One of the most difficult things to do is to know when one journey has ended and another has begun. Or rather, it's most difficult to allow one journey to end so that another can begin. But that is precisely what we must do.
We've been looking at small groups all week, and this is the challenge of them: if small groups are for seasons, then we must recognize that at some point, seasons change. The days get longer, or shorter. The sun rises and sets. At some point, we pull up camp, pack away the tents, and press forward toward new horizons. And the truth is that you can't always take the same people with you.
So what happens to those you've spent the past season with? What do you become when you're no longer a traveling party?
Friends are great, but they're no small group. They aren't meant to be. Small groups are people on a journey, traveling together, building and breaking camp along the way. Small groups are groups of individuals taking the same road, headed in the same direction. They are salt on the bread of life, drawing out all the amazing new flavors of God. We need that. We need people going deliberately in our direction. We need people taking the same trails we are.
Friends...feel almost like the same thing, but there are some fundamental differences. Friends aren't on the same journey you're on. But they'll travel with you all the same. They don't build and break camp when you do; they stake out a place in your tent. They aren't necessarily taking the same road or heading in the same direction. But they don't mind the detour. They aren't salt on the bread of life; they're more...bread sharers. They're the kind of people who don't order their own fries but then eat most of yours.
And that's great. That's what we expect our friends to be. We expect our friends to be the kind of people who will go out of their way for us, who will accompany us on a journey that isn't even theirs, who will crash in our tent (or cry in our basement) if that's what the journey requires. We groan when they steal our fries, but there's still something about having someone in your life who's not afraid to help themselves to your food. Right? It's what a good friend does. It's what we all hope we have, and what we all hope we are.
Over time, these friends often even become family. They become the people we share our lives with, the ones we share our stories with. We have our own traditions and memories and inside jokes. All the things you could ever want in friends or family are right here, and if you take enough journeys with enough people, engage in enough small groups over the years, then one Sunday morning, you walk into your church and realize that all of these people, every one of them, is an amazing part of your story.
No longer are you content to sit with just a few of them. No longer are you happy at the kiddie tables. No longer do you talk to the same three or four in the lobby. All of a sudden, you're longing for a place where you can all be together. Every one of you. Every one of these friends, every one of these sisters, every one of these brothers. Together.
And...there's a place for that. You're already in it. It's called church.
That's what happens with small groups done well. You spend your life journeying together - first with one group and then with another. Along the way, you make friends, and sometimes, you take journeys that aren't yours because you want to be a good friend. And sometimes, they take journeys that aren't theirs because you have good friends. And somewhere along the way, these friends become family. And the family comes together on Sunday mornings, and everyone wants to know where they're supposed to sit. And the answer is simple:
At the table. At the one table.
At God's table.