Just friends

The sermon at the eleven o'clock service on Sunday 9 February will be on friendship. Simon Harvey writes:

I returned to my home town for the funeral of a friend yesterday. Paul was the kind of person that everyone liked. The church was packed and our gathering was easy, joyous even. There was nothing in the mood that felt forced or difficult.

In our shared hours of remembering our dear friend, we smiled often, laughed out loud and we shed tears too. But it all felt straightforward, relaxed even. None of us were having to try too hard. We cared (that’s why we were all there) and the carefulness of the community was natural and spontaneous. It helped, of course, that we had one focus. The death of someone special to us all put all of life’s other problems into proper perspective. It will be years before I see most of those people again but I drove away feeling thankful and more deeply connected by bonds of belonging.

Friendship is under pressure these days. Our hyper-connected world allows us to talk to almost anyone on the planet within moments. For those of us in the contemporary workplace, incessant interaction is the order of things. The people who serve us in call centres or at shop counters have been trained to treat us with amiability rather than old fashioned respect but this makes us wary of faux-friendship. We’re not short of people being "instrumentally friendly". What we’re missing is real friendship.

Real friendship blossoms when time is shared between people where there’s no burden of agenda, no transaction, no expectation of anything being achieved or delivered as a result. True friends have to renounce the hope that they will soon benefit in some direct way. Otherwise we may hear, “She’s not your friend, she’s just using you.”

This absence of expectation may be why the youngest and the oldest are better at friendships than the middling generations. I see this in church each Sunday. After the service, the children play together, the older members sit and talk with people they’ve known for years. Those of us in the middle are more likely to be fidgeting with our coffee cups, wondering who we should talk to, thinking of all that we need to do, and being a bit nervous. Above all, we fret about what we should be doing. Perhaps we don’t need to do much at all.

The gospels tell how in Jesus, God came to us not only to teach, heal and achieve the miraculous. He also came to be with us. The word that’s used is abide, which sounds more religious than hang around, chill out or linger but means much the same. Among other things, God so loved the world that he came to spend time with us. In the three years Jesus spent with his disciples, a close band of very unlikely associates, there must have been long shared periods of simply being together in unhurried presence. This godly, non-anxious, non-judgemental imminence is fertile for friendship.

We’ll be exploring a little more about friendship in our sermon at eleven o’clock this Sunday. Come and join us and if you’re looking to find friends, relax a little, be yourself, and hang around. And if you’re hoping to turn acquaintances into friends, try getting together for no purpose whatsoever and seeing what happens.