No One Like You
Dwight A. Moody, preaching
Forty-eight years ago, Jan and I had just moved into Judson Hall on the campus of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. One day, we saw another young couple unloading a truck. They were hippies, for sure, straight out of college, with roots in the north. I helped them carry in a sofa. Jan fixed chicken and we shared a meal. That is the way it all started, our friendship, forty-eight years ago.
You cannot predict how friendships start. High school and college are good bets, teams and clubs and happenstance, for sure. Purely by accident, often. As it was years ago for Jan and me and our friends, Jude and Marshall.
I think about Marshall when I read this letter Paul wrote. He said, “I have no one else like you.” He was talking about friendship, and partnership in the gospel, and the best of life.
Who are your friends and how did you meet them?
These are stories that never grow old. Perhaps your post-sermon card needs to be a note written to a friend, close at hand or far away. Perhaps it needs to be an offer of friendship. “Let’s be friends.”
Paul writes here about two friends, but we know he had many. His letters are filled with references to people. We focus too much on the doctrines, the controversies, the ethical dilemmas, the religious movement that came to be called Christianity. We give too little time to the people. In the truest of true things, it is the people that matter, our friends, your friends.
Paul wrote about Aquilla and Pricilla, the itinerant and transplanted business couple that set Apollos straight about Jesus and the Spirit. “They risked their life for me,” he wrote in one place. I once pastored a church in Pittsburgh full of transplanted people, folk who had the spirit and talent of Pricilla and Aquilla.
Paul wrote about Junia, whom he called an apostle, and Phoebe, who delivered the famous letter to the church at Rome. “She was in Christ before me,” he wrote.
Here in this letter to Philippi, he names Epaphroditus, he who brought to the imprisoned Paul the supplies of food and money from the Philippians. He names two women Euodia and Syntyche and urged them to patch up their differences. But chief on the list of those named is Timothy.
Paul and Timothy were at least a generation apart. He was a mentor to the young man, and a supervisor, we might say, in his gospel work. “I hope to send Timothy to you soon,” He wrote in this letter. “He has proved himself,” is the way the old man in jail talked about the young man on the move.
But they were also friends. “I have no one else like Timothy,” Paul wrote.
I had many friends a generation older than me: men and women who taught me and formed me and loved me and forgave me. I have many young friends, youth I dipped into the baptismal waters, students who came through my classes, and young preachers who helped make the Academy of Preachers such as marvelous ministry for a decade.
Who are your friends?
Friendship is a wonderful thing. A former member of this church wrote this week: “Of all the interactions I had during my 15 plus years in Hendersonville, I made the most lasting friends at Providence.”
She was responding to an article I posted. It was sent to me by our member and gospel minister James Garrison. It is entitled “The Lonely Crowd: Churches Dying Due to Friendlessness.” Thank you, James. That was the action of a friend.
“They’re nice to you, but no one becomes your friend,” is the way the author summed up the situation at many churches.
“Before hosting any more conferences or seminars on vision-casting, living your best life, or finding your spiritual gift, how about we start equipping people in friendship-making?”
He then gave these statistics, comparing 1985 to 2004. The researchers asked the question, “Over the last six months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters of importance to you.” In 1985, respondents named three; 59% listed three or more. In 2004: only 37% responded three or more. The most common response: 25% of the respondents said, zero!
There is a lot of attention given to music in worship, and preaching, and buildings, and programs, and doctrine, and in these days, politics. But perhaps the biggest issue in church life, or the biggest issue in life: friends!
Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” We could update that language to say, “We no longer call you members, or guests, or prospects, or ministers; we call you friends.
Here at Providence, we are using this wonderful two-tier theme: “Sing for joy, live with hope.” My son and I put that lettering on the back wall, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” These two summaries of gospel living are terrific. But perhaps we need something like “Making Friends and Being Friends.” Mr. Rogers, a life long native of Pittsburgh, shaped a generation of children by asking, “Will you be my friend?” The book that tells his story is simply titled “You Are My Friend.”
