Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Holy Friendship

This Holy Week I am pondering friendship. It started off very personal. In my previous blog about Palm Sunday entitled “Everything is Holy Now,” I mentioned two friends of mine: a transgender woman and a gay man, both very spiritually-minded persons. I also spoke against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. I wrote, “Everyone is holy.” A longtime friend of mine wrote a scathing response to that post.

He accused me of rejecting the Biblical values, embracing cultural standards, and setting myself up as my own authority above God’s Word. In a second email he said that I “reject the biblical norms and accept sodomy and all the other violations of Gods commands.” I was stunned at the self-righteousness and judgmental tone of these emails. I was hurt. The sad part is that he knew he was hurting me, justifying his behavior by quoting the often misused proverb: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Last Sunday – Palm Sunday - another longtime friend of mine, Dwight Moody, mentioned me several times in his sermon to his congregation in North Carolina. I watched the service online. He was preaching about friendship. It was entitled “No One Like You.” His text was from the Letter to the Philippians, where the apostle Paul speaks about his friend Timothy.

Paul writes: “If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself.”

Dwight said, “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.” 

I emailed him and told him his words were balm for my soul. When he spoke those words from the pulpit he did not know about the email exchange with my other friend. But he later told me that God had known and had led him to speak those words. The Spirit has a way of inspiring just the right words at the right time.

This series of events has led me to look at the Holy Week passion narrative with new eyes. I am looking at it from the perspective of friendship. As I read the stories of Jesus’ final days and hours I am looking carefully at Jesus’ friends, and how they related to him. I am especially looking at Jesus’ friends Peter, Judas Iscariot, and John.

Judas undoubtedly convinced himself that he was doing the right thing by betraying his friend. There are many theories about Judas’s motives - from simple greed, to patriotic zeal, to believing he was obeying the will of God. We will never know exactly what he was thinking when he betrayed his friend with a kiss. 

Likewise Peter had a lot going on in his mind when he denied his friend Jesus. These two disciples responded to the realization of their error in different ways. Of the twelve apostles only young John had the courage to stay with Jesus at the cross.

Jesus’ most faithful friends were women, who were at the cross on Good Friday and at the garden tomb on Easter morning. It seems his closest female friend was Mary Magdalene, who is called by Thomas Aquinas and Pope Francis “the apostle to the apostles.” Women’s stories are not adequately told in the gospels. One can only imagine what the biblical passion narrative would have been like if their stories had been highlighted.

Friendship is a priceless gift. Friendship with Jesus is the greatest of all gifts. Jesus said to his disciples “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” I count Jesus as my closest and greatest friend, with my wife is a close second! (Dwight, you are third!)

Jesus is my spiritual identity. He is my life and my soul. It is said that a true friend is one soul in two bodies. I am one soul with Jesus. Jesus is my soul. I concur with Paul when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” There is no “I” in “my” life. There is only Christ. Christ is my life.

In his so-called “High Priestly” prayer offered on Maundy Thursday, Jesus promised his disciples oneness with God and himself. Such holy union is foreign to traditional binary thinking. Yet this unitive awareness is our birthright. From Christ-consciousness one loves all people unconditionally. There are no distinctions. One especially loves those whom the dominant Christian culture scorns. Jesus ate with friends whom religious culture had declared unclean and unholy. He still does. That is why I love my friend Jesus.


Ann Cady said...

Marshall, I too know the pain of rejection by a friend over a difference in belief. I still miss my friend after 20+years. I do not understand how others cannot accept that all creatures are good for the very reason that God created them all. To reject others because of some of their behaviors are considered by an individual to be more sinful than others, when did that person stop sinning and does God differentiate between sins? Not loving is not loving and not in accordance with what Jesus taught. Love is the way and he/she/they who is/are without sin cast the first stone or point the finger.

Douglas Wyman said...

Marshall, Your ending sentences... Says it all. Love one another - unconditionally. Jesus ministered, ate and befriended those who were thought to be unworthy. HE told us that they are the most blessed! Shame on your friend. Your two friends, much like my youngest and others like him need God the most! They need friends like us. I teach Law Enforcement Interactions with the LGBTQIA Community for the State Rhode Island Crisis Intervention Team and I often joke that it takes the cop with a degree in ministry to teach it! I don't know if you aware but there is an entire Christian Ministry dedicated to the LGBTQIA Community: https://postureshift.com/
Be well my friend and Happy Easter to you and Jude.