Word of the Week

Befriend Jesus

When In Doubt: Befriend Jesus

John 15:9-17

Have you ever thought of yourself as a friend of God?

And what an unusual piece of scripture we have before us this morning. If you are like me, you think of friend as a more casual word, not a word meant for the one called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords that we know as Jesus

In our gospel lesson for the day, we are told this earth shattering, game changing fact-- for those of us who are on the journey of getting to know Jesus-- we are called Jesus' friend.

Look with me at verse 15: "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."

As we consider today the idea of being in friendship with Jesus, such could have a multitude of different meanings based on your life experiences-- what having friends in your life has meant to you.

For some of us, our friends become like our family, those in whom we claim among our dearest of the dear. For others of us, having and maintaining friendships has become one of the most frustrating types of relationships in our lives because they haven't come easy to us. For, as fast as some of us seem to make friends, we lose them.

For it is true that friends can be some of life's greatest blessings or some of life's greatest headaches, right?

A friend to you might be someone who we know and love and share some of life's best and worst times alongside, but sometimes friends are those people who abandon us when hard times come. Sometimes when supposed friends smell trouble in the waters that surround our life they jump out faster than we have time to blink.

A friend might be someone who we trust with everything, share our secrets and our deepest thoughts,  but sometimes such friends are those who break our hearts worst than known enemies. Sometimes friends are those who share what we never wanted any other ears to hear-- stabbing our hearts deeper than we ever could have imagined.

A friend to you might be someone in whom you can call to visit if you need to borrow something or who can tag along with you to an activity you both enjoy, but sometimes friends are people who are people who don't really know us at all. We may spent time we them, but never do our conversations flow into the deep waters of what makes life, life (drama of course). We can be easily surrounded by "friends" and feel like we have no friends at all.

So when Jesus, in his final discourse to the disciples in John's gospel calls us friends, we might find ourselves confused, unimpressed or altogether unsure of what being identified as Jesus' friend might mean for us.

Friendship-- how we identify who is our friend, how we relate to our friends, and ultimately what it means to have friends in our lives has been something that philosophers and theologians have been writing about for centuries. In the 5th century B.C.E. philosopher Pythagorus famously said, "Friends have all things in common." Aristotle is remembered for saying, "Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies."  Great theologian Thomas Aquians said, "There is nothing on this earth to be more prized than friendship."

Because even though we all struggle with the question of who are our friends and what it means to give and receive love from them -- at the end of the day, we all, in one way or another want to know that somebody is our friend. Helen Keller once said: "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." And, I 100% agree.

I recently attending a conference where a well known pastor was quizzed by eager clergy about her experiences in the church. One of the first questions asked of the speaker was, "What did you say in your first conversation to the church leadership when you began at the church?" We all sat on the edge of our seats, expecting her to say something about growth strategy, finance or something that could be transcribed into a leadership book. But, no, the pastor speaker conveyed, "I asked each member of the church leadership team if they would be my friend. I had just moved to the area," she went on, "And I really hoped that someone would want to hang out with me. I was really afraid that I wouldn't have any friends."

And, like this pastor, we'll do almost anything to understand it, create more networks for them to flourish within, and attend to throughout our lives-- even if it means joining a social network for friends like Facebook or Twitter, even if we don't like the computer. We'll make an exception with social sites  to keep up with and reconnect with our friends over the chasm of time and distance.

And, I believe that Jesus gets this about our humanity.  As we talked about last Sunday, from even the moment of creation when light came from darkness, we came about relationally. Like our Triune Creator, Jesus knows, we too are made for relationships. And,  Jesus walked in our human skin too, didn't he?

And, Jesus calls all of us FRIENDS.

Earlier in John 15, the gospel writer gave us one of the greatest metaphors in all of the stories of Jesus. We are told by the Lord that "I am the vine and you are the branches."  In such a descriptor of a plant-- something we all can all understand, we are told of how we are not just lowly human beings like puppets being manipulated by a divine on a string. No, we are told that we are part of the main event, with our proper place of course: we are the branches and Jesus is the vine but a part of the stalk of the plant nonetheless. We  our were made to be interconnected with the work of our vine-- Jesus.

Jesus says, "I do not call you servants any longer . . . I have called you friends. For a servant does not know their master's business" but in friendship, we are given a relational way to live among God. Not as lower class citizens.  But, as partners. . . . as we abide in God, we know and can do what it is God is already doing. As friends, we are included in the community of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

But what does this mean? If we befriend Jesus, what might our lives begin to look like?

