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Sunday Sermon, May 17, 2020

A Friend Loves at All Times

“A friend loves always and a brother is born for times of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17. Today, I was reminded again of how blessed I am to have genuine friends who are not mere “acquaintances”. These are people that know most of the bad things about me and still consider me their friend. They are the brothers and sister who support my work, pray for me, encourage me, believe in my dream, appreciate my presence, and give me courage to hold on when I am inclined to let go. Do you have friends like that? Are YOU a friend like that? Some of you here are becoming that kind of a friend to me… and I hope that I am becoming that kind of friend to you.

Friendship and the love between friends is celebrated in the Bible, and examples such as David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and John, Barnabas and Silas, are poignant examples. We were created to have and be friends; we will never reach our full limit of God’s image within us without friendship love. Friends help us, more than any other relationship, to discover our own imperfections.... and there is no other means of reaching perfection without that.

My sons cried because of their lack of friends when they first came to live with me. More than once, each son has come to me hurting, wondering why he had no friend, and asking me to adopt a new boy so that he could have a friend. It’s heartbreaking that some folks don’t have friends, but I reminded the boys that if they want a friend, they have to be a friend. And likewise, later in life if you want to marry a princess, you need to be a prince. As Saint Francis prayed, “Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love”, that is the foundation for having friends and being loved. Be the friend, love the one He places in your path and see if you are not, in turn, a person with many friends and loved by more…and closer to being the whole man that is our destiny.

I am not the perfect friend, but I do invest in my friends and I do attempt to maintain friendships. These two things are essential: the willingness to give time and a determination to do what is required to maintain that strong bond. It takes work, communication, apologies, words of gratitude and sometimes words of rebuke! Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. Friendships are not common among lazy or selfish folks, you have to give of yourself and work at friendship and sometimes deny yourself for the good of your friend.

Again, I am the ideal friend—far from it. But despite my faults, I have been blessed with many friends. I consider myself “wealthy” in terms of people who care about me despite my faults. Bit I have learned to see the face of God in the face of my friends and am learning to love them, as if I were loving Jesus Himself. It’s been said that “He who is filled with love is filled with God himself.” (Saint Augustin). Loving means that you care, and that you listen. Are you a good listener? Then you have are a good friend. The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”— Henry David Thoreau

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God” (3:1). “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (3:18). Children of God are not hypocrites. We don’t just say we love God; we show it by obeying his commands. We don’t just say we love our fellow man; we show it by living in a way that puts the needs of others first.

Do you say, or hear someone else say, “I love you” during the day? They are the most beautiful words a person can speak and it can change your mood and add light and encouragement for the whole day. But saying, “I love you” means more than just, “you’re okay”, or “I like working with you”. Sometimes I have to remind myself that saying, “I love you” has more to do with a decision in my head of how I will treat the one I love more than a sentimental affection or acknowledgement of their existence. We sometimes have to not follow our instincts, but make that choice to not let go….not forget…not let the love become conditional. Saint Francis once said, “Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face.” Don’t you want friends like that? Then we should be friend like that. We can do all the work we want for the cause of Christ, but until we learn and are resolved to live lives of love for others, we’re just working and accomplishing nothing for the Kingdom of God. Mother Theresa once said, “I pray that you will understand the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Ask yourself “How has he loved me? Do I really love others in the same way?” Unless this love is among us, we can kill ourselves with work and it will only be work, not love. Christian work without love is slavery.”

Nothing written by man so clearly explains love better than I Corinthians 13; Saint Paul explains what love is and what love is not. This is the zenithal explanation of love. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”. It’s important to remember that love is defined as an action

not an emotion. If we love others, we will speak like Jesus and Stephen when evil men are vicious to us: “Lord do not hold this sin against them!” That’s more than mere sentiment! It shows the depth of the love these men had for their enemies! Do you and I show such love to our own children, spouses and close friends?

C.S. Lewis said, “You are told to love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old man or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don't cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to be hanged. You may even think that you ought to go to the Police and own up and be hanged. Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.We all quite naturally look after the personal needs and take the proper precautions for ourselves and we’re all aware of what we like and don’t like. That’s the starting point for loving others—-love them like you love yourself. As Jesus clearly explained: Love others as you love yourself!”

So how should I love the others God has placed in my life—-my children, my parents, my friends—as if they were especially created by God for Himself only—-because they were. Saint Augustin once said that , “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” Love each person as if they were the only person on the face of the planet and you will be loving them as God loves you. This is the secret to loving others.

Paul reminds us that “love is long suffering and keeps no record of wrong doing”, and I wonder if he was also raising four sons? If you love, properly, there are times that you will suffer because of it. Your heart will break, you’ll want to walk away, you will throw up your hands, you will get angry. But even if the person I am trying to love is the most annoying, whining, arrogant, crudest I’ve ever come across, I recall that He has placed that person in your life for a purpose, I see the very face of Jesus..I will not give up…I will not walk away. And He will say to me one day, “Enter into heaven—-I know you! You were kind to me, did not give up on me or throw me away.” I have come to learn that it is loving folks that are not always lovely back to me that I find myself becoming more of the man He always intended when He redeemed me.

Why love others that are unkind to us or unappreciative of our love? Because it turns us into spiritual wine for a world thirsty for God. “God can never make me into wine if I object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush me. I say, “If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way, then I wouldn’t object!” But when He uses someone I dislike or that really annoys me…to crush me, then I object. Yet I must never try to choose the place of our own martyrdom. If I am ever going to be made into wine, I will have to be crushed—you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed. I wonder what finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you and me this week?” Oswald Chambers

So when I tell someone in my family or inner circle of friends that I really “love them”, I am saying all of this—or at least I should be. I am making a statement of my determination to be patient and kind with them, as well as how I will conduct myself around them—i.e. to be humble, to not be quick to get upset and to not bringing up past offenses, etc. As a Christian, if I tell you that I LOVE you, it should generate quite a sensation of protection, peace and assurance for you! It means that I am there for you to be your shield, to believe/trust in you, to hope for the best for you and never give up on you. Wow! Don’t you want to be loved like that by a LOT of people? What a wonderful world this would be if we all loved like this. But if I aspire to receive such love in my life, it must also flow out of me to those around me. The people who are loved the most are those that also make the decision to love.

We all want to be loved—He built that need within us.. But are we also prepared to love others in demonstrable ways that allows them to love us? It’s not just a feeling—it’s a personal discipline and courageous determination. I will love that person… I will trust, protect, hope for the best and never give up on that person. That is love

To those of you that call me your friend, please hear this! You have no idea how much your passing compliments have meant to me. And not only your compliments, but also your belief in what I am doing, your support of me when I have been hurt and felt like quitting, and your forgiveness when I was less than what I wanted to be. You kept me going! You have served vicariously as the voice, smile, and touch of God. I sincerely thank you. And God willing, I will be that friend to you as well.

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