Sermon preached at the Friends of St Paul's Cathedral's 60th anniversary Evensong (4 July 2012) by the Very Revd Dr David Ison

Today at the Cathedral View More
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

Sermon preached at the Friends of St Paul's Cathedral's 60th anniversary Evensong (4 July 2012) by the Very Revd Dr David Ison

Congratulations to the Friends of St Paul's in this its 60th anniversary year: a truly Elizabethan organisation.

Nearly 3,000 members, mostly in this country but including overseas, showing their solidarity with this great Cathedral Church through their subscriptions service for the well-being of the visitors and staff of this place, for its beauty and its worship: and thank you to all of you without whom this Cathedral would be a poorer place.

What are friends for? That's a phrase which people have said to me in reply when I've thanked them at times like: when I was lent some money when I'd forgotten my wallet... when a friend got someone out to unlock my house when I'd forgotten my keys... the time they were feeding the cat for three weeks while we were on holiday even though it ate the hamster... whatever it may be. Maybe you've said it yourself to someone recently: well, that's what friends are for. But there's more to it than that.

Friendship isn't taken seriously enough in our society. We talk about spouse and family, parents and children, partners, significant others, mates, colleagues; but real friendship is a neglected part of human experience. And we need real friends. ‘Winter spring summer or fall / all you got to do is call / and I’ll be there, yes I will / you got a friend’ sang Carole King, slightly ungrammatically and yet enticingly to people of my generation – I'll spare you my karaoke version. Friends are people you can be yourself with, who you can focus on different things with; they are witnesses to your life and help you to live it better – as you help them live theirs.

The Greek word for friend is philos, meaning one who loves – so for example the word philosopher means a lover, a friend, of wisdom. To be a friend is to love, not in an erotic way or out of self-interest, but to love the other person for who they are, warts and all. True friends tell it like it is, with no hidden agendas. And the Bible is unsurprisingly full of friendship. From David and Jonathan to Jesus and his disciples, friends abound. From the double-crossing of friendship sung of in some of the Psalms to the betrayal of Judas, the breakdown of friendship is lamented. Friends care for each other, share life and death together, support each other in hard times. Friends matter. And Cathedral Friends matter. For three reasons.

(1) Friends are for support. You have to click on the words 'Support St Paul's' on the website to find out about the Friends; and the cathedral needs your support. Our New Testament reading from towards the end of Paul's letter to the Romans (ch.15.14-21) talks about how Paul has been a friend to the gentiles, to those in the Greek world who hadn't heard of Jesus Christ; and he writes in the context of being about to travel with an offering of money from Greece to help the poor church in Jerusalem.

Look, he says, the Greek Christians have come to share in the spiritual blessings of Jerusalem – so they should be willing to send some of their material blessings back in return.

So for you here. As Friends of St Paul's, you’re using the blessings of money and time that God has given you to help a place which gives you spiritual blessings. You may or may not be a member of the Church of England, or may or may not call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ.

But presumably for you this building has been a source of blessing, something which has enriched your life, and you want to acknowledge that debt in some way. Your friendship is shown in your practical care. For friendship is empty if it costs us nothing.

(2) Friends are mutual. Friendship, to be real, has to be two-way.

There's a kind of signal of that in the terms of being a Friend, where you get free entry and other particular benefits. You can also get to know and work alongside other Friends too. But if that's all that a mutual friendship between Friends and St Paul's means, it's not that exciting or life-giving.

True friendship is about having the opportunity to be yourself, to discover new sides of yourself and others. It's about relationship. And if you're a Friend, you're in a relationship with us here at St Paul's.

It may be on the level of a once-a-year Christmas card and annual letter; it may be long-distance and so occasional, or weekly and intense. However it's expressed, it means that, for Friends, St Paul's is a home: a place to come and be yourself, to find joy in receiving as well as giving, finding life in the worship, prayer and ministry which is expressed in this beautiful building. Being a Friend shows that here you have a place.

(3) Friends do things together for others. Good friends have interests in common besides each other. Being a friend of St Paul's is a shared interest – but remember that it includes everybody who comes here. Jesus was bitterly criticised because he befriended the difficult people, the ones who caused trouble, as well as the polite ones. It’s easy to be friends with those who are nice to you: but as Friends, we can get to know those who we wouldn’t do otherwise. As you might not choose to be related to some of your own family if you had the option, you might not choose those you have to be a friend to here. But you're not a Friend just to be nice or happy: you're here to help the Cathedral do its job.

At the end of the reading from Romans, Paul sums up his job thus: 'so that those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.' And that's what St Paul's is for:

And Cathedral Friends help to draw us and our visitors out of our self-concern and open us up to the love of God which leads us to the God found not only in this building and its worship, but supremely in friendship with Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us.

‘All you got to do is call, and I’ll be there’; we rejoice in St Paul's Friends, and we look forward to the next 60 years of working in friendship within the love of God in this beautiful place.