The Art of Being a Friend

Sermon_6.20_Friendship_Father’s Day

“The Art of Being a Friend”

A Sermon by the Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie

Rector of Christ Church Greenwich

Delivered on Sunday, June 20, 2021

Business leader Lee Iacocca noted, “My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life.”

Aristotle said that the goal of life is to discover happiness. One of the ways that we do this is by making and keeping friends. C.S. Lewis called friendship “the crown of life and [a] school of virtue.” He wrote, “If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’”

I have listened to hundreds of eulogies. Each one has taught me about life and about what someone who died valued and accomplished, what truly matters, what leads to happiness, what endures after we die. And they always mention friendship. Friends are God’s way of taking care of us.

In this morning’s Old Testament lesson we read about the most profound friendship in the Bible. It is the story of David and Jonathan. Jonathan’s father, Saul, was king of Israel. He recognized David’s remarkable gifts and appointed him to lead his army. Like a true friend, Jonathan was not envious or jealous, but delighted in his friend’s success.

So, Jonathan and David became best friends. Jonathan celebrated each of David’s triumphs. He was undyingly loyal to David, while his father was insanely jealous of him. Saul made accusations, undermined and even tried to kill David, but Jonathan supported his friend until his dying day.

The Bible tells us a lot about friendship. The Apocrypha notes that “a faithful friend is a secure shelter; whoever finds one has found a treasure.” Ecclesiasticus writes,

A faithful friend is an elixir of life, found only by those who fear the Lord.

The man who fears the Lord keeps his friendships in repair, for he treats

his neighbor as himself. (Eccl. 6:16-17)

The use of “repair” is telling. If you own a home, you know the little daily and weekly chores to care for it. Try to postpone them for a year or two and it doesn’t work. There has to be a little labor here and there. So it is with friendship. The Bible urges us to “keep our friendships in repair.” There’s an art to making friends, and an even greater art to keeping them.

The very first gift given to us at creation was the gift of friendship. God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” So, God created Eve. We are social beings. The first feeling that humans experienced was isolation. Adam was alone. We have all had that feeling at one time or another when we lacked a friend. Scientists note that severe isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Isolation and loneliness are harmful to our health and well-being.

A friend is someone we can trust and be our true self with. We share things in common and can confide in each other without the fear of being ridiculed or judged. It’s been said that a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. Real friends look at us and see the word “gift” written all over us.

Friendship is therefore vital as it pleases the soul. We were designed to be in relationship with others. How often I have heard an elderly person say, “What purpose is there for me to continue living. All of my friends have died.” My mother used to say that toward the end of her life. The wisest older adults that I know work develop friendships with people.

A good friend weeps with us when we weep and rejoices with us when we rejoice. Oscar Wilde wrote, “If a friend of mine gave a feast and did not invite me to it I should not mind a bit. But if a friend of mine had a sorrow and refused to allow me to share it, I should feel most bitterly… If he thought me unworthy, unfit to weep with him, I should feel it as the most poignant humiliation…”

No friend is perfect, but a true friends learns to look beyond our faults and can “speak the truth in love” to us as St. Paul says and in order to help us to become better persons. We can receive the truth from them, because they love us unconditionally.

Some people have a great gift for friendship and bringing friends together. Author David Brooks calls them “weavers.” They are highly relational people who call forth the best in others, bring about transformational change, and form lasting relationships.

We live in the age of Facebook and Instagram, where we can “friend” each other. A study conducted eight years ago for the English company Topshop revealed that Generation Y members spent over six hours a day on Facebook, but nonetheless they felt increasingly lonely.

There’s nothing wrong with social media, but it’s no substitute for face-to-face friendships.

The Bible reveals relationships at their best and at their worst. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs as partners, because he knew how a friend can make all the difference. Paul and Barnabas were partners in the gospel. They risked their lives for the Lord, but they later fell out and parted ways. Barnabas eventually found Mark, and Paul partnered with Silas.

Even animals form friendships. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest animal who ever lived we know nearly nothing about their mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social structure and diseases. But we know that they have the biggest hearts in the world. Their heart weights more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. We know that the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs.

