Free to be Unfriended
June 21, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 21:8-21 Matthew 10:24-39 Romans 6:1b-11
There is a meme circulating on social media that says, “I was asked if I was willing to lose friends over politics and I said, I’m willing to lose friends over morals. Big difference.” At the same time, I have had a number of friends who occasionally comment that they have been unfriended, or have unfriended others, because of their particular views regarding the upcoming election, or the Coronavirus, or over the national struggle with discrimination and hatred, or some other thing. It is difficult for many of us to disconnect ourselves from people who have been friends in real life, or even who have become friends virtually, and it is just as hard when they feel the need to disconnect from us. As human beings, we yearn for a connection with others and that makes enduring the separation caused by the pandemic even harder. Something inside of us yearns for connection and want to be liked. It is almost as hard for us as adults as it was for us on the playground when one of our playmates turned their backs on us and said, “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.”
But from the time we were on that grade school playground until now, many of us have learned several truths about friends. First, not everyone wants to be our friend. Second, not every friend wants what is best for you. Third, sometimes we find that our lives are going in such dramatically different directions that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us. When that happens, as it has from childhood, we find that the experience can be painful, but still sometimes necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.
But what does any of that have to do with the scripture, with church, or with our life of faith? Quite a bit. As we read the stories of God’s people, it doesn’t take long to find many examples of times when they had to leave behind their friend or families so that they could follow God in a new direction. We begin this morning in Genesis 21:8-21 where we find Abraham unable to overcome the animosity that has grown between the two mothers of his two sons.
8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day, Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So, she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
Abraham made a mistake. Although he was trusting that God would fulfill his promise to give him children and make him the father of nations, because God seemed to be taking too long, Abraham decided to help God out and make a baby with one of his servants. Then, later, when God fulfills his promise through his elderly wife Sarah, the two birthmothers do not get along. Abraham is the father of both children, but he cannot control the jealousy, envy, fear, anger, and hatred that are boiling between the two of them. Abraham wants to protect both of his sons but cannot find a way for both to live in the same household. But while he is worrying, God promises that he will care for, and protect, Hagar’s son so that he too will become the father of a great nation. And so, with what I imagine is great reluctance, Abraham sends Hagar and his firstborn son, away from their encampment and out into the desert wilderness. If we were to consider this without God’s promise of protection, we would be outraged at Abraham’s cruelty. And even so, it is difficult to imagine the wrenching emotions that were experienced by everyone involved as half of the family was sent away into what had to look like certain suffering and death.
But God had called Abraham to travel a road that they could no longer travel together.
And while it is one thing to watch as this happens to Abraham, it is a lot more personal when we hear Jesus warn us to be prepared to do the same thing in Matthew 10:24-39.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Much like we heard last week, our goal is to become. Jesus says that the goal is for his followers to become like him. And, since the world has hated him, and even called him the devil incarnate, then we should not be surprised if, and when, the same thing happens to us. We are called to live like Jesus and not to be afraid of the consequences of doing so. We are warned that by following Jesus we have chosen to follow a different, and sometimes difficult path. Sometimes we will be hated for being like Jesus, and sometimes the path that we follow will carry us away from, and destroy our relationships with, our friends and closest family members. But despite the risk, the pain, and the loss, we must have the courage to stand up for what is right and follow the path to which we have been called. Do not be afraid to be associated with Jesus. Do not be afraid to be unfriended.
But by becoming like Jesus, there is one more thing that we are called to leave behind and doing so might even be harder than leaving behind our relationships or being unfriended. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 6:1b-11) he describes it this way:
6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, because he has poured out his grace, mercy, and forgiveness on us, and because we have taken up the goal of becoming like him, we must also leave behind our sin, and the life of sin that we once led. Let’s face it, although we all sin differently, we each have sins that are familiar and comfortable. But the call of Jesus Christ is a call to courage. We must have the courage to leave our old self behind and become something, and someone, new. We must stop sinning and become as good, and as righteous, as we possibly can.
For many of us, following Jesus sets us on a course that goes in a radically different direction than the one we were headed in our old lives. But even when the change is less dramatic, we often find that our path is just enough different that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us. When that happens, although we find the experience to be painful, it is still necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen. And it may be that the hardest things that we leave behind are our old lives, and the sins that have become comfortable and familiar.
We have been given a great gift.
We have been given a second chance.
Let us have the courage to leave behind whatever, and whoever, we must, so that we can be like Jesus.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ep_vM5BP0hY
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.