I write this blog on a very hot August Saturday. Tomorrow morning I will preach at Marble. Following Worship, I will meet with the members of the small groups who this summer have been studying A Five Mile Walk. Then late tomorrow afternoon I will go to the airport, grab a plane into Charlotte, and will begin my final two weeks of vacation for the summer.
Over the last three weeks I have preached a Sunday morning sermon series entitled Friends. We have thought about “Bad Friends” (from the story of Job), “A Good Friend” (the story of Jonathan), and “Jesus’ Friends” (primarily the story of Christ’s unconditional love for us). So, the topic of “friends” is very much in my head at the moment.
While I am in North Carolina, there will be some time for reunions with friends. For example, Mark King will pick me up at the airport tomorrow night. He's only been gone a month, so there won't be a lot of catching up to do. But there will be some – and it will be done over a much-too-fattening meal tomorrow night. Some of the other reunions with additional friends will be somewhat longer term in nature. For example, Lee and I are having lunch next Wednesday. We became friends, very much like brothers, when we were in seminary together. That means we have been friends for the past forty-four years. Thus, every time we see each other represents a fairly significant reunion. Later in the month I will be having dinner with Jesse.This summer marks the fiftieth year of our friendship. Again, when we get together it will be a pretty significant reunion.
One day this month I will do what I do just about every summer. I will visit my hometown of Asheboro, North Carolina. I'll drive around and look and remember. I will see the house where Mom and Dad reared me. I will see the three schools I attended during those years. I will see my home church, and the building where the radio station where my father worked used to be located, and the old drugstore where I had my very first job. The buildingsthemselves will be simply bricks and mortar, but the sight of them will stir up memories of the people who inhabited those buildings and shaped and influenced my life. In that sense, every visual reminder of those people will be a kind of vicarious reunion with them.
I'll see the old swimming pool, and the baseball park, and the drive-in where on Saturday nights we would sit on the hoods of our cars, drinking Cherry Cokes and dreaming out loud our dreams of what the future would hold. I sincerely doubt that I will bump into any of the folks who used to hang out there on those simple and innocent weekend evenings. I do not expect to see Jack, Charlie, Bob, Ed, Susan, Julia, Beth, Bill, or so many other people who for a brief moment in time were what we now call our BFFs (Best Friends Forever). Those friendships turned out not to be forever, but the memories are. People moved on and other relationships developed in their places. But when I drive past the old church, the school, the pool, or the drive-in, the memories will be there. For a brief moment I will see the faces, hear the voices, and remember the dreams we shared with one another. And when that happens therewill be a kind of emotional reunion, and the love I felt for them then will resurrect, if only for that moment. When those times come I will be reminded that even if friendships do not last forever, they do make our lives richer and better forever.
There's something else about friendship that I find soimportant. While in North Carolina, as already noted, I will visit my hometown. But when the summer's vacation concludes and I return to New York City, I will be back "home." I will return to you, the contemporary friends who make my life as rich and beautiful as any other friends ever have. I will come home to those of you whose friendship feels so much like family, and with whom I'm excited and privileged to serve Christ and church. It's one of the beautiful things about vacation. It helps us remember those who loved us, and it always makes us look forward to getting back home to the ones whom we now love.