Scripture: Proverbs 18:19-24
This is the third sermon in a series entitled, “What Really Matters: Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic.” During the pandemic we discovered what we thought really mattered in life did not matter as much as we thought. Sporting events, entertainment events, restaurants, and shopping did not matter as much as we thought.
In just learning how to survive to see another day as hundreds of thousands were dying around us, we discovered that faith matters. People prayed who had never prayed before. People heard and viewed church worship services on their phones, televisions, tablets, laptops and computers.
We discovered that faith matters because by faith the writer of the letter to the Hebrews told his first century believers that the elders and saints of the old covenant obtained a good report.
Faith matters, he told them, because by faith their ancestors were able to understand with their spirits what they could not understand with their minds. By faith, the writer told them, their ancestors pleased God. Faith matters because it matters to God because it is impossible to please God without faith.
Another thing we discovered during the pandemic was that family matters. Suzanna Schrobsdorff, editor-at-large at Time Magazine, in her article entitled, “A Post Pandemic Bucket List,” said that she didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be alive until she saw the life [breath] leave a person she loved. When someone dies, she said, the air changes, you feel the absence, the goneness of an electrical current that you didn’t realize was there.
At the top of most post-pandemic bucket lists was the reconnection with family. Travel restrictions, restrictions on social gatherings, and pandemic protocols have heightened our awareness of the human need for interaction and physical affections. Things that were once normal were forbidden because of the pandemic. Holiday travel, dinners, physical gatherings, weddings, proms, graduations, hugs and kisses which were once normal but have been forbidden because of the pandemic has heighten our awareness that family matters.
When an 86-year-old grandmother was asked what was the first thing she was going to do when the pandemic was over, she said that she was going to hug her grandchildren, because family matters.
In Galatians 6, Paul exhorted his first century believers with a similar sentiment that family matters. As believers in Jesus Christ, he told them, they were members of the family of faith and because family matters, they must share each other’s burdens (v.2). In doing so, he says, they obey or fulfill the law of Christ (vv.3-6).
Then Paul told them that because family matters, they must live for more than themselves. He told them that if they only live for themselves, they would live a life that led to decay, destruction, and death (v.8). But if they live lives that included others, they would please the Spirit and reap from the Spirit life everlasting (v.8b).
And then Paul told them that because family matters, they must never get tired of doing good. Be not weary in well doing for in due season and at the right time they will reap a harvest of blessings if they faint not (v. 9).
The other thing we discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic was that friends matter. Taraji P. Henson in a Time Magazine interview spoke about her work to promote mental health care access and reduce the stigma around therapy, particularly in the Black community. The pandemic she says has brought this acute need to the fore that we need each other, Taraji said.
We have discovered that friends matter because we need each other to survive. We need to have mutual affection and trust with other persons to survive. During the pandemic, we have discovered newfound meaning to the lyrics of Hezekiah Walker: I need you, you need me, we’re all part of God’s body. Stay with me, agree with me, we’re all part of God’s body. It is His will, that every need be supplied. You are important to me. I need you to survive.
Proverbs 18 warns these ancient believers against the foolish behavior that destroys friendships and then exhorts them with the wise behavior that develops friendships. A fool has no delight in understanding (v.2). The lack of understanding destroys friendships. A fool’s lips enter into contention and his mouth calls for stripes (v.6). A fool’s mouth is his destruction and his lips are the snare of his soul (v.7). And answering a matter before you hear it, is folly (v.13).
The writer tells these ancient believers that it is the foolish behavior of the tongue that destroys friendships. More times than not, friendships are destroyed not because of something somebody did, but because of something somebody said.
Some lie, some gossip, some mess, some words of trust betrayed, some drama because of what somebody said and spread that destroyed somebody’s friendship. When somebody is offended by what has been said, it is harder to win them back as a friend (v.19).
So, if you want friends show yourself to be friendly (v.24). That’s how friendship are developed. You must show yourself to be friendly. You must extend affection and show yourself to be trustworthy. That’s how friendships are made. You must extend friendly acts to others of kind words, acts, and deeds.
That’s how we survived the pandemic just to see another day through the kind words of friends because friends matter. Friends matter because friendships brighten our being. One of the ministries we created at the beginning on the pandemic was a Pandemic Constant Contact Team (PCCT) to keep our congregants calm, connected, and committed during this unpresented season.
This ministry team was responsible for contacting our congregants by phone, email, text, and mail. I received this encouragement from our PCCT ministry on Friday. It read: This is my prayer for you; comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness introduces, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to fill your lips, hugs when spirits sag, sunsets to warm your hearts, and friendships to brighten your being …
Friends matter because friendships brighten our being. Friends matter because friendships lighten our loads. We survived to see another day during this pandemic because of the kind words, mutual affection and trust of a friend. Friendships lightened our loads during this pandemic.
It reminded me of a poem often quoted by Bishop T. Larry Kirkland by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Arrow and The Song: A shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth, I knew not where. For so swiftly it flew, the sight could not follow it in its flight. I breathed a song into the air, it fell to earth, I knew not where. For who has sight so keen and strong, that it can follow the flight of song. Long, long afterwards, in an oak, I found the arrow, still unbroken. And the song, from beginning to end, I found again in the heart of a friend.
Friends matter because friendships enlighten our spirits. In the second part of Verse 24, the wisdom writer admonishes these ancient believers by letting them know that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He has reference to the “Lord Their God.”
We have come to know this same presence in the person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Here’s how Johnson Oatman put it – “There’s not a friend, like the lowly Jesus, No not one. No friend like Him is so high and holy, No not one. There’s not an hour that He is not near us. No not one. Did ever saint find this friend forsake him, No not one. Was ever a gift like the Savior given, No not one. Jesus knows all about our struggles. He will guide till the day is done. There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No not one.”
The Rev. Dr. Kelvin Calloway is the senior pastor of Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles.