"Seeing God In The Ordinary: Friends"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A Shoebox Greetings card had this message about friends: "You're the kind of friend who wouldn't laugh if we were in a fancy restaurant and I came out of the bathroom with a streamer of toilet paper on my heel." (inside the card) "O.K., you'd laugh, but you wouldn't start singing, "I know something yoooooou don't know" and make me guess till I figured it out." (1)
One of the greatest human longings and desires is to be close to someone through the bond of friendship. Friends offer us companionship. Friends offer us support and help.
Someone wrote, "A good friend or neighbor is one who watches your vacation slides all evening and never mentions that he has been there too." (2)
Another wrote, "Friends are the Bacon Bits in the Salad Bowl of Life." (3)
Jesus had a lot of disciples but Scripture only really records three friends. They were Mary, Martha and Lazarus who lived in Bethany. Their home was a home away form home for Jesus. It was a safe haven of rest. Today's passage tells us about in incident in the life of Jesus' friends that changed everything and allows us to see God in the Ordinary through our Friends. The passage is John 11:1-45 I'm going to read selected verses.
 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.
 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."
 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,
 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."
 Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.
 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,
 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.
 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him."
 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."
 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."
 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."
 Jesus began to weep.
 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."
 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me.
 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."
 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
Jesus wept because Lazarus was his friend and we always weep when we lose a close friend. We cherish our friendships, just as Jesus did. And those friendships help us See In The Ordinary.
I. STICK WITH US:
We can See God In The Ordinary because: Friends Stick With Us. Someone wrote: "A friend is one who, in times of trouble, walks in while everyone else is walking out." Friends stick with us.
Earl C. Willer tells the story of two men who grew up best friends: Though Jim was just a little older than Phillip and often assumed the role of leader, they did everything together. They even went to high school and college together. After college they joined the Marines.
By a unique series of circumstances they were sent to Germany together where they fought side by side in one of history's ugliest wars. One sweltering day during a fierce battle, amid heavy gunfire, bombing, and close-quarters combat, they were given the command to retreat. As the men were running back, Jim noticed that Phillip had not returned with the others. Panic gripped his heart. Jim knew if Phillip was not back in another minute or two, then he wouldn't make it.
Jim begged his commanding officer to let him go after his friend, but the officer forbade the request, saying it would be suicide. Risking his own life, Jim disobeyed and went after Phillip. His heart pounding, he ran into the gunfire, calling out for Phillip. A short time later, his platoon saw him hobbling across the field carrying a limp body in his arms. Jim's commanding officer chewed him out, shouting that it was a foolish waste of time and an outrageous risk. "Your friend is dead, and there was nothing you could do."
Jim replied, "No sir, you're wrong. I got there just in time. Before he died, his last words were 'I knew you would come.'" (4)
We can See God In The Ordinary because: Friends Stick With Us.
II. SEE AND DO THE IMPOSSIBLE:
A. We can See God In The Ordinary because: Friends help us See And Do The Impossible.
I've always been fascinated by the banter between Jesus and Martha when he first shows up. She upbraids him for not getting there on time to save Lazarus. Then she says: "But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Mary was challenging Jesus to Do The Impossible.
How many of you went to see Journey To Center Of The Earth? Did you see the 3D version. Wasn't that cool? The basic story is that a science professor, Dr. Trevor Anderson, whose radical theories have completely tarnished his reputation. These radical theories were first put forth by his brother Max. Trevor has never stopped believing. With his nephew Sean, who was dropped off by his mother to spend some quality time with his uncle, Trevor embarks on a thrilling journey.
On the journey they hire a mountain guide, the daughter of the only other scientist who believed Max's theory. She thinks it is all baloney. Along with their mountain guide they travel deep beneath the Earth's surface, where they discovers a fantastic and dangerous lost world in the center of the earth.
When they first realize what they are seeing, Trevor says, "Max was right. They both believed in something that everyone told them was impossible. He was right."
Max's theory would never have been vindicated had Trevor not believed both in his brother and in the theory. Through this journey, the names and reputations of Max, Trevor, and Professor Ásgeirsson are restored. (5)
B. Like in the movie, there are times in our lives when our Friends not only Stick With Us, but often times they help us See And Do The Impossible by encouraging us when others have nothing but doubts. A friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you've been, accepts who you've become, and still, gently invites you to grow. A faithful friend is an image of God who helps us See God In The Ordinary by helping us See And Do The Impossible.
III. EXPERIENCE RESURRECTION:
A. We can See God In The Ordinary because: Friends help us Experience Resurrection. Most of us are like Martha who said: "I know Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." She didn't realize that much of this journey of faith we are on is about Experiencing Resurrection everyday. We can Experience Resurrection everyday because we experience little deaths almost every day.
Dr. Robert Tuttle tells the true story of one of those little deaths and resurrections. It seems there was a nine-year-old boy sitting at his desk, and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet, and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop, because he can't possibly imagine how this has happened. It's never happened before. He was dying on the inside because he knew when the others boys found out, he would never hear the end of it. He also knew that when the girls found out, they would never speak to him again as long as he lives.
That little boy believed his heart is going to stop, so he put his head down and prayed this prayer: "Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I'm dead meat."
He looked up from his prayer, and there came the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he's been discovered. As the teacher was on her way to snatch him up, a classmate named Susie was carrying a gold fish bowl filled with water.
Susie tripped right in front of the teacher and wound up dumping the bowl in the boy's lap. The boy pretended to be angry, but the whole time was saying, "Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Jesus!"
All of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, that boy became the object of sympathy. The teacher rushed him downstairs and gave him gym shorts to put on while his pants dried, then brought him back to the room. All the other classmates are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk, sympathy is wonderful!
But as life would have it, the ridicule that should have been his has been transferred to someone else, Susie. She tried to help, but they told her to get out. "You've done enough, you klutz!"
As the day progressed, the sympathy got better and better and the ridicule got worse. Finally, at the end of the day, they are waiting for the bus, and once again Susie was shunned by the other children. The boy walked over to Susie and whispered, "Susie, you did that on purpose, didn't you?"
Susie whispered back, "I wet my pants once too." (6)
We've all faced those little deaths. We've all faced that moments when we didn't physically die but we died inside because we knew we were going to be dead meat. The Good News is that Jesus is always there when we die, even if it's just dying inside from embarrassment and pain. Jesus always offers resurrection and new life. Jesus always acts not only as our Savior but as our friend.
We can See God In The Ordinary because: Friends like Susie and friends like Jesus help us Experience Resurrection everyday.
Somebody wrote: "A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway." (7) That pretty much sounds like a summation of most of the Gospel. God knows us all too well, and yet, offers unconditional love through His Son Jesus.
You know, when you stop to think about it, Seeing God In The Ordinary Through Friends Who Stick With Us, who help us See And Do The Impossible, and who help us Experience Resurrection, really describes the relationship God wants with each of us. And the relationship Jesus offers to each of us. If you remember the first Scripture reading from John, Jesus says, "I no longer call you servants, now I call you friends."
You won't get a deal like that anywhere else but through Christ, I don't care how many times you watch Deal or No Deal. And with this friendship, you won't have to worry about being laughed at by God, even if you do have toilet paper stuck to your heal.
Reach out and take the hand of the Greatest Friend of all, Jesus.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, February 1997
2. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, February 2002
3. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, February 2002
4. Adapted: John C. Maxwell and Dan Reiland, The Treasure of a Friend (J. Countryman Books, 1999)
5. Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D, Walden Media and New Line Cinema
6. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, June 1996
7. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, February 1996
Other References Consulted