Sunday, May 9, 2021
What qualities of a friend are most important to you? What makes someone a good friend? These are not rhetorical questions, I’d like for you to respond and offer some ideas out loud….
My senior year of high school one of my good friends, Marc, asked me to go to prom with him. Of course, getting asked by anybody to go to prom is a big deal in high school, but it was a particularly big deal for me because Marc was one of the most popular kids at school. He played on the football team, went to lots of parties (I didn’t go to any or even get invited) and was nominated for homecoming king. The reason we were friends was we played trumpet together in band, and he was actually really smart – he wanted to be a doctor and that’s what he is today, I’m happy to say. We would study together for major tests, but I don’t think most of his popular circle of friends knew I existed or that he was smart or in band because of course he was playing in the football games, not in the halftime shows with the band. So, I got to go to prom with one of my best friends, and I had a blast, and I felt for the first time that while I wasn’t popular and was in the wrong circles to be cool like Marc, that he was not ashamed to let the whole world of high school know that we were friends!
Today as we continue reading the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus says to us, “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 are times in life where it is good to know that Jesus is above us in many ways in terms of our relationship to him. He is our Lord and King. He is perfect and sinless, we are not. He is human, but also divine and of course, we are not. He knows things we don’t know. He’s in control of things we have no control over.
But kind of like my friendship with Marc, sometimes knowing Jesus is above us can create distance in our relationship with him. Sometimes our relationship with Jesus may feel out of whack because we think we’re not worthy – Jesus wouldn’t want to be caught dead hanging around us in public! We may feel like there are things we need to try to keep from sharing with Jesus or we may even be afraid of Jesus as our righteous JUDGE. It’s true, even in this short gospel passage, Jesus urges us to keep the commandments! That’s a funny thing for a friend to say, in a way. We might at first think Jesus is reinforcing a hierarchical relationship here where Jesus is the law enforcement officer and we’re the ones worried about getting caught.
But Jesus goes on to explain what the commandments are all about: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Jesus is the friend urging us to strive to be better, urging us to love ourselves and others because he already loves us. There are sometimes we need to remember that Jesus is not some distant God in the sky watching over us but that Jesus is as close as you are to me. Jesus wants to be in relationship with us. Jesus wants to be our friend. He’s not ashamed of us! In fact, Jesus is our best friend when you think about all of the qualities that make up a good friend and the reason why your earthly best friend is your best friend. Being in a mutually loving relationship where both people see each other as equals, in a sense, is important for a healthy friendship. This is true also for our relationship with Jesus – despite all we know to the contrary, Jesus sees us as his friends, at our same level, and wants a mutually loving relationship with us.
We’ve looked at several aspects of Jesus’ character and identity in these last few weeks since Easter Sunday: Jesus is light, forgiveness, the Good Shepherd, and the vine. Of course, there are many names and ways to think about our relationship with Jesus beyond these. Some, like the vine last week, are so abstract in terms of metaphor that little children (and some adults!) have a hard time relating to these descriptions of Jesus, especially when you don’t really know how to grow any kind of plant or grapes in particular. How wonderful it is today to be reminded that Jesus is someone we can truly relate to as our friend. Humans NEED friendships! We are social creatures! This year of social isolation has taught us that lesson well. And whether you are three or ninety-three, it is a blessing to know that Jesus is your friend. My message today to our confirmands is a simple one – Jesus is your friend, and will always be your friend. You don’t have to worry about whatever category you fit into at school – jock or nerd or band geek or whatever names you call yourselves these days, I’m sure I’m using outdated language. You fit in as a friend of Jesus. Jesus wants to be in relationship with you and that means talking to him daily in prayer, in worship, in seeing Christ in the face of your own friends and neighbors.
There’s another really important aspect of Jesus as our friend that Jesus tells us today: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Perhaps in your own friendships, you have gone above and beyond what casual friends would do for one another…serving as power of attorney or donating a kidney, babysitting each other’s children, house or pet sitting or staying over at the house or the hospital during a time of need. We know there are friends who truly would do anything for us if we needed, and those are amazing friends to have. As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, we may even think about our own moms becoming our friends as we age, and all that our moms sacrificed for us so that we would have a good life. What makes Jesus our best friend is his willingness to lay down his own life for us, to die on the cross for us – to truly go to any length for us so that we might have abundant life, and so that our joy may be complete! This morning we are singing that famous hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The first line reminds us of all that Jesus can do for us as our friend: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!” Those words have been so true for my own friendship with Jesus. I pray that they be true for you. Amen.