10th Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2016
“A Friend for the Ages”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the 2nd half of the Gospel lesson from Luke 11,
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
In just 2 weeks (August 5th) the 2016 Summer Olympics will celebrate its opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympics naturally become a stage on which the world is watching. Sometimes the games transcend the field of competition and become a mirror of our world. Who could forget the soap-opera drama of Nancy Kerrigan and Tawnya Harding in 1994? Or, take for instance the 1980 US hockey victory over the Soviet Union. Also consider the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, Germany during the rise to power of the Nazi party. A young American track and field star named Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the long jump at those games in 1936. The year before, 1935, he had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches — a record which would stand for 25 years. As he walked to the long-jump pit at the 1936 games, however, Owens saw a tall, blue eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Owens felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis’ desire to prove “Aryan superiority” at the 1936 games. The tall German introduced himself as Luz Long. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!” he said to Owens, referring to his two previous jumps. For the next few moments the black son of a sharecropper and the white model of Nazi manhood chatted. Then Luz Long made a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe? Owens and Long did just that, and both qualified in the long jump event easily.
Isn’t that the way it goes? People from differing backgrounds or ideologies become friends? I bet you have a friend or two that you never thought you would ever consider a friend. By the same token I can imagine that you have had your fair share of friends come and go in your life. No one keeps the same friends forever. I have lived in Nebraska and all over Minnesota and Iowa and Missouri and I would be willing to bet that I have lost more friends than I still have from all those places. Friends come, friends go. Friends love us, friends hate us, but true friends keep coming back by virtue of the friendship that we share.
Today’s Gospel text is really three different texts in one and I would like to focus on the “middle slice,” the parable of the friend in need calling on another friend. In this parable a friend shows up at the home of his friend late at night looking for some food to serve. Now we have to remember that this is 1st century Israel. There is no Publix Supermarket, no Wal-Mart open 24/7. The people at that time had a limited ability to preserve or store food for an extended period. Refrigerators and food preservatives were still a long ways off. Food was basically prepared and eaten the same day. This friend needed food and quick! Company had arrived after traveling and were probably in need of nourishment and rest. This friend needed help! This friend needed assistance!
The reaction of the friend inside was not the expected reaction…or was it? With his friend calling out to him from the street, the friend inside responds as any grumpy person would after being woken up in the middle of the night. “What! I can’t get up! The door’s locked. If I get up everyone else will wake up too (like they couldn’t hear all this shouting?).” “Don’t give me trouble,” he said to his anxious neighbor in the street. Someone once said, “True friends are like good health; you don’t realize what a gift they are until you lose them,” and I guess they were right.
Have you ever been a friend like that? Have you ever seen a good friend, a loved one, a neighbor in need but turned your back or turned them away? So often we see our friends or neighbors in need, but we don’t do anything or say anything or speak up. We don’t want to get involved; it’s too messy, it’s too dangerous. We turn a blind eye to their suffering and hope for the best for them rather than take action.
But the point is that even though the neighbor is shameless about their request, the friendly neighbor answers the request. He is a true friend to the one in need. The one in need is not abandoned in their dark moment, but instead their needs are met. The world needs more friends like that, doesn’t it?
Well, this world has a friend for the ages. Now a friend is usually just a friend, nobody in particular. The word “friend” doesn’t necessarily stand for Jesus, even though we love to sing about “what a friend we have in Jesus.” In addition to being our God, in addition to being our Savior, in addition to being our Redeemer, in addition to being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world, Jesus is also our friend. In Matthew 11:19, Jesus is called a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But nowhere is the nature and magnitude and depth of our friendship with Jesus noted more completely than in John 15. Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends” (13-14a).
By laying down His life for us, His friends, our Lord Jesus saved us from the sinfulness that keeps us quiet in the face of a suffering friend or a neighbor in need. Sin wants us to shut up and turn away and keep our mouths shut and worry about our own business. But Jesus, our friend for the ages, died on the cross for the forgiveness of those sins so that instead of turning away, we can help a friend or neighbor in need. We can love our friends and neighbors, because we have been loved by God first – a love that was so great that it sent Jesus to the cross and grave for us; and great enough to raise Him from the tomb to complete our salvation.
In the 1936 Olympic long jump finals Jesse Owens set an Olympic record by leaping 26’ 5” – a world record for 24 years – and earned the second of his four medals. The first person to congratulate him was Luz Long — in full view of Adolf Hitler who was so angry he left the stadium before the medal ceremony was over. Owens never again saw Luz Long, who was drafted into the Nazi army and killed in World War II. “You could melt down all the medals I have,” Owens later wrote, “and they wouldn’t be a platting on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.” We too have a friend who died, but he did so that we might have the honor and privilege of living as forgiven sinners who can now approach God the Father to ask him for anything, and we know that He hears our prayers and answers because that’s what friends do, and that’s what Jesus is…our friend for the ages.