[Paul writes] “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” Romans 1:8-10
This morning I find myself missing one of my dearest friends. He was also one of the most unlikely of friends. Greg was a homeless African American man who frequented my former parish in Charleston, SC. From my first day as a pastor, Greg helped shape my ministry in ways he would never know. As our friendship grew, Greg would share details about is life with me that he would disclose to no one else. As trust grew even deeper, I would share such details with him. These are the things best friends do, and Greg and I were probably the most unlikely pair of friends you would ever encounter. Sadly, my friend Greg passed away soon after I came to my new church and I shall not see him again, at least not in this life. I saw a man this morning that reminded me of Greg and I realized how much I miss his company.
Certainly we all have people from our past with whom we wish we had maintained contact over the years. I can think of several people who I have great memories of but with whom I have not kept in touch. I suppose I could say we are still friends, but that might be a bit misleading. Friendship is not a noun that simply describes a relationship between people; it is also something that takes time and great effort to maintain. Quality friendships endure because those in such relationships have a genuine interest in the life of the other. When separated they care enough to keep the lines for communication open. Best friends keep in touch; they do their best to remain in contact with one another. Life doesn’t seem complete without a word from one’s best friend.
The apostle Paul most certainly formed friendships with those churches he visited throughout his journeys. Paul had many friends, he loved many people and many loved him. Paul kept the lines for communication open. Paul also strengthened his friendships through a daily diet of prayer for his friends in far off lands. He gave thanks to God constantly for the friendships God had blessed him to share. Through his epistle letters, Paul not only helps the Church to grow in faith and love for God and one another, he shares with us his friendships which were formed through the love of God in Christ Jesus. Paul teaches the Church about the gospel, faith, discipleship. He also teaches us about friendship. Rooting his friendships in Christ, Paul gives us the example of what true friendship means; compassionate, caring and close relationships between God’s people.
Christians are not unlike others in the world in that we often times become nostalgic when we think of distant friends. Many of our friends are those we have lost touch with through the years. Sometimes we feel reluctant to reconnect, seemingly embarrassed by our lack of communication. “Maybe they’ve forgotten us?” “Perhaps they too have moved on?” “I suppose it was so long ago they might not remember me.” Sadly, rationalizing distant friendships in this way leads to even further separation. So do we simply forget those friends from our past? Certainly not! Christians should always remember, as Paul shows us, the friendships we enjoy with those whom we have worshipped, prayed and communed with are those that will endure.
The memories of our friends are their memories as well. Not only do we reminisce about our past friendships, but the friends from our past most likely remember us fondly too. But what can we do about it? Well, for starters we can pray and thank God for the gift of friendship. Praying for our friends keeps those lines of communication open. Lifting up those cherished memories and give God thanks for the good times are ways of recognizing past friendships, and allow us to once again feel the joy of being a friend to someone whom we love. I pray that as you reconnect with friends for your past, you too will see such relationships as rooted in Christ, strong and enduring.