Scripture: Colossians 3:9-16
It might be because my social media feeds are still populated with people in high school or have graduated in recent years, but there is a common meme I see shared regularly. There are several variations, but the common ideas is that in high school there should be a class called adulting where young people are taught about things like how to do taxes, how to fill out loan applications, and generally how to function as an adult. I do not think those commonly shared posts are wrong. It would be extremely helpful if we taught young people those things. However, a class cannot adequately prepare people for adulting. Some of it just comes through experiences and struggles. Again, because of years of youth ministry I currently know a lot of people in their twenties and I have seen several of them have the same struggle. It is also a struggle that I see echoed by people who are older and in their mid-thirties. It is a struggle that perhaps some of you can identify with as well: Namely, it is hard to make friends as adults. Remember when we were kids, and just both liking Batman was enough to become fast friends? As we age something happens to that dynamic.
This is such a common experience, that science has taken on the task to discover how adults can become friends. A study done at the University of Kansas sought to determine the factors that facilitate adults becoming friends. Unfortunately, the study found there is no tried and true formula to instantly create friendships. However, it did find two things. First a level of time is required. The study found that it takes at least fifty hours before adults will consider each other casual friends. It takes at least 200 hours of time together before adults will consider each other good friends. However, this study also found that time alone is not all it takes. It is possible for people to be co-workers for years, spend hours together, and barely be on a first name basis. The study pointed out that for friendship to form the people need to have a connection and commonality that has them spending time together outside of work.
This was a major study that’s results were released in the first quarter of this year, but honestly everything this study found we already knew. We already knew it because the results of this study were visually played out for us back in 1995 with the release of Toy Story. Toy Story is the tale of how two toys, Woody the Cowboy and Buzz the space ranger become friends. They spend a lot of time together, but they do not become friends at first. In fact for most of the movie they are bitter enemies. Woody is full of jealousy and Buzz is full of pride, both of which get in the way of their friendship. They only become friends when they realize they have a connection, a commonality that binds them together in this scene:
The common connection they share is that they are Andy’s toys. That more than any of their differences bound them together as friends. In much the same way as followers of Christ, we share a commonality and a bound that should transcend any differences. However, as this morning’s scripture points out, people of faith have often struggled with how we treat one another. This morning’s scripture really points out that one of things we should be able to say to one another as followers in Christ is “You’ve got a friend in me.”
This morning’s scripture is from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Colossae. This is a church that had some problems. While this morning’s scripture sounds generally positive, we have to remember he was not writing a self-help book. This morning’s scripture is a letter written for a specific purpose, so the contents of this morning’s scripture are less helpful life tips and more a “guys, stop it” plea. From this morning’s scripture we get the sense that the congregation at Colossae might have really been going at each other. Verse nine begins with an admonishment not to lie, he asks them to be patient with one another, and then pleads that they be willing to forgive one another. We also get a sense that there was some serious division in the church, and that people were quick to cast each other into factions. In verse 11 Paul wrote “here there is no Gentile or Jew circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” One of the things we can easily miss is that barbarian is a term for a non-Greek speaker and Scythian is an ancient term to refer to an area south East of Turkey and South of Russia. It is worth nothing that for Greek speakers in the Greco-Roman culture calling someone a barbarian or Scythian would have been a racial slur and had those connotations. The fact that Paul purposely calls those words out, shows that people in the Colossae church must have been using them in hateful and hurtful ways.
While the details of the all the turmoil and struggles of the first century Colossae church have been lost to time, it seems that they struggled to find a friend in one another. Much of this morning’s scripture is reminding the Colossae church what it is they have in common with one another, and by extension it reminds us what we have in common with one another. Paul reminds us that that we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. Paul reminds us that the peace of Christ should rule in our hearts and that it is through Christ we are all in this together. Paul urges us to let the message of Christ dwell among us. That message of Christ, the message that God loves us, God saves us, and God forgives us is our sacred trust. It is the common purpose we all have, and it is the reason why we should be able to look at one another and say “You’ve got a friend in me.”