When we go off to boarding school or college, study abroad, move to a new city or are transferred overseas, our friendship are disrupted, but they reveal who are real friends are. I have a friend from Philadelphia who texts, emails or calls me regularly. Our friendship has deepened since I moved to Greenwich. He is everything that you could want in a friend – a person of quality, character, empathy, and understanding. He is a friend for life.

When our friends are going through trying times, there may be nothing that we can do to help, but we can bring them to Jesus, if not physically at least spiritually.” Recall the story in Mark’s Gospel where four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, but there was a crowd surrounding the house where Jesus and they couldn’t enter. So, they lifted their friend onto the roof, opened some tiles and lowered him to Jesus, who healed him. Jesus said, “Because of the faith of your friends, I have made you whole.” A true friend will stop at nothing to help us.

In our gospel today, Jesus’ frightened friends call for him in the midst of a storm at sea. A true friend will always strive to be with us in our time of need. Real friends calm the waters for us when we’re in the midst of a storm.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus had a gift for friendship. He drew people to him. Never was there a man more devoted to others. No one in history has been a better listener or exuded more compassion, empathy and understanding.

Happy marriages are based on deep friendship. The old saying notes that “in the morning of life we are acquaintances; at noon, lovers; and in the evening, friends.” If you’re looking to get married, find someone who you can enjoy talking with for the rest of your life. As Brooks notes, “Marriage is a fifty-year conversation.”

Physical or sexual attraction may draw us to another person, but what keeps us committed for decades is the friendship that we forge. One thinks of the verse from Albert Camus, “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. But walk beside me and just be my friend.”

At each Episcopal wedding we pray, “Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.” That’s the definition I know of a great friend.

A marriage where friendship is absent is doomed to failure. You can tell a good marriage by how the couple speaks. In a good marriage, they have moved from saying, “me,” “my,” and “mine” to “we,” “us,” and “our.”

In the marriage service, we pledge to be committed to one another “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Friendship demands the same. There is no friendship which is not tested by “for worse” times. To maintain a friendship means to allow our friends freedom to grow and evolve over time.

On this Father’s Day, we give thanks for our dads, the men who helped to raise us, who made great sacrifices to provide for us and gave us a wonderful start to life. They modeled values and instilled qualities that we draw upon each day. A good father becomes a prized friend, whom we can turn to for wisdom, confide in and who continues to inspire us throughout our lives

The 12th century monk Aelred of Rievaulx said, “God is friendship. He who dwells in friendship dwells in God, and God in him.” Hence, the ultimate form of friendship is friendship with God. Religion teaches us how to become friends with God. As we do so, we glean wisdom, which we pass it on from generation to generation.

Friendship with God helps us to be a better friend and a better parent, spouse, child or sibling. As we build our vertical relationship with God, we improve the horizontal relationships with those around us. George Bernard Shaw said,

The only service a friend can really render is… by holding up to you a mirror in

which you can see a noble image of yourself.

Christ Church Greenwich is a spiritual house where we hold up mirrors to God and to each other that help us to see our noblest image and remember that we are ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by Jesus.

I close with a story. A soldier named Tom lay gravely wounded in no-man’s land between the Allied and the German position. Another soldier, George, who was a friend of Tom’s, requested permission from the commanding officer to crawl out to Tom and pull him back to safety. The officer wisely refused permission as the chances of a safe rescue were negligible and he didn’t want to lose two men rather than one.

George, however, chose to disobey his officer, and when the officer moved to a different part of the trench, George went over the top, crawled to his friend, Tom, and dragged him back behind him. By the time he got back to the trench, his buddy Tom had died of his wounds and George had been gravely wounded.

The officer was naturally angry: “I told you not to do that,” he said. “Now, I’ve lost you both. You shouldn’t have gone out there. It wasn’t worth it.” The young soldier, however, replied, “Sir, it was worth it. He was still alive when I got to him out there. He was still conscious, and he said to me, ‘George, I knew you’d come.’” May God surround you with friends and and help you experience the deep joy of making and keeping friends and being the best friend possible. Amen.