When God is your friend
Thursday, June 21, 2018 - 11:00 to 12:00
Who is your best friend? What characteristics make them your BFF, as they say these days? What is it about them that makes them so special? I ask that question because I read a quote not long ago by Ariana Grande, who I admire and respect immensely on many levels. As many of you know, there was a terrible terrorist attack during her concert in Manchester, and people died.
On June 4th 2017, she was back in Manchester hosting another concert along with some other artists, to raise funds for the families of the victims of the attack – real courage. She said this about friendship: “The best part about having a true friend is that you can go months without seeing them and they’ll still be there for you, and act as if you’d never left.” In other words, a true friend is a loyal friend who sticks with you.
In today’s passage from the book of Exodus, we have a case study in friendship. It’s a friendship unlike any other – between Moses and God. The story is very simple: when Moses was young, God called Moses to represent him to the people of Israel, to be a mediator. And when God called Moses to set the people of Israel free from the hands of the Egyptians and the pharaoh, Moses did as God said and led the people into the Promised Land. When Moses was given instructions to deliver the Law to the people – the Ten Commandments – it was Moses hearing from God. The Law came from a relationship between God and Moses.
But then a very strange moment. The people of Israel followed Moses into the wilderness on their way to a promised land that God provided. But in that wilderness, they’re living rough, they are complaining that they don’t have enough food, or the things that they had back in Egypt. They had nothing really, except tents and some manna from heaven, and some things that God gave them, and they were complaining. “Moses, you brought us here and now you’ve dumped us here.” God says of them, “these people have stiff necks,” they’re kind of rigid, but Moses has to deal with them. So how does Moses he deal with them?
He turns to God. He enters a special tent that is set aside just for him to talk to God. And we’re told very clearly in the text that God spoke to Moses face-to-face as one would talk to a friend. In other words, when Moses was in need, when Moses had these stiff-necked people giving him a hard time, he had a friend that he could turn to.
Now I don’t think we want to make the analogy between human friendship and divine friendship too closely. There is a difference between the two. We have a different relationship with God than we do with our BFF, but believe-you- me, God is the best friend that we will ever have. But what characteristics does this friendship with God have? What is it like? Well, really, I think it’s a safe relationship. When you have a relationship with someone, you’re able to tell them what’s on your mind, aren’t you? You know that you can do one thing above all: you can trust them. And when you can trust your friend, you can confide in them, tell them your secrets. You can say who you’re angry with, you can tell them the mistakes you have made, who you’ve fallen in love with, etc. You can say all kinds of things because you know that you are safe in trusting them, and that they will not betray you or let you down. You can rely of a BFF forever. Moses trusted in God.
The great writer, George Elliott – who by the way, was a woman names Marion, said the following: “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest of those things away.”
In other words, a friend – a true friend – is someone that you can share your problems with, you can even share your mistakes with. God is like that for us, we can do that with God. I tell people all the time, and I know that this sounds strange in some ways, but God accepts us and loves us as we are. But God wants us to grow and learn and mature, and sometimes that means God’s taking our things that are wrong and weak, and moving them off to one side and making us better. Sometimes it is the power of the Spirit that comes into our lives and changes us. So yes, God takes us as we are, but God also wants us to grow. Moses had to grow. Moses was a rough recruit and by no means perfect, but God used him and moulded him as a friend moulds us and shapes us. God’s voice was in Moses’ head during his life.
It is the beginning of the car-racing season, and you all know my love of car-racing. I remember my first driving instructor. He would not let us go out onto the track until we had studied with him for three hours in a classroom. I was so frustrated, because I just wanted to get out there and drive as fast as I could. And he said, “No, you’ve got to do class-time first.” There were all kinds of things he told us: how to sit, how to hold the wheel, how to set the mirrors, how to be courteous to other drivers, how to approach certain corners at the apex. Everything that we needed to know.
Then when you’re out on the track and everything’s happening really quickly – and it really happens quickly – you realise that the voice of that driving instructor is still in your head. And when you face a situation, it’s as if you hear that instructor telling you what to do, and you know you’re ready. Even though things are coming at you really quickly, you’ve known what to do.
Well, in a sense, our friendship with God is like that. It’s a relationship, and we need to take time, like Moses did to communicate with God. We need to have a time of prayer, a time to listen to God, a time set aside, so whatever we face in our lives, we’re ready for it.
Jesus said the same thing to his disciples in John chapter 15. He said, “You are my friends. If you obey my commandments, I will be with you always.” Now that is a real friend that you can be safe with, and that is exactly what Jesus Christ offers you this day. By making your vows today, you’re basically saying, “I am communicating and I am affirming that God, through Jesus Christ, is my safe BFF.”
But there’s something more; the friendship wasn’t just for us and God, it was a friendship that we should have with others for God. Moses didn’t just happen to have a great relationship with God, because everything was great and he could go into a tent and be with God. No, he went into the tent so he could come out and guide and nurture the people. You are called to do the same thing. You are called, like Moses was called, to be there, to be kind to others.
One of my favourite writers, and I’ve mentioned him before, is Frederick Buechner, who lives in New England. Buechner once said this: “Friendship is when you share your deepest gladness with the world’s deepest hunger.” And just like the people of Israel in the time of Moses, the world is hungry. In some cases it is hungry, literally, for food – one of the reasons why we have a food bank – it is hungry for truth, for guidance and holiness, for righteousness and justice, compassion and love. You need only watch the immigrants on boats to Spain right now to realise that there is a hunger for liberty and safety in the world. From your relationship with God and your friendship with God, just like Moses reached out to the people of Israel, so you reach out.
This is Fathers’ Day, and those of you here today who are fathers, and fathers of the confirmands, maybe the friendship that God had with Moses is really the friendship that you need to have with God, and what Moses did in meeting with God on a regular basis as a friend, face-to-face, is what you should be doing. You can be an ever-present guide, a reminder of God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s acceptance. As fathers, you have a unique role to play in being the bearers of the Good News of friendship with God.
In many ways, you should be like the people that Ariana Grande mentioned, and I quote her again, “The best part about having a true friend is that you can go months without seeing them and they’ll still be there for you, and act as if you’d never left.” Fathers should be those friends. God is that friend. You go and be friends to the world in the same way. Amen.