29 January 2012
Psalm 119:63 says: “I’m a friend to everyone who honors you and to all who keep your precepts.”
We have been working our way through this psalm which celebrates the Word or message of God -- his revelation, the sharing of his mind, his regulations, his guidance, his law, his commandments, his precepts -- MANY WAYS OF SAYING THE SAME THING.
- Psalm 119 is full of promises such as vs 57 -- “LORD, you are mine! I promise to obey your words!”
- Petitions (vs. 58) -- “With all my heart I want your blessings. Be merciful as you promised.”
- And testimonies (vss. 59-62) -- “I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws. 60 I will hurry, without delay, to obey your commands. 61 Evil people try to drag me into sin, but I am firmly anchored to your instructions. 62 I rise at midnight to thank you for your just regulations.”
How many of you are on Facebook? How many friends do you have? I looked it up the other day and was surprised to learn that I have 678 Facebook friends -- and I don’t even like Facebook all that much. I don’t spend much time there -- much preferring Twitter or even better Google+. But for better or worse I have 678 Facebook friends.
Now, the fact is that not all those people are really my friends -- most are acquaintances -- some I’ve never met.
When I first started connecting with people through the social media I decided that I’d try to hook up with some people unlike myself. You know, the whole missionary thing. So I “friended” some Muslims and Hindus and radical atheists -- not to carry on big debates -- but to develop connections that God might somehow use. And if I actually spent some time on Facebook I might be able to better nurture those connections.
I don’t respond to all the friend requests that I receive but I pick and choose -- although because of our ongoing work in Micronesia I will accept friend requests from any Micronesian. Even if I don’t know the person I probably know their cousin or auntie or uncle. And mission work is as much about developing relationships with extended groups of people as it is about relating to individuals.
Still -- I’m hard pressed to call all these people “friends.” In my mind I think of it this way -- there are two kinds of friends -- big F friends and little f friends.
Little f friends are acquaintances -- interesting people whose paths have crossed mine. We really don’t have that much in common -- other than the points where our paths have crossed. We aren’t working together to change the world and we’re not sharing our hearts nor our resources.
Big F friends are those people in whom you really invest your life -- people you know at a deeper level -- people you trust and who trust you -- people who share your values and as the psalmists says, your relationship to God.
I was reading in 1 Samuel 20 the other day about the friendship between David and Jonathan: Vs. 17 -- “So Jonathan again made a pledge to David because he cared about David as much as he cared about himself.”
Amazing Big F friendship and loyalty there -- and it was in the midst of a chaotic situation where Jonathan’s father Saul was trying to hunt down and kill David.
Vs. 41 --
Then David bowed three times to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said good-bye, especially David. 42 At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the LORD’s name. The LORD is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.”That is big F friendship.
And it is big F friendship that the psalmist has in mind when he talks about friends and says, “I’m a friend to everyone who honors you (that is, he is talking to God) and to all who keep your precepts.” (fancy word for commandments).
The fact that someone is honoring God with his or her life is the substantial basis for solid friendship. (Key Point!)
Now, practically speaking the implications of this are two fold. First of all, the psalmist is making an exclusive statement. That is, he is narrowing the number of people to whom he will relate on a big F friendship level to those who are using their lives to honor God.
This was the struggle of ancient Israel. They were trying to be friends with God and friends with the surrounding pagan cultures. And it was tearing them apart.
The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 makes a similar application for the early church believers.
14 Don’t be tied up as equal partners with people who don’t believe. What does righteousness share with that which is outside the Law? What relationship does light have with darkness? 15 What harmony does Christ have with Satan? What does a believer have in common with someone who doesn’t believe?Yes, you can be small f friends and have good relationships with people who don’t respect God. Yes, that is possible and important to do. But if you try to try to form partnerships where you throw your lot in with them. If you start businesses with them or marry them or form some other kind of deep friendship -- you’re going to struggle because you don’t have enough in common.
So the psalmist says “I am a friend to anyone who fears you -- anyone who obeys your commandments.”
There is an element of exclusivity -- a narrowing of options -- if we’re serious about heeding God’s word and basking in his guidance -- his precepts and commandments.
But there is also an INCLUSIVITY about this whole thing -- a widening of options. The psalmist is making an inclusive statement.
“I am a friend to anyone (or back to the CEB, “everyone”) who fears you -- anyone who obeys your commandments.”
MasterPiece Church is a part of a movement called the Evangelical Covenant Church. We were originally Swedish Pietists -- mostly awakened Lutheran immigrants that formed themselves into mission societies -- that is home fellowship groups and congregations.
And they called themselves -- “Mission Friends.” Are you starting to see where this is going?
They struggled a bit to organize themselves into viable groups when they got to the US. Some of them formed the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Mission Synod in 1873. Others formed the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Ansgari Synod in 1874.
By the mid-1880’s neither group was terribly satisfied with what they had created. Yes, they were Lutherans in the way that they thought and the categories in which they did theology but somehow it all seemed a bit restrictive.
And in 1885 they decided to merge the two groups into an organization which would be wider and more welcoming of those who didn’t fit so well into the rigid Lutheran orthodoxy of the day.
So on the 18th of February 1885 these mission friends held an organizational meeting at the Swedish Mission Tabernacle at 30th and La Salle Streets in Chicago. And they formed the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America.
