He showed up in church one day looking and sounding very different from my regular parishioners. I have people in my church from many countries; India, Jamaica, Central and South America. But this gentleman was truly unique. He always wore a bandanna, blue jeans and a patterned cotton shirt that reminded me of heavy metal band album covers. In a strange way he looked like he rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle, without the motorcycle. When he spoke he sounded Asian Indian. However, when I asked him where he was from, he said England. I never heard from him the slightest English accent, nor any common English words that Americans don’t use, like lorry or wind screen. He seemed to be floating somewhere between India, England and America; not quite knowing where to land.
We welcomed him into our fellowship without any questions. My family and I had him over for Christmas dinner. I liked him, but I didn't understand him. He was very closed about his life. The little bit he told me only led to more questions. But I didn't press him and I thought we were building a good relationship. Then he started to complain about the church’s fund raising efforts. He was bothered that he were asking for money to support the church. “Why do you need to do this?”, he asked. Because we need the money and this is what everyone does, did not seem to satisfy him. Eventually he disappeared. I tried calling him several times, but he would not answer and did not return my messages. It was a sad end to an odd relationship. I have been a pastor long enough to know that this story repeats itself in our churches all of the time.
Since I became a minister, I have made and lost more friends than I ever had prior to taking the leap of faith. Being a minister brings me into contact with a lot of people. This contact naturally leads to relationships that I would not have had a chance to develop if I wasn't a minister. But along with that comes the rejections. I've had so many people suddenly disappear from my life I honestly can’t keep track of the number. It’s a sad fact of the ministry; we are rejected by people we thought were our friends over and over again. These rejections rarely have causes that make sense to us. Some small slight or minor decision by the church leadership can cause a person to disappear with no explanation. Relationships start, grow and are broken in the blink of an eye. It is truly the saddest part of ministry.
Most of you are familiar with the story of Joseph from Genesis. The musical and movie, Joseph and the Technicolor Dream-coat, is a favorite of mine. In the story Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and through God’s blessing ends up a powerful man in Egypt. His brothers come to Egypt to buy food because of a famine. Joseph can seek revenge against his brothers, but he doesn't. He forgives them instead. The relationship which was broken when his brothers turned on him is restored. I like this story because it shows how important forgiveness is in the development of healthy relationships. I have kept my important relationships healthy and strong because I have apologized when I messed up, and I have forgiven when others mess up.
This past week I have thought long and hard about the people who have come and gone from my life. A little bit of anger and a lot of sadness accompanies these memories. What I have concluded is that it is really important to fight for our friendships. Relationships are everything in life, much more important than material things. If we have to humble ourselves and beg for forgiveness, then we should do it without hesitation. If we have to calm our anger down and forgive someone who is a fool, then by all means do it. Our relationships are precious, and fragile. They can be severed so easily and once they are gone they don’t return. So many people in and out of my life has taught me the value of relationships.
Fight for your friendships. The people in your life are your most precious gift.
God bless you,