Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Jesus Calls Us Friends" - John 15:9-18 (5-17-09)

I would like to talk to you as among friends. When we talk as friends, we can use frank and open speech. So let me be frank and open. I’m glad I’m among friends today after a funeral yesterday and a funeral tomorrow for my wife’s aunt. It’s good to be among friends when death comes a knocking. This society of friends, like the Quakers, is a place where community is renewed.

We were created to be friends right from the start! Friendship began at the start in the Garden of Eden, When God created us, it was His intent to maintain intimate fellowship. God walked with them and God talked with them. But then the friendship was broken! Something or someone got in the way as we chose a new best friend that deceived us. But God wanted to restore that relationship.

It's what God sought in Abraham & Moses who was a friend of God. It wasn’t’ a monologue but a dialogue that God was after – a holy conversation in community and friendship. Lest we sentimentalize God into a friend, Martin Marty said, we are reminded that this is a dialogue and not a monologue. God may be omnipotent, impassible and transcendent; wholly other; beyond Knowing; the I AM THAT I AM. But God seems to value friendship of sorts. We can even look to the Trinity as an experience of relationship and interdependence.

When Jesus called the discipleship into a relationship, he was called “rabonai” or rabbi or master. He was their rabbi; their teacher; their leader and they were the students, servants or slaves to the master. But slaves and servants have no rights! We don’t follow just because we have to! We teach our children emotional intelligence and the relationships skills of negotiating. They are not called servants but children, little people who will become mature. This relationship with the disciples near the end of Jesus’ life in John’s gospel seems to become very intimate! Now he will become their FRIEND! Not slaves but companions. “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you! No one has greater love than to lay down their life for their friends. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” and “I have called you friends”. Today we rarely use “friendship” to describe our relationship with God!

Yet it is friendship that Jesus invited the disciple to experience. The word that Jesus used was “philos” which is the word we get for Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. This philos is a friendship love. When Jesus tested his friendship with Peter after Peter had denied him, Jesus asked Peter three times after the resurrection if Peter loved him. Some say it’s a mirror of the three times Peter denied Jesus. Yet when Jesus asked Peter this question, he asked Peter if he loved him with the word “agape’. Do you agape me and Peter said you know I “philos” you; do you “agape” me he asked a second time and Peter said, said you know I “philos” you. Then Jesus asked, “Do you philos me?” and Peter said you know I “philos” you. It’s as if Jesus were taking Peter at Peter’s level of friendship. Jesus invited him to learn agape by starting with philos.

Like Peter and the disciples, we are being invited to go deeper in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So let us see how this friendship will develop and be tested. Immediately after this section of Jesus will be betrayed and denied. There is great risk in becoming friends. We remember this risk in the words of institution: the night in which he was betrayed. All the disciples will deny him this night – friends like that, who needs enemies. I’ve heard some pastors change it to “the night before his crucifixion” and this removes our betrayal and denial of our friend.

Yet Jesus will trust these disciples as he is investing into this relationship that will bear fruit even in the midst of failure. Jesus will demonstrate that to be a friend of Jesus means to love in a sacrificial way. Jesus will lay down his life for his friends, and that meant a painful physical sacrifice. Yet there are lots of ways of laying down our lives: giving up time; giving up personal ambitions; or donate money to a friend. Jesus has set example. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12). Friend to one Native American tribe was “one-who-carries-my-sorrows-on-his-back.” That is literally what Christ did on Calvary: He carried our sorrows on his back.

But being friends in faith also means “being” a friend. Martin Marty cites the philosopher Gabriel Marcel who views a friend "as a way of being more than doing," one who is "being at the disposal of someone else." Being a friend means "being available"-a sharing of life, knowledge, and self. Being available "involves an attitude, a posture, a signaling that draws on the deepest elements of the self."

Friendship is also not conditional. This friendship with Jesus will go from “you are my friends if you do what I command you” to an assertion (“I have called you friends”), O’Day notes, does not depend on something the disciples do, “because their enactment of Jesus’ commandments still remains in the future. No, it is something that Jesus has done: ‘I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’ (John 15:15)

When I was in college, I had a friend named Thad. After graduation, he went to Garrett while I went to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He took a call to the Milwaukee area while I served in the Rockford area. We would get together about three out of four Tuesdays in Elkhorn, WI at a bar called “Someplace Else” and talk about ministry stuff. We both got married in 1997 and were in each other’s wedding party. He then moved to Detroit, West Virginia, Tennessee and then Minnesota. We only kept in touch at the most through Christmas cards. But now he has been serving a couple years now in Dakota, IL and we’ve gotten together about six times now at Mary’s Market on East State street in Rockford for lunch. The best thing about our friendship is that we have pick up where we left off! You see what is more powerful than philos is agape. Friendships that are built upon the grace of Christ that calls us back into a relationship that might bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

Let us pray: Gracious God, even when we have denied or betrayed our friendship with you, you invite us back and pick up where we left off by showing us more than just friendship but unconditional love. Strengthen our friendship today that we may tell others about this friendship you have established with us, we pray in Jesus name, Amen.


Erin said...


Anonymous said...

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