Jesus says, “I have called you friends.”says in our scripture today. He could have said this anytime, really, but he says it knowing this is the last time they will share bread and wine together on this side of the resurrection.
Placed in what is known in the gospel of John as the “Last Discourse” it seems like a fitting scripture to reflect on, given this is my last discourse in many ways. My residency ends next Sunday, May 13. It’s hard to believe this much time has gone by.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the pastoral residency or would like a reminder. The Pastoral Residency is a 2 year transition-into-ministry program providing immersive experience in both congregational and community ministry within the supportive environment of a teaching congregation. Over the course of ministry with First Baptist Greensboro, the congregation hopes the Resident will develop the pastoral identity, theological frameworks, and habits of work and leadership that will contribute to a thriving future in vocational ministry.
While residencies may feel unfamiliar to some of us, they take their inspiration from medical residencies, in that you have completed your education, you have the credentials, but you need experience. At First Baptist, our residency has its roots in the associate pastor program during the late fifties and early sixties. The alums of this program included the likes of Bill Wilson Sr., Jack Causey, and Randall Lolley. Our residency celebrates FBC’s commitment to being a teaching congregation and our commitment to set young ministers off on the right foot, in view of a long and healthy career in ministry.
For, me I was feeling called to congregational ministry, but had very limited congregational experience. The residency afforded me the opportunity to gain experience in both a congregational and non-profit setting at Peacehaven community farm. My unique residency sees the importance of community partnerships as we share a personnel resource. It takes friendship with one another to another level, as we share not space or purely financial resources, but a person–a relationship.
So I come now, in a reflective mood. I am thankful for the many ways that I have loved and have been loved by this congregation as we serve together.
Jesus says, “I have called you friends.”In our text today, Jesus is describing to his disciples how they are to go on once Jesus has departed. As alluded to earlier, this section of scripture is part of a larger piece called the “Last Discourse” a lengthy speech between the last supper and prayer in the garden. We imagine that by this point the disciples and Jesus may be walking, Jesus talking along the way to Gethsemane. While this last discourse is not present in the other Gospels, John takes care to remind us once again what discipleship is about. Discipleship is about love as a relationship and love as a way of being.
Jesus takes the opportunity to give a farewell toast, the PowerPoint slide with photos of their journey, and the “Graduation Song” by Vitamin C playing in the background. Jesus tells his disciples how he really feels, how he loves them, and how he has seen them grow and change. And I find myself wondering, if I have done this with the friends in my life.
I am a person who has high standards for myself, and in that same vein I hold my friends to a high standard. But when it comes down to it there is one quality that is above all the rest. My friends are the people who tell me the truth. This was a quality in the first century as well. Greek Epicurean philosopher and poet Philodemus says that “Frankness has friendship at its locus. It is the highest office of a friend to call a friend to task, to encourage a friend to reach for the best, and to perform at the optimum.”
Frankness as park of friendship is about the hard truths about when I have been unloving- to myself and to others. When I have not lived as I could have, exemplifying the life of Christ. And yes, when I make the dorm room smell like burnt hair. I knew my college roommate, Chelsea and I were to be best friends on the day she asked me to stop straightening my hair in the door room. It’s hard to believe I used to iron out these gorgeous locks, but yes I used to do it. Frankness seems trivial in this instance, but this was a couple weeks into school. We really liked each other and we wondered how this event would affect our budding relationship. Our dorm room was a sweeping ten feet by ten feet with bunk beds, two dressers, two desks, a mini fridge and a microwave. So, I can’t blame her for thinking the room could simply not hold the stench of thirty minutes of hair straightening. One day, she took several deep breaths, and asked me if I could do it in the bathroom instead. Sure, no problem. The issue was solved and conflict over. But I think what this really did was build trust between us. We are nearly ten years past the hair straightening and Chelsea has told me the truth about far more difficult things, and I her.
Jesus says, “I have called you friends.”Jesus holds us to a similar standard when he calls us friends,
Gerard Sloyan in the Interpretation commentary says this, “Jesus invites to an abiding love of him, a love that is committed, that is sure. The sign of fidelity is the same as it is in all friendships: taking seriously what the friend takes seriously (here expressed as “my commandments”) The measure of the mutual love of disciples is Jesus’ love for them, even to death”
The commandment that we must follow is what Jesus is speaks to in John 13:34-35, 13:34: I give you a new command, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
It reminds me of the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” that we will sing later in the service. This is our marker as Christians, love and friendship. Really the two are not far apart. The word used for friend here is philios. It literally means the ones who are loved. This was the designation Jesus used for Lazarus, for the disciples, and for us. We are friends because we are beloved.
So what does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? I would like for us to consider seven qualities found in this scripture.
- When we are friends of Jesus, we are in relationship with God. When it says that we will abide, it is more about the proximity of the relationship than the spacial conception of abide. When we are the branches grafted into the true vine we are connected, our needs are met, and we are able to bear fruit.
- When we are friends with Jesus, we keep Christ’s commandments. This means, we respond to the love graciously offered to us, through acting in love to one another. We are literally embodying what it means to be a friend in Jesus’ verbage, to be philios- characterized by love. As Jesus initiated love to us, so too must we initiate love to others.
- When we are friends with Jesus,joy is complete. I like the KJV translation of this that our joy will be full. I don’t think that being friends of Jesus means we check off the joy box in our lives, but rather we are open to joy being full in a way that we cannot be without the friendship of Jesus.
- When we are friends with Jesus, we emulate Jesus’ self-sacrifice. In a verse that is known by so many of us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We see this in Jesus death, and the self-sacrificial love of this statement stands in stark contrast to the hate the world will offer according to Jesus’ words later in chapter 15. As friends of Jesus, we can testify that there is power in weakness.