Maybe the natural and supernatural order of things is, “Be My Friend” before we ask questions like “Do you want to come to church?” or “Are you ready to be baptized?” or “Are you a member?” Or even “Are You a Christian?”
There is a lot of mystery and happenstance in friendship.
My best buddy in grade school was a boy named Homer Reaves. He sat behind me and was the object of my overactive mouth. I still hold the school record for writing the most times, “I will not talk.” I moved away from Lexington after the fourth grade and missed him very much. Some time later, when we went to visit my grandmother in Lexington, I called him. This is how it went. “Hello, this is Dwight.” He responded, “This is Homer.” There was a long pause, a very long pause. I did not know what to say, until finally I said, “I’d better go. Bye.” And he hung up the phone.
Years later, we met serendipitously at the CBF meeting. He was a member of a Baptist church in New Jersey. We had a good time remembering things together.
Not all friendships out last all the things that break them up, including separation and distance. But there is a friend that will be your friend forever.
In a few moments we will sing the grand old gospel song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
I love the song, and I hope you do as well. It doesn’t measure up to the contemporary praise chorus or the sophisticated anthem. But it calls us to sing about what is at the center of the spiritual life: friendship, especially friendship with Jesus.
Jesus was a friend. We have scant record of Jesus going to a worship service, let alone a Sunday School class or a discipleship retreat. He went fishing with his friends, and went to their home to eat, and walked a lot of places with them and shared what they had. They talked about Holy Scripture and listened as random people brought their questions and confusions. As far as we know there was no book club, no softball team, no youth choir, no two-week revival. Just a lot of hanging out and walking and talking.
But there was something! Something that bound them together as people, as believers, as children of God, as travelers on a journey, as citizens of heaven.
Together they fed the crowds and comforted the sick. Together they witnessed the glory of God and struggled with their own weaknesses. Together they gathered the children and scattered the skeptics. Together they prayed and slept and prepared for the worse. It is not so much that they looked each other in the eyes and confessed their love; that is the ritual for lovers, for erotic love, as C.S. Lewis explained in his famous book. No, these people, men and women, stood side by side and looked at the world, at the crowds, at the Bible, at the city, at the cross.
This is the week we think about Jesus as a friend.
He and his friends walked through Jericho and went to the house of Zacchaeus. He and his friends stopped at the home of their friends in Bethany, Mary, and Martha and Lazarus. He and his friends went, for the last time, to temple Mount where Jesus confounded the authorities and confronted the critics. Jesus and his friends ate together for the last time and prayed together before the big day. Jesus and his friends faced the trauma of rejection, violence, and separation.
Not all his friends were loyal to the end; but Jesus was. Jesus was a friend of sinners then and now, a friend of those weak and fearful, a friend to us when we are full of doubt and anger and anxiety. Jesus is your friend today. Jesus sees you and knows you and hears you and stays with you today.
What a friend you have in Jesus today!
God only knows who else in this sanctuary or on this broadcast might be your friend today. Reach out to some friend. Say thanks or say, “Be my friend today.” Call a friend today and thank them, bless them, offer them another dose of your own love and loyalty. Call out to Jesus the living Lord, the unseen friend, and say, “I need you today, Jesus. Come, walk with me.”
My friend Marshall sent me an article this week. It is entitled “The remarkable moment John Prine first met Bob Dylan in New York City.” Even though I have not seen Marshall in several years—he lives in New Hampshire, and I live in a different state every year, it seems—he remembered me and knew my need, my interests, my joys. That’s a real friend, don’t you think?
Jesus is sending you a message today. I am the messenger. Here is the message: Jesus is your friend. Jesus is near to you today. Jesus knows your every need, every dream, every struggle, every hope, every disappointment. Jesus is ready to listen and talk and travel with you. Let Jesus be your friend today.
Today, take this moment and be a friend with somebody, with Jesus. There is no one like Jesus.