Written by: Rachael Keefe

Follower or Friend?

I’ve probably said it before and I’m saying it again:  I do not understand hatred and bigotry. Nor do I understand violence in any form but particularly as a means …

Follower or Friend?

I’ve probably said it before and I’m saying it again:  I do not understand hatred and bigotry. Nor do I understand violence in any form but particularly as a means of problem solving. Every time I hear a statement that reveals racism or another form of bigotry I am startled. When I learn about another act of hate-motivated violence I am deeply saddened. This is not what we were created to be and it is not how we are meant to live. I want to ask why we continue to live in a world where fear is often used to ignite hatred and violence, but I know this is a pointless question.

Instead I am thinking of the writings of Dorothee Soelle who wrote about suffering, among other things. While I don’t remember the exact citation, I do remember a line from one of her books that said, “Jesus has many followers but few friends.” That stood out to me. Mostly because I’m not sure how many followers he really has since following Jesus is one of the hardest paths one might choose to walk, but also because I thought about what it would take to be Jesus’ friend in more than a superficial, acquaintance kind of way.

Soelle also wrote about Jesus as “goel.” My understanding is that this is a Hebrew word meaning “redeemer.” Soelle elaborates on this and adds the concept of witnessing suffering. But more than just standing by watching. The witnessing she spoke about was the active kind. Standing with those who suffer, sharing the pain of those who suffer unbearably. When I was reading her writing I thought about what it would mean to be the kind of Christian who would not leave Jesus to carry his own cross. There’s something to be said for the goel image, the witnessing redeemer who does not leave us on our own and who expects that we will not leave our neighbors on their own. So, I’m done with trying to be a follower of Jesus. I am want to be counted among Jesus’ friends.

So I will not shrug my shoulders and turn away when I read that there has been a significant increase in suicide deaths of older men in recent weeks. I will not shy away from the fact that human trafficking of girls and young women (boys and young men, too) happens in unexpected places a lot like where I live. I will not lash out at my Muslim neighbors because of the terrorist acts of a few extremists, no matter how disturbing those actions are. I will not laugh at the man with aluminum foil on his head, yelling at the cars as they go by. I will not accept the ignorant comments about a man wearing a yarmulke and Tallit Katan. What I will do is to name these ugly truths and do everything in my power to stop them from continuing.

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This will only be enough if we all stop following and start being Jesus’ friends. It’s time our witness becomes active. It’s time to heed the advice of the Apostle Paul with more than our words.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

RCL – Year A – Thirteen Sunday after Pentecost – September 7, 2014


Exodus 12:1-14 with Psalm 149 or
Ezekiel 33:7-11 with Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20


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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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