Four years ago I began meeting with a group of five other pastors from around the CBF landscape for what we initially called “Preacher Camp.” We divvy up all the Sundays for the year ahead so that each of us is responsible for preparing notes and ideas for 7-10 Sundays, and meet in the mountains of North Carolina for a few days each spring to share and discuss.
At least, this is what we initially set out to do, but our time together has grown into something much more. We still prepare our sermon materials and feast on conversation about our scared texts. But through the years we’ve found the true value of our group is not the trove of sermon illustrations but the gift of deep friendship. We call this week in the mountains Preacher Camp, but we call ourselves “the Dear Friends,” poking fun at how we quote each other in our sermons—“as my dear friend Emily Hull McGee says,” and so forth.
We all need these relationships to sustain us, to feed us. So it’s a bit strange that for all its verses on love and community, the Bible has little to say about friendship. There are a few proverbs and other verses here or there, and a couple of friendships described in scripture—David and Jonathan come to mind. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, seem to share something closer to deep friendship. Abraham and Moses are both referred to, at different times, as God’s friends, which is peculiar and fascinating—what would it mean to know that even God Almighty needs friends?
Perhaps the most striking scripture on friendship happens in the Gospel of John when Jesus gathered with his disciples for the Last Supper. He says to them, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer…I call you my friends.” On that last night together, Jesus knew he didn’t need followers or disciples; he needed friends.
One of the most beautiful things about being a part of a congregation for a length of time is the bonds of friendship that form. It’s almost inevitable when you do the things we do together. When you gather week after week and share your lives in the way we do. When you lift up prayers and celebrations. When you share meals and hard conversations.
While we’re a congregation that values education and learning, it’s also these deep bonds of friendship that we lift up this morning in celebrating our graduates. We celebrate the friendships they’ve formed with each other and between their families, but also the wider bonds of “holy” friendship we enjoy as a congregation. These graduates are the products of those bonds and the virtues that come with them.
And as we celebrate them and send them off, we pray these bonds will continue to sustain them wherever their next steps may take them.