Exodus 33:7-18
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. …Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend…
Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ The Lord said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And Moses said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses replied, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’

John 15:12-17
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 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, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Imagine God, if you will as a dinner partner – just the two of you, you and God,
sitting down together for a meal at your favorite Decatur restaurant.
This is hard to imagine perhaps. We often think of God as the transcendent God of all the universes,
without form or gender or geographic limitations,
but God is also very real, imminent, as close as the next breath, a person with whom we can talk.
What’s that other “person” like, that other being on the other side of the table?
I suppose our best way of understanding the person of God is to think about God’s incarnation,
Jesus of Nazareth. Not all of who God is was incarnate in the son of Mary,
the woodworker and itinerant rabbi from Palestine,
but certainly God’s Spirit abided in that person in a manner unparalleled in history.

So, imagine sitting down with a modern day Jesus,
perhaps on the back patio of Raging Burrito with some chips and salsa,
or in the metal chairs on the outdoor porch of U-Joint,
or maybe in a warmth booth at Ted’s Montana Grill.
What is this other person like?
Warm and engaging? Or do you imagine this person to be cold and distant, aloof?
Is this person interested in you and leaning in when you are speaking?
Or does this person seem uninterested in your life or perhaps demanding or even critical?
It may be challenging to imagine our relationship with God in such an informal and intimate setting,
but it also may lead us to experience God in a new way.
What if the meaning of your life, the very purpose of your life, the outcome of the rest of your life,
depended upon your relationship with that person on the other side of the table?

I recently read an article about the critical importance of those with whom we spend our days.
Much of our happiness, satisfaction, mental health, and productivity may depend
upon those with whom we spend the most time.
A Presbyterian elder whom I greatly respect, a deeply spiritual woman,
testified that her relationship with God is of ultimate importance to her life.
She claimed that “It is the ground upon which I walk.”
Friendship with God can become the very ground upon which we walk,
the foundation upon which we build our lives.

Now, there are all kinds of foundations upon which people are building their lives.
Some are building their lives on the shifting sands of the latest fads and latest opportunities,
on what is deemed popular or acceptable or profitable this year.
Others are building their lives on the uncertain and temporal basis of another person.
No matter how wonderful or how healthy or how “into you” another human being may be,
no matter how much you love them, and they love you,
that human being will ultimately let you down, disappoint you, and one day,
one or the other of you will perish from this life. We are just human, after all.

Even our mothers will let us down, eventually. They are only human.
This Mother’s Day is perhaps a good day to recognize that taking care of another human being
is one of the hardest things a person can ever do.
On this day, some of you are glad to be sitting with your mothers.
Some are grieving the loss of their mothers.
Some are wishing their mothers had done a better job.
And for more than a few of you, perhaps, you have recognized the harm your mother did to you.

Mothers, just like the rest of us, are mere human beings, with their own needs, limitations and fallibilities.
All of us fail eventually. None of us ever ‘always does our best’.
So, today is a good day to appreciate your mother as the unique, wonderful, and fallible person
she is or was, and to show her some kindness—to know her as friend—
not just to know her in the role assigned to her by your birth.
In short, let us all love our mothers today as Jesus Christ has so deeply loved us.

Today, we remember that God is the only one who will stand with us forever.
Everything and everyone else, even our most dearly loved ones, will one day fade and pass.
When we build our lives upon the rock of friendship with God, we will never fully be alone.

