Friday, August 20, 2010

The sacredness of friendship, the blessings of compassion

On Saturday I will be preaching a homily at a memorial service for a young man, Jeremy Pinkerton, who was killed in an car accident last weekend. The service will be held at a Baptist Church which has graciously opened its doors to accommodate the large number of people expected to come.

Jeremy did not go to my church, and I never knew him. I just met his parents on Wednesday when they came to ask me to conduct this service for their son. They did not know me, but they came to my office because they were brought by close friends who are members of St. Paul's. I am honored to be a part of this for them, and I am honored their friends brought them to me.

This tragic event has me reflecting once again on the importance of friendship. Not just importance, but the sacredness of friendship. True friends are there with us in the joyful moments and the times of great pain. They know how we feel without asking. They are there for us, not with unsolicited advice but with their presence, their laughter, their tears. Friends are truly the reflection of God's boundless love, no-strings-attached. True friendship has no strings attached.

We don't do anywhere near enough in the Church to bless and honor friendships.

In this morning's Daily Office reading, from the Book of Job, three friends hear of Job's terrible suffering. His children have been killed in an inexplicable accident, and he is has a physically painful disease. The three friends -- Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite -- do the greatest thing they can do for Job. They show up:
"When the saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him in the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great."
-- Job 2:12-13
No one spoke a word. No one needed to. The friends lived with Job in his pain, and that was the greatest gift of friendship imaginable. Yet it is so hard to do. Later in the Book of Job, the friends start offering all sorts of trite advice and become a burden to Job. But for now they sit with him and suffer with him. That kind of friendship, I believe, comes only as a gift from God.

I came across this quote yesterday from Henri J.M. Nouwen that I think captures this well, and I share it with you:
"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it."
Maybe the best prayer we can say for our friends who are suffering is ask for the strength to set aside our need to control so that we can be there with our friends no matter how painful or awkward it becomes for us. And may each of us accept the blessings of our friends in our own times of joy and pain, for when we do we will be looking into the eyes of God.
A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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