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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

A Friend Indeed

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

“You need all the friends you can get.” That’s what good old Charlie Brown once said. And as a business man once said, “I make all the friends I can, everywhere I can. You never know when you’ll need them, or what you’ll need them for. But sooner or later anyone comes in handy.”

People do come in handy. When you need them. When you can use them… or weren’t people made – and meant – to be used? I mean, what are people for?

Let’s be honest. We all use people. We use them to our advantage. We’re capable of playing games with people as pawns. There are social games where we pit people against people, or pile people on top of people so we can climb up and over. There are economic games – using people like poker chips in the gamble for success. There are personal games – using people as props, leaning on them as emotional crutches. Not to mention the ways people can be used physically, sexually, mentally, or even religiously. How many good uses are there for people?!

But wait a minute! I don’t like being used! And neither do you! In fact, I don’t like people-users at all! People are people – not pawns, not play things or poker chips. People are people – they’re not usable, or collectable, or tradeable, or disposable, or forgettable. People are perishable. People are priceless. People are irreplaceable. People are to be respected!

God made things to be used, and people to be loved. To reverse that, to love things and use people, is one of the oldest, lowest, meanest sins there is.

We were put in this world to live with our neighbor. That’s the hard part – living with our neighbor. We’d rather be over him, above him, or ahead of him. Anything but live with him!

Check off the sins we enjoy:

· Envy – the attempt to put ourselves in place of our neighbor.

· Pride – the struggle to place ourselves above our neighbor.

· Anger – the decision to pit ourselves against our neighbor.

· Neglect – the intent to enjoy ourselves without our neighbor.

· Dishonesty – the tactic to enrich ourselves at the expense of our neighbor.

· Betrayal – the scheme to advance ourselves behind the back of our neighbor.

· Lust – the shortcut to intimacy for ourselves in spite of the other.

Yes, anything rather than live with – truly with – our neighbor. So we use him and abuse him.

I suppose we all know people who use people and enjoy some of these sins. I also suppose most of us don’t feel we’re guilty of any of them. But maybe we do more of it than we’d like to admit – in subtle ways we don’t usually care to mention.

· What is gossip but a means of pulling down those above or near you in a vain attempt to rise above them.

· What is cliquishness but an attempt at using the unity of a few friendships to crowd out the competition of others.

· What is criticism but a technique for cutting down those you can’t reach any other way.

· And what is flattery but the art of lathering people for more painless shaving – so you can trim them for what you want: acceptance, reassurance, or their admiration.

The Bible has a lot to say about these sins. I’ll just look at a couple of them. Like gossip as a first example. Listen to Proverbs: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Prov. 16:28) Or, “Without wood, a fire dies out. Without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Prov. 26:20) And “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Prov. 17:9) Destroying a friendship – what a dirty, rotten trick!

Or take envy. The last of the Ten Commandments are obvious: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey (and it’s easy to modernize those things), or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)

What an unrewarding way of using people. Envy isn’t even fun! In fact, it makes you feel bad. As Solomon wrote, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Prov. 14:30) The envious person unconsciously recognizes the superiority of the other person. Maybe that’s why envy is the sin we never confess, the fault we refuse to face. We own up to pride, lust, anger, or most other emotions. But envy? No way! When we feel real live envy, we don’t talk about it.

To own up to envy is to admit defeat, inferiority, and inadequacy. It’s a rare person who will admit the superiority of a competitor. And that’s where envy hits us hardest. In competition. Envy is the competitive sin. It’s the competition of people climbing over people. Envy is the fruit of the one totally competitive root: pride.

When pride is frustrated, or defeated in competition, envy is born. So Cain plots to murder Abel. So King Saul eyes David whose success is a threat to his throne. And so men plotted to execute Jesus. Or didn’t you recall that the motive for Jesus’ execution was envy? Pilate the judge recognized it as such. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “For Pilate knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” (Matt. 27:18)

However – whenever – wherever it is done, using people is abusing people. There are no justifications for it. People are persons to be respected. And so the Apostle Peter wrote, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (1 Peter 2:1)

Now listen to this style of life – it’s totally different: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The Apostle Paul wrote that to the Christians at Philippi. (Phil. 2:3-4) Or listen to the Apostle John: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21)

That’s a different kind of life – a totally different sort of living. It’s a giving kind of life that lives for others, instead of assuming all others live for us and our sake. It’s the kind of life that begins when a person pledges to love God – heart, soul, strength, and mind – and to love his neighbor as himself.

When a person cares about people, that way, then things change. Then he has no uses for people. Then he begins accepting people as people, and respecting people as persons.

Here are the facts: Before God, we are equally poor, so there’s nothing to be envious about. Before God, we’re equally rich, so we’ve nothing to fight over. Before God, none of us are accepted because of our brilliance, skills, personalities, or good fortune. We’re all equally in need of God’s goodness of heart which we call “grace”. And what’s more, we’re all equally in need of Jesus Christ, through whom we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Once this sinks into a person’s brain, heart, and spirit, then he can begin sharing the impartial, unconditional kind of love God showed when He gave Himself, in Jesus, for all people – with no exceptions. Then a person can begin sharing that kind of love – God’s kind of love – with all the people around him.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant doesn’t know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” (John 15:13-15)

And what did our Divine Friend do for us? He laid down His life for us. Literally! And He said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

And if we’re wondering just what God’s kind of love is, the Apostle Paul tells us: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a,13)

May the Lord help us to reject any and all people-using schemes or strategies, and to live and love – the Jesus way!!


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