Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Jesus: More Than a Facebook Friend

Dear Friends,

Years ago, a teenage girl named Marianne lived with her family in Sylmar and went to First Lutheran High School. Marianne was a very pretty girl, one of the most popular girls at First Lutheran and in her senior year was the head cheerleader. Her girlfriends were the most beautiful and popular girls in the school and were also on the cheerleader team. Marianne and her friends were the ones the popular boys wanted to date and these cheerleaders were the ones the not-so-popular boys could only dream about. The boys that were shy, nerdy and tongue-tied around girls, all knew the cheerleaders were way out of their league.

Damian* was one of those boys. He was a shy Mexican boy in a school that was still mostly white. The other kids teased him and called him a nerd. And then Damian became very sick and started missing school. Damian had leukemia – a very fast acting cancer of the blood cells. He started receiving chemo-therapy and First Lutheran sent one of the teachers to his home to help him study. His mother was a young single working parent and so Damian spent his days alone, sick in their apartment. That's when Marianne and her friends decided to visit him. One Saturday, they all showed up. Imagine Damian's surprise when the most beautiful and popular girls in his school came to see him. And as his cancer progressed, they visited him, played games with him and watched TV with him. They brought pizza and had pizza parties with him. A couple of times they spread their sleeping bags down in his living room and even had a sleep-over at his house. Damian had gone from the nerdy guy all the other guys had teased and made fun of, to having the most popular girls in school as his best friends. 

When Damian died, the entire school was shut down so that the faculty and students could go to his funeral at St Didacus Catholic Church here in Sylmar. I was there too. The first pew was filled with the teenage girls grieving over the loss of their best friend. Into Damian’s life at the end, these girls had brought great joy. Marianne and her friends lifted up his spirits and encouraged him. They gave him gifts and hugs and love. And at the same time, God was giving each girl the most precious gift of all. Their priority had been clothes and cute boys, but God was showing them what a sacrificial, other-centered friendship looked like. The girls now set their own lives aside and focused on making life better for Damian. They could have been spending time with any boy in school and they chose Damian. They had a choice of parties on a Saturday and they went to Damian's to watch movies and eat popcorn. At the end of Damian’s life, God him the best friends he could ever hope to have. And to these young teenage girls, God gave each one of them a best friend who would change their life forever. To God be the glory!

There are three kinds of friendships. There are friendships based on what the other person can do for us. We see that in business and politics where you are not my friend unless you can do something for me. The second kind of friendship is one that brings us pleasure. Those are not deep friendships. We just like being with that other person. We enjoy their company. The third kind of friendship is based on an unconditional love and a commitment to care for one another. We may have only one or two of these “best” friends and are blessed when we do. But the one true best friend we could ever have is Jesus. 

Jesus calls those who believe in Him and who follow His commandments His friends John 15:10-15 and we love to sing the hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. The song  brings us consolation, comfort and encouragement. We sing that He’s a friend we can cast our sins and grief upon, and sing that it’s a privilege to carry everything to him in prayer. We love that Jesus calls us His friend. But can we honestly call Jesus our friend? For too many of us, if we treated any of our other friends like we treat Jesus, we'd have no friends at all. We spend time with Jesus for about an hour or so on a Sunday morning and ignore Him the rest of our week. Jesus wants us to come before Him and talk to Him through our prayers, but there are so many more important things for us to do. Jesus told us to love others like He does, and instead, we justify our reasons for hating others. Jesus treats us like He is our one true best friend forever, but are we treating Jesus more like a casual Facebook friend? Someone we know slightly, if at all?

A friend of Jesus will weep and pray with Him over a hungry child anywhere. A friend of Jesus will weep and pray with Him over those in Las Vegas. A friend of Jesus will weep and pray over those suffering from the earthquake in Mexico City and the surrounding towns. A friend of Jesus will weep over those in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. A friend of Jesus will pray for the poor, the outcast, the addict, the homeless and the lost. Because what is important to our good Friend is important to us. And when we are truly following Jesus, we will be called to feed the hungry who will never know of our sacrifice to do so. We will be called to pray for those who will not thank us for our prayers. We will be called to care for the sick who will die anyway. And we will be called to forgive our enemies who will continue to hate us. That’s what the unconditional love of Jesus looks like. And as those young teenage girls learned two decades ago, following Jesus means setting yourself aside and loving and caring for others just as He does. And when we do that, that’s when Jesus tells us, “I’ll be your best friend forever!” John 15:12-14 Amen?

* Some names and details are changed to protect privacy

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