- When we are friends with Jesus, we are examples of barriers of power torn down. We are no longer servants, but friends because of our knowledge. In this concept I like to think of the egalitarianism promoted here. There is no hierarchy. Jesus removes that when he acts as a servant by washing the disciples feet. In being friends, Jesus says that the hierarchies that we put up have no place in his Kingdom.
- When we are friends with Jesus, we are chosen. In being chosen we know that we have value to God. Gail O’Day says that the community that emerges from John 15:1-17 is one of interrelationship, mutuality, and indwelling. This type of community challenges individual autonomy and privatism. This kind of community has social interrelationship and accountability at its heart. And I can’t help but wonder if we can only achieve that type of community when we recognize that we have been adopted into it. We are chosen as friends, and that is humbling.
- When we are friends with Jesus, we will bear fruit and God will give us what we ask. This means we will act in love, following Jesus’s commandments. And I think when we act in love, it changes what we ask for. All of a sudden the things we ask for have very little to do with personal gain, and very much to do with the radical reality of the kingdom of God.
Jesus says, “I have called you friends.”
Not too long ago my friend Meredith and I were once discussing family relationships. She comes from a family, where she is an only child, her mother disappeared early in her life, and her father was out of the picture until recently when he got sober. So, she was raised by her grandmother who passed away when she was twenty. At the time of our conversation her closest family relationship was her aunt with whom she spent holidays, birthdays, and vacations. So, I asked her what she considered was a positive relational word- father, mother, aunt or grandmother? To my surprise, she said no to all of these. And so then I asked well, what then is a relational association that is positive for you? She responded, friend.
I was blown away because I knew she chose, and still chooses to call me friend. The term she associates with the most positive form of relationship…friend. It is an honor to be her friend because it means that she chooses me. Given the weight that Meredithgives friendship, I think surely Jesus must give it even more heft. I am
overwhelmed and humbled that Jesus calls me friend. The barriers that may have existed before are torn down. Meredithcalls me friend, and Jesus calls us friends.
What if we considered that Jesus, like Meredith, considered friendship the most intimate nomenclature for relationships? He could have called us sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles…and to our surprise he doesn’t say this. He says friends. And he chose and still chooses to call us friends. Because it’s for a friend that your joy is complete, it’s for a friend that you share power, it’s for a friend that you abide together, and it’s for a friend lay down your life.
This is what Jesus did, and this is the example he gives us. When the chips are down, when betrayal and death are coming, who are your friends? What are your standards? Are they in line with Jesus?
On November 22, 1995 perhaps the best Disney-Pixar movie of all time debuted, Toy Story.The premise is that Toys come to life, and the plot revolves around a boy named Andy’s toys. Andy’s favorite Toy is Woody, a cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks. The movie begins with the song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” with a montage of all of Woody and Andy’s adventures. They are best friends, and as the song goes “And as the years go by, Our friendship will never die, You’re gonna see it’s our destiny, You’ve got a friend in me.”
It appeared as though nothing could separate Woody and Andy, until a new toy arrives on Andy’s birthday, Buzz Lightyear, and action figure Space Ranger with wings and lasers. And Buzz thinks he is an actual space ranger, not a toy. Quickly Woody feels left out, jealous and royally annoyed at Buzz. Though twists and turns, Woody and Buzz end up at the next door neighbor, Sid’s house. Sid does not love his toys the way Andy does, and we find Woody and Buzz re-evaluating who they are, how they care for one another, and how they will escape.
This scene follows:
Woody and Buzz are stationed near a window sill in Sid’s room. They can see Andy’s house. Woody is trapped in a milk-crate with a tool box on top, and Buzz is sitting on the desk next to it. Woody throws a washer to get Buzz’s attention, and asks if he can get the toolbox off of him. Buzz doesn’t see any point, he says “I can’t help, I can’t help anyone.” Woody encourages that if they can escape they will make a break for Andy’s house. Buzz still doesn’t see any point, what is the difference between Andy and Sid’s houses, Buzz says, “You were right all along, I am not a Space ranger, I am just a toy, as stupid, little insignificant toy.” Woody is taken aback, “Wait a minute. Being a toy is a lot better than being a Space Ranger.” And he points through the window. Look, over there in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a Space Ranger, pal, it’s because you’re a toy. You are his toy!” Buzz examines his plastic parts and fake control panel…”Why would Andy want me?” Woody describes all of the Buzz’s bells and whistles and then begins to wonder himself, why would Andy want me, a Cowboy…silence follows. Then Buzz looks at at the sole of his foot with Andy’s Name printed on. He glances back at Woody with a look of determination across his face from the Words Woody gave to him.
Jesus says, “I have called you friends.”We are called friends of Jesus not because of any power we have, not the ability to fly like a space ranger or lasso a bronco like a cowboy. We are called friends not because of any show we put on, or the facades we paint. NO. We are called friends because we are beloved. We have Christ’s name written on our hearts, and we are known by the love we act out. Every once in a while we have to look at the bottom of our boots, and see Jesus’ name written on it. Today, is one of those days.
The invitation today is to believe Jesus, in his own words, that we are truly his friends. We may realize this for the first time today or we may be reminded of this in our fiftieth year in this church. I believe that each of our responses to this message of hope will be different, but we come to the same place of invitation today, the table. It’s at the table where we can remember that Jesus is who he says he is, the good shepherd, the true vine, and friend. Revealed to us in elements so simple-bread, wine, and a table of grace. Jesus says, “I have called you friends.” And may it be so, in our lives this very day. Amen.