That is how it should be, but the church in Colossae got it wrong, and 2,000 years later we still struggle to get it right. Christians who are supposed to love one another can bicker, fight, and argue over the stupidest things. A couple of years ago Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway Christian resources, did an informal survey and asked people to share times they have experienced conflict in the church. These are real answers. One person remembered a time there was a large dispute because the church budget was off by ten cents. The argument ended when someone went to their car and got a dime to balance the budget. A board meeting spent a lot of time discussing the appropriate length for the worship leader’s beard. Another person reported a board meeting with a 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers. Finally one person tragically reported a meeting that was so contentious it led to a church split. The church boldly decided to switch to a stronger brand of coffee and in response several people left the church for good.
At these examples (and too many more like them) I have to laugh because otherwise I would cry. As people of faith we spend many hours together, and through Christ we should share an unshakeable common bond. However, instead of being fast friends we are willing to abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ over something as trivial as coffee. This should never happen, and the fact that it does shows something is wrong. Our relationships with one another are often hampered by sin. Just like Woody and Buzz we allow our own negative attitudes inhibit our relationships. In Toy Story Woody was jealous and angry because he thought Buzz was taking “his spot” in Andy’s room. Yet, a lot of church conflict has been caused because someone gets upset about what other people are doing to “my church.” It is the same kind of possessive jealousy. In the same way, Buzz was to proud and full of himself to be friendly to Woody. Again, people in church can be quick to dismiss whole groups of a congregation as “not their people.” In Toy Story their flawed, sinful attitudes kept Woody and Buzz apart. It was only in the clip we watched where they realized what binds them is stronger than anything that can divide them.
What binds us to one another is Jesus Christ, and friends there is nothing stronger than that love. In 1985 People Magazine reported on the story of Frank and Elizabeth Morris, and their story proves just how the love of Christ can make friends out of anyone. In 1982 the life of Frank and Elizabeth changed forever when their only son, Ted, was killed by a drunk driver. The driver, a 22 year old Tommy Pigage, was a first time offender and he ended up only getting sentenced to five years probation. This infuriated Frank and Elizabeth. Even though they were devout believers, and Frank was himself a part-time preacher, they both admitted that they allowed themselves to hate Tommy and wish him dead.
As part of his sentence, Tommy had to give talks about the dangers of drunk driving at MADD sponsored events. Elizabeth Morris went to one of these intending to heckled and humiliate Tommy. However, Tommy was truly sorry for what happened and was full of remorse for what had happened. Seeing this caused a change in Elizabeth and she had compassion for Tommy. Eventually Frank and Elizabeth Morris began transporting Tommy to MADD events to give his talk since he had a suspended license. Often they had conversations about faith, and one of these conversations led to Tommy being baptized. Frank was the minister who administered the sacraments, and he realized if Jesus could forgive Tommy Pigage then so could he. When People Magazine ran the story, three years after the accident, the life of these three had changed forever. Tommy was on his way to an early acholic’s grave. Frank and Elizabeth Morris could have been weighed down by shackles of hate and wrath for the rest of the days. Instead, the love of Christ overcame their differences and the Morrises became lifelong friends with the person who had killed their son.
Being able to forgive to that degree is truly what it means to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The common bond of being saved through faith should be enough to overcome any differences. If that bond was enough to unite a drunk driver with the parents of his victim, then it is certainly enough to overcome whatever petty differences we might find we have with one another. So let us bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you have a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
More than that though, let’s put in the time and do the work to be friends with one another. It should not matter what divides us, may we be able to say to one another you have a friend in me. Even if decades separate us in age, may we say you have a friend in me. Even if we disagree about how to understand the bible, may we say you have a friend in me. Even if we are on radically different sides of the political spectrum, may we say you have a friend in me. Because that which we share, the love of God, is greater than any difference that comes between us.
We should be united as one in Christ because Christ is all and Christ is in all. May that love more than anything else define our relationship with one another. May we be able to look to those in the pews with us and from the depths of our hearts be able to say, “You’ve got a friend in me. If you’ve got troubles, I’ve got’em too. There isn’t anything I would do for you. We stick together and can see it through, Cause you’ve got a friend in me. You’ve got a friend in me.”