The pastor of that congregation. F.M. Johnson, preached the opening sermon. His text was Psalm 119:63 -- “I’m a friend to everyone who honors you and to all who keep your precepts.” -- Our text this morning.
That was how we moved beyond being exclusively Lutheran. “Anyone who fears the Lord and obeys his commandments...” They can be Baptist or Reformed or Methodist. We can’t leave people out because they don’t agree with us on some minor matter of Lutheran theology. “A friend to all who fear the Lord.”
Eventually, as the years went by we figured out that this also meant non-Swedes, too. And by the mid-1920’s congregations were switching to English so they could be more inclusive. Swedish was harder to give up than the Lutheran label. Eventually they dropped the Swedish name. And today we are known as the Evangelical Covenant Church -- or commonly "the Covenant."
There are very few swedes left -- mostly in Minnesota -- and surrounding areas. But 25% of the congregations in the US are multi-ethnic or ethnic minority. There are still a few who would identify themselves as Lutherans.
But we also have a lot of people with Baptist and Bible church backgrounds -- former Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Mennonites, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Assemblies, Calvary Chapel... Africans, African-Americans, Asians of every sort, Islanders, Hispanics from every country... poor, rich, middle-class...
We are not defined by our differences but by our commonality -- and we relate to each other on that basis. “I’m a friend to everyone who honors you and to all who keep your precepts.”
Hey, and it’s not just a matter of being in our tribe either. We try to be friends with and work with -- partner with -- other denominations and non-denominations, groups who share this same value of honoring God through obedience to his word.
And we encourage all of our people to be in fellowship with kindred spirits -- to form big F friendships with Christian believers of any stripe -- any congregation or church.
For we see ourselves as a band of friends of God -- more precisely friends of Jesus, who is God in the flesh -- mission friends living together in the power of the Holy Spirit to honor God by obeying his word.
For the Word became flesh and came to live among us as a true friend -- a friend who laid down his life for us.
John 15:12-15 -- Jesus is speaking:
12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. (Don't you wonder if Jesus had perhaps read Psalm 119:63!) 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.You see our friendships with each other are rooted in the big-F friendship that God has extended to us through Jesus.
And in light of this good news we need to then ask -- WHY? Why is it that we struggle to develop big-F friendships? On a whole we don’t seem to have problems with the small-f friendships -- thanks to the reality of our Facebook world. But we kind’a struggle with big-F friendships -- the kind of which the psalmist speaks when he says, “I’m a friend to everyone who honors you and to all who keep your precepts.”
So, I want to share two case studies with you and hear what you think.
The first involves a man named Ken who sought the advice of his pastor. Apparently one of Ken’s co-workers (Brandon) asked him to become a partner in a new business that would design and market an innovative photocopier.
He was flattered that he’d be considered, and he liked Brandon as a person. He was extremely responsible and an independent thinker.
But then Ken noticed on Brandon’s Facebook profile that he was a hardcore fan of Ayn Rand. That raised a red flag. Ken knew that Rand supported laissez-faire capitalism -- something about which he didn’t have much of an opinion. But he also knew that Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and she rejected all forms of faith and religion.
She was an outspoken 20th century atheist who also loudly denounced all forms of ethical altruism. That is, her idea was that we’d be better off if the weak were simply left to die. You know, a kind of survival of the fittest makes for a stronger world.
As a Christian that part of Ayn Rand especially bothered him and the idea that his potential partner was really into her approach concerned him.
Ken wasn’t sure what to do. He found the business opportunity really exciting but he didn’t know if he could work in partnership with an atheist. He kind of went back and forth on that. If he became a partner would he be getting too friendly with someone who didn’t respect and honor God? But don’t most businesses kind of ignore God’s word anyway? How would this be different from working in the same group and for IBM? Which is what they were currently doing?
If you were the pastor what advice would you give Ken?
The second situation actually involved two churches -- both ironically named Zion. Zion Baptist Church of the North Valley was looking for opportunities to do some mission projects in the city center. The pastor, Grady Green had met Pastor Papa John Robinson at a city-wide evangelistic crusade planning meeting.
Pastor Papa John was the minister in charge of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, an old traditional church which had successfully transitioned as the community changed and was now a predominantly African immigrant congregation.
The two Zion pastors had noted the name similarities and struck up a conversation -- then conversations -- and then, over time a real friendship -- and eventually they concocted a plan to involve the Zion Baptist people with the Zion Lutheran people in a community outreach day that the Lutherans were holding in the neighborhood.
Grady was so disappointed when he floated the idea by his church board and there was immediate resistance.
A couple of board members thought that they were being disloyal and unbiblical if they worked with people who didn’t do baptism the right way. Others were leery about a partnership, even at a distance, with a church where the people taking the lead would be inexperienced African immigrants. They were concerned that it would be a less than positive experience for the Baptist church.
Grady was pretty sure that it all stemmed from a mixture of deep rooted racism (the kind which people would never actually acknowledge) and a misunderstanding of the church and her mission.
What, if anything, do you think Pastor Grady should do next?
“I’m a friend to everyone who honors you and to all who keep your precepts.”
Our affirmation of faith this morning is from Romans 5:6-11 (NLT). It's all a part of the same big story. I'd like you to take a moment to ready through the passage this morning before we read the words together. Allow those words to become your words -- enter into the story.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.