressed against my chest, squeezing me as if I were his long-lost brother. . . .

My host welcomed me not with hostility or even suspicion, but with the open heart of a friend. And so that day a friendship began between an Evangelical pastor named Brian and a Muslim imam we’ll call Ahmad. . . .”

We know that it’s one thing to say we love humanity in general, whatever other’s cultural or religious religion practices; it’s quite another to learn to love this or that specific neighbor with his or her specific religion. In these times when people are indeed feeling isolated, we might consider how we might reach out and who might welcome the hand of friendship. Invite them into companionship over a cup of tea or coffee. Ask  questions. As McLaren says, “Display unexpected interest in them, their traditions, their beliefs, and their stories. Learn why they left what they left, why they stay where they stay, why they love what they love. Enter their world, and welcome them into your world, without judgment. If they reciprocate, welcome their reciprocation; if not, welcome their nonreciprocation. Experience conviviality. Join the conspiracy of plotting for the common good together.” 

  As the years pass, our friends become even more precious to us as these are the ones who have accompanied us through all the ups and downs of life.  And, perhaps we have lost a friend or two along the way and that brings real grief.  Yet, we can still open ourselves to new friends and new connections.  We can seek to bridge the isolation.  And if we are personally feeling lonely, we may have to work up the courage to let others know or to reach out and invite someone for coffee or lunch.  “Love one another…” Jesus told us.    “There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”  ― Linda Grayson

Alone by Maya Angelou 

Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not stone

I came up with one thing

And I don’t believe I’m wrong

That nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires

With money they can’t use

Their wives run round like banshees

Their children sing the blues

They’ve got expensive doctors

To cure their hearts of stone.

But nobody

No, nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely

I’ll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

‘Cause nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Maya Angelou. “Alone.” Family Friend Poems,