What is friendship with God?
Consider that a friend is defined as “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual attachment,
a companion, a confidante.”
“A good friend shows up no matter what. A true friend supports and encourages us,
tolerates our shortcomings, accepts us unconditionally, and cares for us no matter what.
A real friend walks in when everyone else is walking out.
With a true friend, the walls come down and you can be who you are without fear.
A good friend knows you well—sometimes better than you do yourself—
and is not afraid to tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself.
A friend is present for you no matter what time of the night or day it is.
A best friend is someone who brings out the best in you.
I like this quote: “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg
even though he or she knows that you are slightly cracked.” (pyschologytoday.com)

Being a friend of God is not just about being careful how you live and showing up on Sunday mornings;
friendship with God is a vibrant daily relationship.
Friendship with God is not just about obedience to some set of rules, but the desire to please a friend.
As the old adage goes, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Neil Donald Walsh in his book, Conversations with God,
talks about how every friendship begins with conversation.
From daily conversation we move to deeper friendship,
and from deeper friendship we move into forming a bond, a communion, with another person over time.
In the book of Exodus, Moses regularly goes out to the tent of meeting, to his special place of prayer,
and the whole community acknowledges that he is speaking with God as with a friend,
a two way conversation.

In Vernon’s blog this week, he recalled a study that it takes something like 200 hours of face time
for an acquaintance to become an intimate friend. If we take that model, then…
If you prayed for a half hour every day, it could take you a year to sense an intimate connection with God.
If you worshiped for an hour every Sunday, then in four years you might expect the bond to be strong.

There’s an old country song I discovered some years ago titled “Me and God”.
Country music aficionados may remember the name Josh Turner.
With a rich bass voice he sings:
Early in the morning, talking it over, me and God;
late at night talking it over, me and God.
You can say we are like two peas in a pod, me and God.
He’s my Father, he’s my friend, he is the beginning and the end,
He rules the world with a staff and rod, we’re a team, me and God.
I am weak and he is strong, me and God;
He forgives me when I’m wrong, me and God;
He’s the one I lean on when life gets hard, me and God.

Recognizing there may be room for a more proper use of the English language
and perhaps more reverence for the awesome transcendence of God, nevertheless,
Josh Turner communicates the intimacy of a close relationship between friends.
Friendship with God is not just for the times when you’re in need or in some kind of trouble,
but an ongoing, daily conversation.
And sometimes, it’s not even a conversation, but the simple appreciation of being in another’s presence.

Confirmands, one afternoon, when I was not much older than you,
I was riding home from school in a VW Beetle with my best friend, Andy Phillips.
Andy is a real character. He’s a proud graduate of Auburn University, a former Naval pilot,
and for some years he has flown for Delta Airlines.
Andy is one of those people who loves to entertain the crowd.
When he is “on”, he is very entertaining, and full of energy.
Andy and I grew up down the street from each other from the second grade to the twelfth grade.
We played sports together in our backyards and later, on many a soccer or football field.
We had spent countless nights at each others’ homes.
That day, when riding home from school, he surprised me by saying:
“You know, I really appreciate our friendship. With you, I don’t feel like I have to talk;
I can just be still and quiet, just be me.”

Andy and I had built a bond that went beyond acquaintance.
Though I haven’t seen him in far too many months, still, to this day,
if Andy were to walk in the door it would be like I just saw him yesterday.
When a bond is forged between two people over time, through good times and bad times,
through a variety of experiences, that bond is strong and lasting.

Deep friendship with God does not come quickly or easily,
but is arrived at with a great sacrifice of time and effort, and received as a gift.
Friendship with God is not something we earn; it is something we are given.
Hear this Confirmation Class, as today’s scripture from the Gospel of John claims:
“You did not choose me,” Jesus said,
“I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
What fruit is God calling you to bear?
Who is God calling you to be?
What kind of life might you build upon the strong foundation of friendship with God?

Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what the master is doing.
I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
(John 15)

Friends, God has chosen us and called us into friendship with God.
We have been given a strong foundation upon which to build our lives.
And we are called to strengthen and deepen and mature this foundation over time.

On this Mother’s Day, let us remember to be a good friend to our mothers, for that is important,
but even more than that, let us build our lives upon our friendship with God.
For not only our lives, but even the health and salvation of the world, may depend upon this.

To God be the glory in all our friendships, especially the one with God that is most important.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
May 13, 2018