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What a Friend we Have in Jesus




THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO JOHN

Jesus said, "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."

JOHN 15:9-17


Sermon: By The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor


This cute little guy [see below] is called ‘My Friend Jesus’. He was produced by Hallmark and is aimed at teaching babies and young children that, as his name suggests, “Jesus is their friend.”


When we hear that Jesus is our friend, often cute images come to mind like this doll…we might think about Sunday School colouring pages, like those on the screen, or the familiar song, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’


Understanding Jesus as our friend is also shaped by what we think about friends today. As my nieces would say, friends are not mean and they invite you to their birthday parties. From TV shows we see that friends are there for you when the rain starts to fall, they join you in a coffee shop to hang out and share life together. A google search of the qualities of a friend reveals that they are trustworthy, empathetic, respectful, loyal, reliable, and positive.

In our Gospel, Jesus referred to friendship three times, saying, “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.”


When we hear Jesus speak about friends, what we know about friendship from the Sunday School, soft and cuddly Jesus, to our modern notions of friendship, come to mind. Because of this, Jesus’ reference to friendship, is, as biblical scholars note, sentimentalised…it becomes associated with feelings and that’s about it, there is little thought given to the term.

But to understand Jesus’ references to friendship we must turn not to our world, but to his world, where friendship meant something completely different than it means for us. The Gospel of John was written when Greek and Roman culture permeated the Middle East. Friendship was associated with the patron-client relationship, where the patron or the boss had more power than the client or the worker. Other forms of friendship were more balanced but demanded full commitment. Maintaining a friendship was paramount for society to function, as Aristotle writes, “But it is also true the virtuous man's conduct is often guided by the interests of his friends and of his country, and that he will if necessary lay down his life in their behalf.” In a friendship, one had to be willing to uphold the greatest moral good for society, which was symbolised by the willingness to die for the friend. Friendship was not, then, taken lightly in the ancient world, it would not have been joked about on TV sitcoms or symbolised by cuddly toys, but it was serious, it held society together, it required full commitment.


When Jesus speaks about friends, he is drawing on these images. Notice he says that he does not call the disciples servants, but friends…Jesus is moving from the unequal patron-client relationship to an equal friendship. It is so equal, in fact, that he shares everything he knows about the Father with his disciples, nothing is hidden. He even refers, as Aristotle did, to laying down one’s life for a friend. But Jesus doesn’t just talk the talk as the philosophers did, he walks the walk…he actually dies for his disciples. And Jesus states that he does all of this, because of the love inherent in the friendship.


So, when Jesus talks about friendship today, it is not simple, cute, or sentimental, but it is an extremely powerful symbol taken directly from his world. He is making a strong statement about how he relates to the disciples and, subsequently, how he relates to us.

Today, Jesus invites us to join him in one of the most weighty relationships of his world, and he does this knowing everything about who we are, what we think, how we act. By choosing to enter into a friendship with us, Jesus makes it clear that he accepts us and wants to be with us, “not because of any show we put on, or facades we paint,” Jesus chooses to be our friend, exactly as we are.


This point touched me deeply, especially when I contrasted it with my experiences of friendship. I grew up in a small town in BC and I was the only coloured child in my school…I was horribly bullied because of this. I felt pressure, even when I was in kindergarten, to be like everyone else, to look, dress, and act a certain way to be accepted. Having friends was always a challenge that I never overcame. But what we are being told today is that Jesus, who sees even more than we show others, still calls us friends. We are accepted as we are, loved as we are, we are good enough, don’t have to change a thing.


And all of this is because he loves us. We must hold onto this truth, especially when we feel lonely, when we doubt everything about ourselves, when we think we have no value. And we must also, as Jesus says today, do “what he commands us.” We have heard this message again and again in our readings and sermons this post-Easter season…we cannot take what Jesus offers and just enjoy it for ourselves, but we must extend the love he gives to us, the friendship he offers to us, to others. We share our friendship with Jesus by reminding others that they are loved too, that they don’t have to be anything other than who they are to find acceptance and friendship with him. This countercultural message lies at the heart of our faith… symbolised every time we gather, all of us, side by side, equals, friends, at the table of bread and wine.


Next time you think of friendship with Jesus, don’t imagine dolls, Sunday School, songs, coffee and fun. Instead, remember that friendship in Jesus’ world wasn’t the same as friendship today. Remember, the level of commitment he is making, the fact that he is becoming our equal, dying for us and all of this he does out of love. Jesus says to all of us, “I have called you friends.” May it be so in our lives, may we share this message far and wide, today and every day.


Amen.





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