May 6, 2018 – Easter 6 B
[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I 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. 16You 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. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
I don’t normally do this, but I will today. I want you to turn to your neighbor (if you don’t have one, you can either find one or sit and talk to yourself) and take 30 seconds or so and tell them what you think it means for someone to be your friend. How do you know if someone is a friend? What do friends do? Okay, go for it.
What are some of the things you thought of?
Now, I want us to consider what is means, in light of what we’ve said together, for Jesus to be our friend. First, let’s think about what this must have meant to his disciples. In the ancient rabbinical practices of Judaism, the rabbi, the teacher, was the master of his students. It would be a similar relationship, maybe, to an apprentice and master builder. The apprentice is there to learn, the master is there to teach, and that may be all the deeper the relationship goes. They might like each other, they might appreciate each other, but they are not friends. But Jesus, here, is telling his disciples that they are more than simply apprentices or colleagues. Rather, they are his friends. That, in itself, is pretty personal and amazing.
This means all the more when we consider what is happening when Jesus speaks these words. This is the farewell address on Maundy Thursday, the day before he is crucified. Jesus is celebrating Passover with his disciples, he has washed their feet, and has said to them that whenever they eat or drink of it, he has given them bread and wine, they are to remember him. He knows that he will be betrayed tonight. He knows that his disciples will scatter and that, after his resurrection, he’ll need to gather them together like so many sheep and breathe upon them the Holy Spirit to keep them active in God’s Kingdom. In his last hours, he is reassuring the disciples that we are his friends and that he is ours.
And how can we know that? Jesus gives us a pretty good working definition of friends. Friends are chosen, not chosen for you, and Jesus tells his disciples that he has chosen them. And, I declare to you, that in the waters of baptism, Jesus has chosen you. And this is made known in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus has laid down his life for his friends and that means you. The season of Easter is a season of celebration that death and sin have been defeated by Christ’s resurrection. Not just some sins, and some death, but sin and death, even yours. Rather than play by the rules, rather than keeping the doors of heaven locked and closed until you’re good enough to get in, Jesus has simply removed the gates and fences. Rather than side with the powerful and the violent, Jesus has sided with the meek and weak. Jesus has laid down his life for his friends, and that includes you. All of you. Even the parts of you that you try to hide, the parts of you that you’d rather forget. Like any good friend, Jesus knows you, knows what you’re going through, and knows your insecurities, your fears, and your anxieties. And when he laid down his life, as he was raised on the cross, he took that upon himself.
Now, your relationship with God is forever changed. No longer a beggar, you are a guest. No longer a servant, you are a friend. No longer defined by the what you’ve done wrong, by God’s grace you are defined by the love that God has poured out upon you. While you are a sinner, you are also, at the same time, a saint, washed in the waters of baptism, fed by the bread and wine of Christ, and befriended by Jesus. “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.”
Christ has shown us God the Father by showing us what the Kingdom of God looks like. And in laying down his life for you, Jesus is showing us God’s willingness to sacrifice, to undergo pain and suffering, in order to bring you to wholeness and full relationship. The word compassion gets thrown around a lot, and I may have talked about this before, but the word “compassion” comes from the Latin words for “with” and “suffering”. To have compassion means that you are willing to suffer with someone. And what better way can we describe the love of Christ? We trust that Jesus is our friend because of the compassion we see in the world, both by Jesus himself and by those who follow him.
As Christ’s followers, as Christ’s friends, we pay forward what we’ve been given. We cannot pay back Christ, we can only pay it forward by loving, by having compassion on, the people and the world around us. That is what the life of faith looks like; not incessant rule following in order to gain favor with God and access to heaven, but rather relentless love and care for the people around us. We do this because we trust that, like we pray each and every week, God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. This is not access to a Kingdom far away, but rather makes known the Kingdom that is already here.
Jesus is your friend, the Triune God chose you, before you could ever earn or respond to it. And as friends of Jesus, we, both individually and corporately, work to help others know that Jesus is there friend, too. We do that by following Christ’s example, laying down our lives for others. And, of course, I hope you all know that does not mean you will die for each and every person. Rather, you will see their lives as equal with your, just as valuable and worth protecting as yours. This means that 1) I really want you to know how much Jesus loves you and 2) I really want you to know how much Jesus loves the world and people around you. Laying down your life means that we, together and alone, through whatever gifts and resources you have, work to befriend the world with the same intention and determination as Christ has for us and you. We are willing to listen to each other’s stories, share each other’s burdens, care for each other in mind, body, and spirit, and, in the end, share in the endless communion of sinner-saints of God.
And our joy, as Jesus says in our reading, is made complete. It is made complete in sharing it, experiencing joy together, pain together, love together, anger together, and, in the end, life together. “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.” So peace to you, friends of Jesus, and may God grant us the peace that passes understanding and the love to bring it to life. Amen.