by Rev. Doug Gray
I used to think that God was like a treasure chest, like in the story Jesus told. That God was hidden, something to be searched for. When I found that treasure so unexpectedly as a teenager, I was surprised to find that many of my friends were really uninterested. Like a treasure chest, I would dip into God and try to help them see the treasure I held in my hands. Maybe if I talked louder they would see. Maybe if I was funnier. God was a treasure chest hidden in a field that I had stumbled upon. I think many of us have thought of God as something or someone we seek and search for. We are seekers of the treasure, the beauty, the wonder, the Person of God. We have a sense of God out there, if only we looked in the right place or talked to the right person.
My college years were like being in a spiritual wilderness. Between the professors (most of whom thought spiritual things were silly self-deception), the students with faith (some were so pushy about their faith they drove me away from God), and the students who just seemed to drift, sometimes I felt like all the spiritual oxygen had been sucked out of the air. Some of the time I wasn’t sure how to relate to God. I was reading about the Kingdom of Heaven chapter from Matthew—some of which we read today—and Jesus challenged me. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.” If the Kingdom of Heaven is the merchant, what or who is the pearl of great price? Was it me? All this time I had been looking for God, could it be true that God was looking for me? What if Jesus doesn’t want to be a treasure, but a friend? How do we start a friendship with the King of the Universe?
First, hang in there through the awkwardness. When we first start out thinking about God as friend, it can feel strange. In her book, Wearing God, Laura Winner writes, “with the awkward intentionality of one who is trying suddenly to call her fiancés parents, formerly Mr. and Mrs. Browning, ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’—I began to practice and ponder my friendship with God.” To call God, “friend,” will seem awkward at first. Just hang in there. Like with human friendships, it gets easier and better the longer we are together.
Second, do with God what friends do. What are some of the ways that you become a friend or keep a friendship going?
So sometimes we grow our friendship by spending time with our friend. Sometimes we share our deep pain or our great joy. Or the hilarious meme we found. Friends are honest with each other. Friends make time for each other. Friends think about each other, care for each other. When the phone rings in the middle of the night, you will be there for your friend and vice versa. If God is our friend, God is someone we talk to, not with fancy words, but just as we are. No matter what, God is the friend who is always with us.
Third, hang with God’s friends. You know how your best friend had a larger group of people they hung out with sometimes. If you really wanted to hang out with your friend, you would hang out with them. If God is our friend, then who else is God close to? So watch Jesus. Who does Jesus spend time with? The lonely and the lost. The poor and the helpless. Jesus also seems to really enjoy the people who are sincerely looking for God. So this week, who were you hanging with? Did you spend any time with the lonely or the lost, the poor or the helpless? Sometimes we learn more about God, our friend, by hanging out with God’s friends. Sometimes we are the one who is helped, even transformed in the process.
This idea that God wanted to be friends with me, crashed into me like a tidal wave. It swept away the images of God that added distance between me and God. In his sweet, little book, Transforming Friendship, Leslie Weatherhead suggests that we imagine Jesus coming to the door of our room or house. So let’s do that for a moment. If Jesus came to the door of your place, would you let Jesus in, or would you have a polite conversation in the doorway? Imagine that you invite Jesus in and you sit down for a visit. Jesus asks how you’re doing. You say, “Fine,” and start talking about the weather. Jesus just looks at you, as if to say, “Really? I am here, really here. You can say whatever you want. Ask whatever you want, and you are talking about the weather? How are you really doing?” For just a moment, think to yourself: if Jesus were here right now, and you could talk with him about anything, what would you say?
The surprising part of today is that God thinks we are the treasure: God has been looking for you all your life. Through all the “stuff” you have gone through, God has searched for you, and for all the dark times you weren’t sure you were going to make it, God was with you. God believes you are the pearl of great price, and God was willing to paying any price, even Jesus Christ. That’s the meaning of the cross: a love letter from God to you and me. More than anything Jesus longs for our real friendship, quality time, up close and personal time, time when we can be totally honest about who we are and know God will always be the one who chases after us.
Laura Winner, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Over-looked Ways of Meeting God (NY: Harper-Collins, 2015), p. 18.