Look with me at verse 13: "Greater love have no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends."

Such is a verse I was asked to memorize in Sunday School as a child, and because I've had the words stuck in my head this long, I've often pondered what they mean.  And usually I've been confused. I mean when in an average day are any of us asked to give our lives for our friends-- in a literal way?. To be a friend means I have to be ready to give my life for another person? Heavy stuff, right?

Professor Dave Lose from Luther Seminary puts it like this:

Love does indeed call at times for sacrifice, but sacrificing for another and being less of a person isn't the same thing. At its best, sacrificial love invites us to live more fully into the kind of person we are called to be.

 I think that's what Jesus means when he says "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (15:12-13).

Jesus isn't less of who he is called to be by laying down his life, but more.

Lose goes on to write: I know this is complicated, and again open to abuse -- not all sacrifices are holy -- but when I look at some of the loving sacrifices people have made for me (my parents, my wife) or that I have made for others, we were never disgraced or devalued by making those sacrifices but actually lived more fully into who we were called to be.[i]

And this is what it all boils down to. When we befriend Jesus and walk in the way of loving others, as he taught us to love, we will be asked to sacrifice. But sacrifice of our lives not to become less, but to become more.

This is what friendship is ultimately all about.

When I think about all the examples of strong mothers, sisters, and aunts that we celebrate on a day like this, I can't help but think that the strong women many of us will choose to revere, are those who have become less as they've given to others, not more.

Several years ago I was introduced to a woman, Mrs. Sims, through visits in her home who attended a church I was serving. I was eager to visit her on the first time I drove up to her house because of all of the wonderful things I 'd heard about her from other members of the congregation.

"Mrs. Sims," others all told me, "is one of the most godly women in our church. There seems like there is nothing she won't do. She teaches the children. She maintains our church kitchen. And did you know that she and her husband adopted 5 special needs children from foster care system? She's so amazing." With such flattering praise before I even met her, my hopes were high. I couldn't wait to learn from her! BUT I was soon deflated when I knocked on her door for our first meeting.

Mrs. Sims' hair looked like she had not experienced a proper shower in days. Food from her children's lunchtime was all over the floor and on the walls. As much as I tried to ask her questions, she looked so exhausted that she barely could keep her head up. As I looked into her eyes, it seemed that any sort of light from soul-fulfilling work was not there. She later told me she felt like a do-gooding robot and that she just couldn't ever say no out of guilt.

I left her home on this occasion and several others quite concerned not only about the mental and emotional well-being of Mrs. Sims, but on the state of the church that would exalt the "godly" service of a woman like this who clearly was of course helping people, but helping them at the cost of her own soul.

When you and I are on a path of following Jesus-- who has called us friends-- we are asked to live a different way than  most of have come to understand friendship in our past experiences.

Being friends with Jesus is not about a one-sided relationship-- the kind where one person does all the talking, all the giving, all the serving and the other does nothing in return.

Being friends with Jesus is not about having the life sucked out of us-- the kind of friendship where we leave the presence of a friend and feel so exhausted that we wish we'd never spent time with them before.

Being friends with Jesus is not about constantly talking to know what our friend is thinking or going years on end without saying a word-- because real friends simply can't reside in one another's lives like this. Real friends don't have to talk all the time to close nor can they go years without speaking and still have a strong connection either.

Rather, being friends with Jesus, as John 15 teaches us, is about abiding. Verse 9 lays it clearly out for us, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love."

Our series this resurrection season has begun each week with the statement . . . when in doubt. And as we end today this series, I can't think of any better way than to go back to this aspect of our lives which we all can understand: friendship.

When we find ourselves lost on this resurrection path from time to time and doubts will floods our gaze, but  we always have an invitation back to the center: Jesus calls us friend. And we are asked to befriend Jesus back.

It's a relationship that is never static but always changing, always inviting, always calling, always asking us to come and grow as branches on that great vine.  It's a relationship we've all been chosen for and asked to participate in not as servants, but as beloved.

Because I believe that as we come to friend Jesus, and take in the love that He has for us, we are able to love one another in the ways in which he loves too. Ultimately, it's the love of Jesus that brings us all together in a place like this.


[i] Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=585