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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Sept. 6, 2020: Sermon by The Reverend John F. Hartman

The Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20 and Sermon Recording:

The Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20 and Sermon

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2020
The Reverend John F. Hartman


Grace and peace from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the 1980 movie Ordinary People the main character is a high school senior who’s had a nervous breakdown. He can’t communicate with his parents and his only friend also had a breakdown. When this friend commits suicide the boy phones his counselor at midnight and demands to see him immediately. In the powerful scene that follows the emotional walls the boy has built to protect himself begin to crumble. Finally, he bursts into tears and blurts out, “All right! I’m lonely. I’m scared, and I want you to be my friend.  The counselor gathers the boy up into his arms, hugs him tight, and says, “I’m your friend, count on it.”

Count on it. What kind of love is communicated when someone says — I’m your friend. Count on it? What is there about a real friendship that makes it so special? When you describe someone as your best friend you’re describing a holy communion, a communion that diminishes the pain of being alone, a communion of unqualified acceptance. Basically, a friendship is born when one person says to another, “What? You too? Wow, I thought I was the only one.”

Friendship grows out of two people discovering a common ground when they thought they were alone. “What? Your favorite book is Moby Dick? Me too.”  This simple exchange may spark a friendship based simply on a unique sharing. “You’ve run in a marathon? Me too.” “You go to AA meetings? Me too.” “You were in the Navy? Me, too.”  Any of these could be the beginning of a friendship.

My best friend is Rick, we’ve been friends for over 30 years. Rick was my number one cheerleader and confidant in my discerning years becoming an Episcopal priest.

This is the kind of friendship Jesus is talking about when he says, “For where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am there among them.”   He makes those words little sacraments of his love. Yes, these little words become sacraments of Christ and carry his love into our hearts and minds.

Perhaps the most intimate holy communion in the Bible is the friendship that bonds a young widow named Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  Ruth 1.16 (NRSV)

Talk about — Count on it.

Christ Jesus is a human god born to a human mother with human brothers, walking this earth, hanging out with friends, teaching and leading, and eating and partying with friends, feeding hungry people, clothing the naked, helping those stricken with disaster.

In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Matthew we’re given a picture of what earthly friendships can be like when transformed by Jesus Christ. For Jesus says to his disciples, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  In other words, friendships must be redeemed. Jesus came to us so he could experience us and we could experience him. And sure enough, God was there. Aspecial feeling was there. Joy was there just as it always is when friends or family or even strangers gather together in his name.  That’s why the gathering in his name is so important! That’s why Jesus spends the previous few verses defending it and talking about what to do if the bond of unity is ever threatened or broken.

If someone has something against you or you have something against them, take it to them, then to witnesses, then to the church, because you don’t want this bond of unity threatened or eroded for wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

It’s important that we remember where this whole idea of friendship and love began; it began with Jesus of course. Jesus gathered 12 disciples together and then 70 other followers and then called on them to feed 5,000. It was Jesus who taught them to love each other.

Christianity is a social faith. It’s impossible to be a Christian alone. As Paul says, “all the commandments are summed up in these words. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Imagine God speaking to us here in this sacred space as someone speaks to a close friend. Imagine us towering as a church, aloft with deeply redeemed friendships. Imagine it. For we are invited today to hear Jesus Christ saying to each one of us — Count on it. I am your friend … … and you are mine.

What do I do when my love is away?
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day?
Are you sad because you’re on your own?
No I get by with a little help from my friends
I get high with a little help from my friends
I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends
Do you need anybody?
I need somebody to love
Could it be anybody?
I want somebody to love.

By the grace of God. Amen.