Text: John 15:9-17
Let’s talk about friends, and friendship. I think many of us are fortunate enough to be blessed with one or two people whom we can call a “true” friend. A “true” friend is someone with whom you are intimate with… in the proper sense of the word. We are able to trust our friend with our most private thoughts and feelings, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable… and if necessary, to be open to critique in those times we really need to hear it.
There’s a lot to be said for this… it’s wise. Only the sometimes searing honesty of a true friend can prevent us from making some genuinely bad mistakes. Yet also the honesty and value of true friend can give us genuine encouragement when we really need it. By all means, let the church be a community of true friends, where we can practice a radical kind of openness. It is so needed in a society that has become increasingly fragmented… people are craving genuine community, but are being far more guarded about who they let the guard down with… The trust needs to be earned, it’s not given simply because we “are the church.” There needs to be something more there…
The church is meant to be more. Let’s be honest, friendships are possible in all sorts of organizations and institutions: in clubs, in fraternal organizations like the Rotary clubs, and even as something as nasty as a street gang… but the kind of community that God calls us to goes even deeper than this kind of friendship. It’s more radical… it’s friendship in Christ. Friendship in Christ is a daring dream!
In this Easter Season, we are slowly moving from the celebration of Resurrection to our commissioning and response at Pentecost. As part of that, we have this story of Jesus having a great-big “love-in” with all of his disciples. This radical dream of friendship that he gives tends to be lost on our English-speaking ears… because while the word he uses is “love” it’s not what we’ve come to know and expect. The love Jesus talks about is agape, which is far deeper than the sense of love that we have for a friend, but not in the physical sense. Agape is a willingness to give and share of ourselves, without an expectation of getting anything in return. It is far more than “warm fuzzy feeling” we tend to think about love and friendship, and pushes it into the realm of action.
Jesus goes on to say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” A willingness to put it all on the line… This is all well and good, but in the course of the story, Jesus goes on to say, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
There is a transformation going on here, Jesus calls the disciples his friends… which is historically true enough… but in the gospel of John he’s doing so on that intimate level. In John, Jesus calls for an establishment of close, personal friendships… where people are not afraid to be who they are with one another… where differences are respected, but at the core of it, love is genuinely showed and shared with one another. Jesus tells them that a true friend is not afraid to lay it all on the line, he takes that first step and calls us friends… we didn’t seek this out. Jesus comes to us first, and says “You did not choose me, I chose you.”
Given everything that we understand about friends, there’s something about this that doesn’t quite fit. We normally consider that friendship is a relationship that we enter into by our own personal choices. The people we consider friends are the ones that we choose… and yet along comes Jesus and says, “you did not choose me, I chose you.” Jesus comes after us, and seeks us out. These days, most people tend to “church shop” in that they go around looking for a congregation that they feel comfortable in. We tend to say that we decide which church to choose… yet Jesus turns that whole idea on its head… Christ is the one who chooses us first. God already gets there first… that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us… what God has already given us.
If we’re going to love each other in the way that Jesus loved, we need to be willing to give ourselves to each other. God calls us to “abide” together in the love of Jesus Christ. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” If we start from our hopes to have genuine friends within this community of faith, this is where we end up… discovering a real need to abide in Christ’s love… to really live the love of Christ. If our vision is to connect people, to grow in faith, and to create caring community, it is my hope that the friendships we develop here are far more than people we can share gardening tips with or even a round of golf. It is our hope that people feel befriended in Christ… that we are not afraid to share honestly with each other our hopes and fears, worries and delights, our experiences and questions… We’re not afraid to listen to others, or share our own wisdom… at the risk of discovering that we might be wrong… or even more profound, that God has been there all along.
To embrace all with the love and friendship of Jesus Christ is a daring dream. If we are to realize it, we need to really risk true friendship. We risk opening ourselves to each other about the deep stuff that we struggle with… risk openly talking about God, about Jesus Christ and what it means to be a follower and a friend. We need to be willing and open to hear the critique of others, rather than being all too ready to offer our own. We need to be real and honest about who we are, knowing that God loves us for who we are… warts and all… and most importantly… that’s okay! Because honesty is the foundation of any healthy friendship… being honest with ourselves first, and willing to let others be honest with us is the first step towards that true sense of friendship in Christ that so many are longing for.