Part 1 of the Sermon Series “It’s Just Like Facebook, Only, You Know… Real.”
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
January 25, 2009
Exodus 33:7-11; James 2:18-26; John 15:12-17
Exodus 33:7-11 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
James 2:18-26 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
John 15:12-17 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
How many friends do you have?
I have 444. Don’t believe me? Just look at my Facebook page. Four hundred and forty-four friends. I confess, I don’t even know all of them.
Given that, what does it even mean these days to be someone’s “friend”?
On Facebook, of course, it means that you have clicked on a link in a message that says “So-and-so added you as their friend.” You click on the link and that’s it: you’re friends.
Now, of course, there are, it seems, varying degrees of friendship. Anyone who’s watched Seinfeld knows as much. The episode where Keith Hernandez asks Jerry to help him move, which prompts Jerry to wonder whether their friendship has achieved “help each other move” status says it all.
So on one end there’s “Facebook Friend”, then there’s “acquaintance”, then “friend”, then “moving friend”, and then “best friend”.
But it seems that friendship is not what it once was. Now, I’m picking on Facebook a lot over the next few weeks of this series, but it isn’t Facebook that’s the problem. No, these issues predate Facebook, indeed they predate any social networking site. But they are the function of an increasingly isolating, technological culture.
How is it that we possess technology that can connect people together in ways never before imagined and yet more and more people claim to be lonely? Loneliness is a major issue for people in our country. A country of three hundred million people connected to each other by fiber-optic cables, is confronted with chronic loneliness.
Is it any wonder that communities, like this wonderful community of which you are a part, where honest and open and actualfriendships can be made are appealing to people? Such friendships are becoming scarce.
Somewhere along the line, it seems that our “friendships” have really become “contacts”. The people in our lives are less people we are in relationship with than people who are in our address books. I can look at the 444 people who make up my “friends” on Facebook and feel like I am surrounded by people. But does that mean that I really know any of them? Or does it mean that I simply have easy access to send messages to people all around the world?
And if we doubted at all that friendships are turning into commodities to be exploited rather than relationships to be nurtured, we need only look at a recent story from the news. At a recent meeting of a national political party, one candidate for the chairmanship sought to demonstrate his qualifications to lead the party in the 21 st Century by stating that he had “4,000 friends on Facebook…That’s probably more than these two guys [his opponents] put together.”  His rival responded by saying that he had somewhere between 2- and 3,000 friends on Facebook.
You know you’re in a new age when men start bragging about the size of their e-mail lists.
But ultimately, the context of that conversation was meant to demonstrate who was in a better place to achieve political victory by who had more online Friendships. Neither man was demonstrating his desire to be in actual relationship with people, merely that he could contact and mobilize a large number of people easily.
Indeed, friendship is not the same as it was. It is being redefined in our midst. Friendships are only as good as what they can get you. It’s an old Washington line–“It’s not what you know, but who you know”. And you don’t even need to know them well.
III. CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP
But what does our faith have to say about friendship? What as Christians are we supposed to understand about this important relationship?
We have three models of friendship presented to us in the scripture readings tonight. And each of them has something to tell us about friendship.
The first is Moses about whom we read in regard to his encounters with God in the Tent of Meeting of the Tabernacle.
When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. … Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
“Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
God and Moses interact as friends–it is telling that the way this is described is that God spoke to Moses “face to face”. We live in a very impersonalized culture. We have more opportunity to communicate with one another but we are drifting farther and farther away from one another. Our relationships with one another become more attenuated, more distant.
When I first came to work at AU I would marvel at the fact that students would instant message each other from across the hall. I later learned that it would sometimes happen from across the room. One student told me that when you’re in a fight with your roommate, you’ll sometimes keep the lines of communication open by instant messaging or texting. Professor Naomi Baron in the linguistics department has written about instant messaging as “communication below the radar.”
What she means by that is that instant messaging and texting all seem to be “off the record” communication. The kinds of things that you wouldn’t say directly to a person, but could say on IM. Indeed, I have found that to be true–people have said things to me on IM they would never say in person. Talking in person is…too real.
But God talks with Moses face to face , as “one speaks to a friend.” Friendship cannot happen at arm’s length. Friendship requires direct one on one contact. It requires talking . Friendship requires intimacy. Directness. Presence. It requires being real.
In the letter of James, he invokes the example of Abraham in his discourse on faith and works. James notes that Abraham was justified by his works and that he “believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” and he was called “a friend of God.”
What is it that gets Abraham the designation of “friend”? Listening would be one thing. But it’s more than the fact that Abraham did what God asked of him. It was that Abraham trusted God. The same word that means “believed in” is better translated as “trusted”.
Trusting in one another is an essential part of Christian friendship. The very fact that friendship and trusting are linked in the scripture implies that friends are also to be trusted. Fidelity, reliability, trustworthiness. These are all the aspects of real friendship. Of the kind of friendship a Christian should have.
And then we come to Jesus. It is part of the talk that Jesus gives to his disciples on the night before he is arrested. He says:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father
Jesus’ words convey a couple of important messages. First, friendship is known among equals. Now this does not mean that each person’s responsibilities or contributions within a friendship will be equal. That is, Friend A may be a better counselor then Friend B, but Friend B may be better at moving furniture than Friend A. Equality in a friendship doesn’t mean that Friend B has to be able to give counsel to his friend in the same way or that Friend A has to be able to move his friend’s furniture as easily. It means that between them there is no power dynamic. They are equals. One is not master to the other. One is not indebted to the other, or acting out of obligation. They are free. Just as Jesus describes his disciples.
And secondly, friendship is defined by willing self-sacrifice for the sake of the other. Friends do not hold back, they offer themselves freely for one another. Joyously. Lovingly.
In a world where friendship is increasingly becoming a tool for advantage. Where real relationships are being replaced by networking, this model of friendship is downright radical. Because it is transformative. It refuses to buy into the idea that human relationships are meant for advantage. It asserts that relationships are meant for giving, and giving freely.
IV. WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE
Jesus is our friend. And as with a lot of words that we use in Christian faith, “Father”, “Kingdom”, “Lord”, and so on, “Friend” is one of those terms that is defined not the way the world understands the term but the way that Christ defines it.
When the old hymn says “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!”–it is not talking about a friendship designed to gain advantage. Jesus is not a “contact” of ours. Jesus is not someone we know of .
Jesus is one who speaks to us face to face. Jesus is one in whom we can trust. Jesus invites us into relationship with God as equals, not as servants. Jesus is one who gives to us freely, out of loving self-sacrifice. Jesus defines what it means for us to be friends to one another.
Our technological world is a marvel. Instantaneous communication coupled with worldwide information networks has allowed us to be in touch as never before. Indeed, through Facebook and other networking sites like LinkedIn and others, I have gotten back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in years. Friends I thought were lost forever have been rediscovered through Google. I get Facebook invites from people I hadn’t seen since high school. There is a lot of promise and hope in something like that.
But there is a danger that we will too easily think of friendships as things to be accumulated, rather than as intentional relationships to be nurtured. We could easily think of the people in our lives as means by which we might gain some advantage, or make some contact, or–and this is going to become more so, I fear–get a job.
Christ reminds us that our friends are not means, they are ends in and of themselves. Our friendships are not social networking tools. They are real relationships. And in that reality, they are meant to reflect the relationship we have with our greatest Friend of all.