(Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/r8ML7QbBTHo)
Jesus said, “9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I 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. 16You 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. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
There’s a story about Thomas Jefferson, our third president and one of our country’s founding fathers, that is helpful after going through a week of flooding like we just did. The story goes that Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river which had flooded over its banks, not unlike our three surrounding rivers. The flooding was bad that they saw that even the bridge was submersed under water. Because of this, each rider was forced to cross the river on horseback and fight against the rapid currents. There was a very definite threat of death should the horse get swept up in the current and carry its rider downstream. Ahead of the Jefferson and his group was a man who was terrified to take the risk and sat on his horse, paralyzed. After several of Jefferson’s group had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would help him across the river. The president agreed to help without hesitation. The man climbed on and the two of them made it safely to the other side. As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the men in Jefferson’s group asked him, “Tell me, why did you choose the president to ask to help you?” The stranger looked stunned and said he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. “All I know,” he said, “is that on some of your faces was written the answer ‘no’ and on some of them was written the answer ‘yes.’ The president’s face was a ‘yes’ face.”
These last few days have been a challenge for many of us. We didn’t expect to start Thursday morning with the reality of water coming in the basement. Sure, the rain was coming down pretty hard Wednesday night. If you were awake and trying to walk across Lancaster Ave. around midnight like I was, you saw about a foot of water rushing down the street. You made it home and likely told yourself, “Well, good thing they built all those watersheds along the rivers around town. The water will simply puddle up in some places around town.” You went to bed not thinking about the possibility of more than mere puddles. A few hours later and water was pouring into the basement. “Wait a second, I thought those watersheds kept the water at bay…how is this happening?!” Then you looked out the window and saw the reality—water on all four sides, slowly creeping closer to the house.
Water was everywhere. Some houses took in more of it than others but the water crested by midday and made it a quick retreat relatively speaking. Most of us woke up Friday morning with little to no water in our yards and the streets around us. It’s leaving the streets in a mere 24 hours was a real blessing. Of course, the water didn’t really leave the town—it stayed in our homes. We set about the grueling task of getting it out of our homes and began the grueling clean-up process. This was the real challenge! Watching it rise, watching it pour in our homes, that was the easy part…that was the entertaining part of it all. Alas, all good things come to an end and we realize there’s a price to pay for such “cheap” entertainment. Nothing in life is free, not even the cheap thrills of watching a boat come down the street or a man wading through the water casting a fishing reel.
The waters eventually receded and the clean-up process began. Some people lost photos, some lost toys. Some people lost furniture while others lost vehicles. No, we each paid a price to have so much water run through our town. Not that any of us wanted to pay that price! Seeing a boat or a fisherman where they shouldn’t be isn’t worth such a steep price.
Though we all paid a price, we also shared a common experience. We crossed that river together. And amidst that crossing we encountered friends. We encountered people willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources to help us endure the heartbreaking clean-up process. They didn’t have to help us. They didn’t need to help us. They probably weren’t too excited to help us. But they came anyways. They saw our need and came. We who were looking out at the treacherous waters of clean-up were picked up and carried across those waters by unknown friends. There are many cute little quips about who a friend is but the one I am particularly fond of is: a friend is someone who runs in when the world runs away. Life is filled with all sorts of threatening waters that we’re each expected to cross. Just because we must each cross them does mean we have to cross them alone. Friends cross those waters with us.
In our readings for this week, we hear of how God crosses those waters with us. First, we hear of how the Holy Spirit came upon the people to whom Peter was preaching in the reading from Acts. We hear how the Spirit came to both the circumcised believers and the uncircumcised non-believers. God comes to those who believe and those who have yet to believe. Friends are not unlike God. Friends help those they know and those they don’t know. It is in their nature to be friendly to both the deserved and undeserving alike. God wants to be friends with each of us, both the deserving and undeserving. God sends out His Spirit upon ALL of us so that we might ALL consider Him our friend. God loves ALL of us! We are ALL His beloved children whether we believe in in Him or not. Yes, God wants us to believe in Him, have faith in Him, and place our trust in Him. God wants to be considered a friend; someone we can count on to run in when the world runs away. God never leaves us. God walks with us through both our good times and our bad times. Believe it or not, God walked with us these last few days. God had a purpose with the flood waters. Everything in our lives has a purpose. Only God knows what the purpose is but be assured that God walked with us through the floodwaters. God is our friend. God came to us in the friends who helped us and will continually come to us in the days and weeks ahead as a friend.
We heard in gospel lesson how Jesus came to his disciples as a friend. Jesus said, “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.” God doesn’t want us to think of Him as a master. God wants us to think of Him as a friend. The Son comes to us as a friend willing and eager to share everything that the Father knows. God isn’t a hidden God. God is revealed to us through the Son. Perhaps more accurately, the love of God is revealed to us through the Son. Jesus said, “No one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” A friend doesn’t have to help. A friend doesn’t need to help. A friend isn’t excited to help in our times of need. Jesus lived and embodied true friendship. We ARE his friends! We are God’s friends! The cross shows us God’s friendship with us.
We’re tired and aching. Some of us have gotten a good start on the clean-up process. For some of us, the process will go on for days and weeks ahead. Be assured that God is our friend, willing to walk with us and sometimes carry us through treacherous waters in this life. God sent His Son to die for us because He is our friend. Prayerfully include God in your clean-up process. God IS…a friend indeed!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.