God often uses the sacrament of friendship to love us into life. It has certainly been so with me. Some of my best friends are pictured here: my wife and paternal granddad, one fellow I grew up with and still love dearly, and our best recent friends shown last Christmas during a visit. And our wonderful dogs.

But the difference between these friends raises questions. What is a friend? How do friendships form? Why are we usually very close friends with some folks in our family or aquaintences and others not so much? Are animals really friends?

Lets think about those and other questions about friendship for a few months. I'll be blogging about such issues as the nurture of friendship, friendship with Jesus, family friends,  toxic friendships, stories of friendships like David and Jonathan, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, John and Charles Wesley, and other dimensions of the enrichment of life through friends. There are for many of us a few friendships which have particular significance in making us who we are. We'll listen to the qualities in those very special relationships through which God has shaped our lives.

Why is friendship important?  One writer suggests that friendship gives meaning to our lives; another says it is the model we use for all close relationships. From a spiritual standpoint, friendship is a significant dimension of fulfilled Christian life for two reasons: it is a sacrament of God's grace, and it is the way we can live with Jesus though we don't physically see or touch Him.

Is friendship a sacrament? I believe so, if a sacrament is a means of grace chosen by God to love His people into life. Karl Barth said once that God could speak through the carcas of a dead dog if He wanted to, but He usually speaks through Bible, preaching, and "the sacraments." A sacrament usually refer to baptism and communion, some adding confirmation, penance, anointing the sick,  holy orders, and marriage. But Jesus Himself designated a difference, created by God, between serving Him and being His friends (Jn 15:12-17). And friendship with each other can, in my experience with these friends pictured here, and others, definitely be a means of grace. These friends can become a place of friendship with Jesus.

We can not physically talk with or see or touch Jesus, but the Bible calls the people whom God loves into life the body of Christ (Rom12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4). We can touch and see and converse with Jesus here, now, in our lives on this earth through those people, that body. He befriends us through that body, the world of those He loves and has called to be our companions in love on the walk home.

That walk of love is life in friendship. Those with whom we live and move and grow and hurt and laugh with the joys and pains and lessons of life can become our friends.

But there is for each of us a smaller group, a subset whose friendship is a unique place of Jesus' presence. It is those without whom we don't really know Christ, or even who we are ourselves!

Jesus became flesh for a reason. We could never really know God intimately, we could never call Jesus the lover of our souls without His incarnation (Jn 14:1-7). We know God and we know Jesus because He became human like us. And His body extends that humanity into our lives through those who, with time and growth and love and calling, become that subset of close friends.

And we walk home with them. With those close friends we discover Jesus and come to know God intimately. With those close friends we discover who we are in Christ and come to know ourselves deeply. With those close friends we can climb home together.

Let's listen, for a few months, to our lives in that climb, in those friendships.