"You Are My Friends..."

Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

May 6, 2018 (B)

“You are my friends…”

         In light of today’s readings, it seems rather appropriate, that on this day, we are honoring our diocesan camp and conference center, Shrine Mont.  In reflecting back over our readings, we hear our psalmist encourage us to, “Sing to the Lord a new song…shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice and sing,” and our Gospel writer recounts an encounter between Jesus and his disciples…where Jesus talks of loving one another and of friendship.  The messages woven within our readings today, remind us of the value of celebrating life…of loving one another…and the importance of friendships.  If you’ve ever spent any time at Shrine Mont or any of our other Episcopal camp and conference centers, you’ve seen or experienced these elements.

         Growing up, I attended Camp Chanco, the Episcopal camp in Southern Virginia.  I spent both my childhood summers there and worked as staff each summer throughout high school and college.  I loved my time at camp each summer.  My mom would say that I’d come home exhausted and for weeks sing camp songs over and over again.  As a child, I’d retell story after story about all that had happened at camp until my mother and sisters were about to scream. You too may remember experiences like this…whether it was you or one of your children. 

         But what was most powerful about those days at camp was not going sailing or raiding the boys’ campsite in the middle of the night…but the formation that occurred.  Somewhere between the bug bites and the laughter…the games and swimming in the James River, we learned about the lessons from today’s readings. 

         We learned how to live with one another and to accept each other’s differences.  We learned how wonderful it felt to sing loudly and with joy and not care if our voices were beautiful…or totally off key.  We experienced what it was like to risk and succeed…and we learned what it was like to risk – fail – and try again.  We also learned the love that comes from friendships and how that love can brighten any day.

         Not every day was easy at camp.  Sometimes I’d get my feelings hurt…or I’d feel stupid because I wasn’t able to do something as well as someone else…or I simply didn't feel good and wanted the comfort of my own bed.  Everyone struggled from time to time…but we had one another to lift us up and remind us that it was going to be okay.  Camp…though only two weeks…often mimicked life in many ways.

         What makes Chanco or Shrine Mont different from other camps is how faith is woven into the fabric of our days.  In the midst of our running around, we paused for prayer…for conversations about faith and God…and for worship.  We learned that God wasn’t just found in the Bible or in a church building.  We learned that God existed in the friendships we made and in our daily life together.  We learned to look around us and to see the beauty of God’s creation and of God’s love.

         At night, we all gather together as a community.  Before heading off to bed, we’d form a circle as we linked our arms together and in the midst of fire flies glowing all around us and the humidity of a Virginia summer night, we’d sing our evening camp song as we gave thanks for all the good that had happened that day, and recognized all the blessings in our lives. 

         One of my favorite memories was as a camper during the High School Camp Session.  We were closing out the day with Eucharist, and after watching our Camp Director say the Eucharistic Prayers, we began to line up to receive Communion.  Dave, our Camp Director and priest, stopped us.  He told us to stay where we were – in our semi-circle around the altar.  Instead of the priest – the adult – giving us the bread…we each took turns giving it to the person beside us as the plate with the bread traveled around our circle.  Likewise we shared the cup with one another…as it too traveled from hand to hand. 

         Yes…we were in the middle of the wood…a bunch of teenagers and some adults…all of us a bit sweaty and probably dirty from the day’s adventures, but in that moment, we became Christ for one another.  We were no longer watchers of religion being given the bread…we were no longer children not old enough to fully participate…we were friends sharing in the greatest gift of love God has given us…as a people. 

         Camp and conference centers - like Shrine Mont  - are wonderful places to experience God in community.  I highly recommend any chance you get – whether you are an adult, a teenager or a child – to go to Shrine Mont.  It’s a gift to take a break from life’s demands and spend some time playing and resting.  Somehow it seems easier in places like Shrine Mont to feel God or to notice the holy. Maybe, because places like that bring us together in simple and loving ways.  Maybe because places like that remind us of how nice it feels to spend time together as a community of believers.  Maybe because places like that allow us to slow down – to enjoy the beauty of life and to play. 

         Love and friendship are gifts from God.  We hear that in our Gospel lesson today.  Jesus stands before us offering us love…and calling us his friend.  Pause for a second and take that in…Jesus – offers each of us his love and calls each of us his friend. An act that is so simple in nature, yet the Son of God deemed it important enough that he turned to each of his disciples and offered his friendship how beautiful and sacred a gift he offers us and how clear is his message that friendships are essential to life. Surely we too can turn to one another and offer the same. 

         We may not be campers at Shrine Mont right now, but maybe we can create some of that joy here today and in our own lives…by recognizing the value of having friends and our need to spend time with them…and by turning to one another and offering our love and our friendship…as Jesus offers it to us.  



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