May 13, 2012
Sixth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“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. 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.
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
When I was seven years old our family moved to Spokane, Washington. My dad had just retired after serving in the Air Force for 20 years.
I had been born in Illinois, and then we’d also lived in places like Newfoundland and Kansas. We’d been in Spokane for a short time when I was younger and my parents bought a house there. Then we moved to Newfoundland. When we moved back after dad retired, we lived in that house for five more years, until we moved to Texas when I was 12.
It was the summer before I started the second grade and I didn’t know anyone. My brother and sister were 7 and 9 years older than me, so they didn’t want to hang around with me. I just had to play by myself and find my own entertainment until school started and then I would meet some kids my own age.
One day I was playing out in the street in front of our house and some neighborhood kids came up to me and started giving me a hard time. I don’t really remember what they were saying to me but I do remember feeling a little intimidated – they were probably just hazing the new kid on the block.
About that time another group of kids I didn’t know came up and told these other kids to leave me alone. I felt very grateful. It turns out that these kids who came to my defense ended up being some of my best friends for the next five years. I know Mark Scalise was one of them, and he was my best childhood friend, even though he was a year older than me and he went to Catholic School. His younger brother Steve was also probably in the group, and maybe Ronnie Clavell and Tracy Moore.
Even though I made more friends at school, these were the kids I hung out with all the time. We slept over at each other’s houses; we rode bikes all over town; we played kickball and baseball and hide and seek and cops and robbers till dark. These were the guys that actually taught me how to ride a bike, not my parents. They got tired of me not being able to go places with them on bikes, so they made me ride until I learned how.
A few years ago we gave my mom a Mother’s Day surprise by borrowing a slide projector and showing them some slides that they had taken after the war when my dad was stationed in Japan. There were pictures of my brother and sister as little kids.
Mixed in with the slides were some pictures of me from the 1960s, when I was about 10 or 11 years old. In one of them I was wearing a red-checkered shirt (like a tablecloth). When I saw that photo, I remembered right away why I had that shirt. It was because Mark Scalise, my best friend, had one, and I wanted to be like him. He was cool.
When my parents told me in the spring of 1966 that my dad was taking a job with Civil Service at Sheppard Air Force Base and that we would be moving to Texas, I was devastated. I’d never been to Texas before and that sounded kind of cool, but how could I leave my friends behind? What would I do without them?
Friends, especially childhood or teenage friends, can be very special.
I bring all this up because in our Scripture reading today, Jesus talks about friends and friendship…
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
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…
What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? What do we have to do, if anything, for Jesus to call us “friends?”?
You may remember back when President Clinton was in office there was a group of people who were called “Friends of Bill” – F.O.B. It was thought to be a big deal to be considered an FOB. Many people were probably willing to go to great lengths to be the friend of such a powerful person as the President of the United States.
What does it mean to be an “FOJ” – a Friend of Jesus? Do we have to wear our hair like him? Dress like him? Of course not. But I would like all of us to think this morning about what it means to be a friend of Jesus. I can think of no greater goal for our lives than for us to be “friends of Jesus.”
The first thing we have to understand about friendship with Jesus is this:
Friendship with Jesus is a gift.
It’s gift that Jesus gives us. There’s nothing we have to do to earn it or deserve it. The very first verse of today’s reading says…
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you…”
Did Jesus, the Son, have to do anything for God the Father to love him? No. Those of us who are parents know that we just love our children because they are our children. We don’t love them because of how they look or how they act or what they say. We just love them, unconditionally.
As God the Father loved Jesus the Son unconditionally, so Jesus says he loves us unconditionally. It’s not a love that has to be earned. It’s just there.
Jesus also says…
“You did not choose me but I chose you.”
Jesus chose the disciples, whom he’s addressing here, and also us, to be his friends. They did not choose him as their friend. He chose them first. Now I believe they came to have a deep, shared friendship over the three years they spent together, but it’s clear where the initiative lies – with Jesus.
Jesus is the one who chooses to call us friends. We could just be servants and that would be enough. But that’s not how Jesus chooses to relate to us. He says…
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.
Jesus chooses to relate to us on a much deeper level – as friends. A master didn’t feel any reason to let his servants in on his plans. But because Jesus chooses to relate to us as friends, Jesus has shared the Father’s plans and purposes with us. This is a relationship of much deeper intimacy and trust than could ever be found between a master and servants.
So, that’s the first thing we have to realize: there’s nothing we have to do to make Jesus like us or to convince him to be our friend. Jesus has already chosen to do that for us out of his deep, deep love for us.
Chances are, Mark Scalise already considered me to be his friend before I tried to dress like him. We may think we have to impress Jesus with how good we are or how “religious” we are before Jesus will call us friends. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus loves us and considers us his friends just as we are.
But the other thing we have to realize is…
How our friendship with Jesus grows.
We may not have to do anything to make Jesus love us or consider us his friends, but there are things Jesus wants us to do help our friendship with him grow and develop. He tells them to us in this passage. The first is…
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love … You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Jesus doesn’t mean we earn his friendship by obeying his command. Jesus really only had one command: “Love one another.” As we show love in our lives, we truly experience what friendship with Jesus is, because at its heart it is love. Love is the definition of any friendship. As we love, we are friends of Jesus, and because we are friends of Jesus we love. As we love one another, Jesus says we experience the fullness of his joy.
The second way our friendship with Jesus grows is through…
We experience the fullness of friendship with Jesus as we become loving persons – persons who love God and one another. This is a love without limits. Jesus says that it may even lead us to lay down our life for our friend, either literally or symbolically. That’s what Jesus did for us – he laid down his life for us. As we love one another with that Christ-like sacrificial love, we begin to know that real friendship is all about.
And then finally, our friendship with Jesus grows as we…
“…I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
We were chosen and appointed to be friends of Jesus for a reason – to bear fruit for him, fruit that lasts. What’s the only kind of fruit that lasts? It’s fruit that has eternal life – that is, lives that are changed and saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Our purpose is to change lives for eternity with the love of God. Anything else we do will die with us. But if a person is saved and receives eternal life because we told them about the love of Jesus and shared that with them – that lasts for eternity.
So my invitation to all of you today is to simply receive the friendship that Jesus already offers us – it doesn’t have to be earned or deserved, simply accepted as God’s free gift. And then grow that friendship through obedience to Jesus, loving others to the very end, and bearing fruit for Christ’s eternal kingdom. Amen.