One of my friends died this past month. He and I were the same age. I spoke to him almost every week, in one form or another. Sometimes it was just me preaching to him over a plate of food. Sometimes it was exchanges of ‘hello, how’s it going’, in passing on the street. Most often it was on a street bench, the front of the church stairs or in a strangers door way.
My friend was betrayed. Betrayed by a well-meaning, happy-go-lucky group of family and friends who thought it would be fun and funny to hire a prostitute for him when he turned 21. The results a year later was a diagnosis of HIV. He never really recovered even though he lived for another 27years. He ran away from home, hit the streets and sunk deeper into hurt, pain and shame. Drinking whatever he could get his hands on with the vigour of a man who wanted to lose his life.
I know that some of our conversations were exchanges of life~ meaningful, heart-wrenching, or belly laughing together at our sick sense of humour. Many were me assuring him that we were friends, people cared about him and he needed to get help from the grip of hurt, pain and shame that had completely overwhelmed his life. He was enslaved to hurt, pain and shame so that his only place of relief was found in an alcoholic daze. I picked him up off the street as he lay there in a puddle of blood more than once. I would clean him up, call for help and assure him that his life was worth more then a constant drunk could offer him. He would hide his precious half-full mouthwash bottle or call me whatever names he could think of while I asked him to empty his sleeves of bottles.
One of those times was the ‘last sermon’ he ever heard. I don’t know which one, or what I spoke to him. I hope it was something like Stephen’s last sermon, Acts 6,7. Including the call of God to a guy like Abraham for a greater meaning in life then he currently had. A promise made to him by the God of great glory that will never know its completeness while he lives on this earth but by faith can have great assurance that God will supply a sacrifice greater than the one he can forfeit. This is all made sure by the steadfast love of a covenant keeping God. A God who is faithful to His word, always. I hope my words at the park bench outside the church, when he was too intoxicated to put his own words together, echoed of the same truth as Stephen speaking of Joseph who was deeply wronged by family members and in wrestling through tragedy after tragedy began to recognize God never left him or forsook him , but turned evil into good purposes for the saving of many. Or that, while we waited for the ambulance to show up I somehow, while he cursed me out for taking away his half full bottles of mouthwash , assured him there is a God who sees the affliction of his people and sends One to deliver. The Moses of old- was only a fore shadow of the Christ who can set him free from the slavery to hurt, pain, shame and alcoholism. This is the same Christ who was crucified, put in a grave, rose with great victory over the very death that my friend was rushing headlong into.
My heart does not hold an assurance that my friend ever understood the depths of these truths. He shared with me, early in our relationship, that he understood he was angry at God and at himself. He knew and hoped in the forgiveness of Jesus coming but he wasn’t sure that there was forgiveness deep enough for him and where his life was headed. I prayed with him and for him. He always thanked me for that and called me his friend.
I pray that one of our conversations over the years, maybe even in the last ‘sermon’ he ever heard preached, he reached out in faith to a Saviour who pursued him even to death. If he did, he too in his last moments could exclaim with Stephen, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”
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