A Sermon preached in St Andrew’s Church in Great Durnford, Wiltshire in 2005 reproduced here on request. I have read it through and there is little I would want to change. Recommended reading Martin Buber: ‘I and Thou’
This morning I want to talk a little about friendship and a little about risk taking.
The risk taking I wish to explore is that which is personal. It is about my manner of living, about my own inner life and my capacity to live life to the full. It is about all that is rooted in my relationships including my relationship with God. For real relationships…real friendships…embrace risk taking. There is a needful trusting of self to the other, a needful sharing and a needful self exposure in any relationship which is not superficial. It’s what makes friendship different from close acquaintances.
The risks involved in any untried relationship are quite considerable for we are vulnerable creatures and the potential for being hurt or ridiculed is high. That leaves aside the cost, the fact that commitment to another will involve energy and time…a making of space. If it is something we value we will give it a priority.
On one level we instinctively know all this but a surprising number of us….perhaps all of us at certain times in our lives, find it difficult to entrust ourselves to others.
I found this poem (if that is what it is) on the web
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out for another is to risk involvement
To express your feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before another is to risk ridicule.
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
All this, I suppose, is about avoiding pain and suffering; but the person who risks nothing does not avoid suffering and sorrow…..suffering and sorrow are an unavoidable part of life…to risk nothing means to give up the possibility of being loved and loving in return.. the possibility of living life to the full.
And Jesus says to his disciples: ‘You are my friends’ I have shared my dreams , my work. my commitment with you. I have shared everything with you. That is true even when they, when we, let him down.
‘Could you not stay awake with me even for one hour’? ‘No, I do not know him’
Their (my) silly ambition about being the greatest….and so it goes on….
Jesus knows that they are his friends and absorbs their weaknesses and their failures and appears on an Easter beachside, in an upper room, shares a meal with them, comforts and stands alongside them and goes on being a friend because in real relationships, real friendships you can fail, you can turn back and be sorry, for real love does not evaporate with the morning mist.
….and he calls us his friends….WOW!
Let’s re- think what it means to risk
To love is to risk experiencing what it is to be loved in return.To laugh and share ideas and feelings is to find companionship. To reach out to another is to risk finding an inner healing and a commitment that will last. It is to find that failure is not to be ridiculed and that there is acceptance and willing forgiveness. To cry is to risk being fully human.
And yes, if it all goes wrong we are back to those negatives about rejection and failure and yes, if we lose the other through death or any other accident of living , we will be in pain…but we will know what the joy of loving is…what it means to share oneself with another…and we will experience all that security and joy which lies at its heart.
For as we know that God loves us unconditionally, we know also it is possible for us to mirror that love in our own relationships. The risk is worth taking.
Jesus wants us as his friends…indeed…he has risked himself…not by just wanting but by declaring…..’You are my friends’ He risks our turning him down, risks our limited response……but if we say, yes, it is also the path to that deep companionship with him which is not only at the heart of our other relationships but binds us with ties of love to him. It is there that the healing we all need begins. We will know that each of us is like a precious gem that he will not drop or break. Those few very special people I have in my life I see as precious gems placed in my hands to care for and not drop. but that image is of limited value unless I have entrusted myself into their hands too. Loving cannot be friendship unless it is mutual.
If something is important to us, we are willing to risk many things in order to attain it-loss, rejection, disapproval, laughter, sometimes even life itself, because what we want, what seems essential to our deepest self, is that much worth having.
Commitment of the heart is the basis for risk, a commitment to something we believe in- to an ideal. a way of life. a person whom we love. Even though there are other motives that propel us into taking risks, commitment of the heart is the one that is of the spirit because it bases risk taking on what we value and on what we love.
In his powerful and influential book ‘I and Thou’ twentieth century Jewish theologian Martin Buber spelled out articulately a theology of relationship. Buber held that there are fundamentally two concepts of self; the absolute self that exists separate from the world…if you like it is the hidden me that only I know and maybe even that knowledge is partial…the bit no one knows. Then there is the relational self that exists in relation to the world, a part of the world. This relational self is the more profound as it is the self that knows God. It is also the self that makes profound relationships with other human beings.
Buber believed that human beings have a tendency to avoid this relational self probably because we have a fear of being changed, being influenced or being hurt.
The wish to know God involves a willingness to allow ourselves to be shaped, formed and indeed changed. This is scary stuff….as it should be, if we are confronting our fears. We are changed as we allow God in…allow what Buber called an I-Thou relationship.
On one level faith is only another word for risk. God is the biggest risk-taker of them all. God created you and me with the right of refusal….the right to say no to him….to fail to respond. That does not mean that God is endangered by our right of refusal. We are free to give ourselves to him in the deepest of relationships, but it does mean God suffers when people hurt or when we have not ministered to them as he would. God created a cosmos where we can if we choose to, participate in his creativity and love. That is risky and that is our call.
It also means that whilst you and I are not offered safety, we are given joy and delight as we become the people God created us to be. We take risks with our creator. That’s being Church. That is opening ourselves to healing and also to being channels of his healing….because we are his friends.
At the Annunciation Mary said Yes to God and thereby enabled his healing to floe directly into our world. Jesus did the same in Gethsemane. Both profoundly risked all on God. Are we prepared say yes to God in the same way?
It is a risk I know I must take as I walk with him in those other relationships I make.
Jesus said, ‘You are my Friends’. What a risk he took.
Ann Philp (reproduced September 2017)