1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
May 10, 2015
Our family enjoyed Wonder Years on TV. Brian Stoffregen, a Lutheran Pastor in California remembers one episode in which some of Kevin’s friends complained to him, and he passed on to the PE teacher, how much it hurt to be chosen last for a team in gym. The teacher made Kevin a captain, and he chose his friends rather than the best players. They lost miserably but had fun together. Even though they were the worst athletes, they were pleased to be chosen as Kevin’s friends.
Friendship in our time tends to be casual until a crisis comes. Ancient Greeks took friendship more seriously. Pythagoras called it the epitome of all virtues. Socrates viewed friendship as the most precious of all possessions.
Scripture calls Abraham God’s friend in Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7 and James 2:23. Exodus 33:11 says, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Not just high honor for Abraham and Moses, this says something extraordinary about God.
Public response to the violence between Muslim peoples and against non-Muslims obscures the deepest theological divide between Islam and biblical faith. In Islam, God is understood as so completely other and distant he could not possibly have a Son or friends. People might serve God to avoid punishment or obtain a reward, but not out of mutual love. In John 15:9-17, we listen in on Jesus talking with his disciples as he walked with them from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane.
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.
Did you hear Jesus? He has chosen you to be his close friend to joyfully pass his love to his other friends.
To be the servant or employee of a prominent person may bring valued prestige, but you are still working at the behest of someone else. Especially on Mothers’ Day we realize how wonderful being someone’s loved child is, and we read in 1 John about being God’s children. But Jesus went far deeper when he called his disciples and us his friends. He brings us into full partnership in God’s redemptive mission for humanity, promising us all of the Father’s resources to bear abiding fruit.
Jesus continued the theme of abiding from the vine and branches metaphor to tell us that our purpose is to bear enduring fruit and share in his joy.
In his Gospel, John referred to himself as “the one Jesus loves.” By calling us his friends, Jesus loves each of us too. Catholic priest, Brennan Manning tells of an Irish priest seeing an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road. The priest said, “You must be very close to God.” The old man answered, “Yes, He’s very fond of me.”
Not only has Jesus chosen you to be his close friend to joyfully pass his love to his other friends, he has instructed and empowered you for this love.
As faithful Jews, Jesus’ disciples knew all about commandments, so Jesus built on that with a whole new way of understanding commandments. 1 John 5:3 says his commandments are not burdensome. Jesus said keeping his commandments would completely fill us with his joy. But he did not command a moral code or religious rituals. His commandment is to love all of his other friends the way he loves us.
Knowing his crucifixion was coming the next day, Jesus said the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, which was exactly what he was about to do. This is the quality of love he wants between all his friends.
We celebrate the extraordinary heroism of soldiers, police, medical and humanitarian servants who put their lives at risk for others, whom they often don’t even know. Those are glimpses of the quality of love Jesus empowers between his friends who keep his commandments.
Jesus has chosen you to be his close friend to joyfully pass his love to his other friends. Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner observed that friends are people you make part of your life just because you feel like it. They know your family, how you vote, your achievements and blunders, your religious convictions or lack of them, which are beside the point. Jesus commands us to love his other friends, even when we learn how they vote, their achievements and blunders, their religious convictions or lack of them, all of which may trouble us.
Such love grows out of seeing ourselves as the one who Jesus loves, with all of the ways we know we are unlike him. How differently would you view yourself if you adopted as your primary identity one whom Jesus loves?
When we shift our mentality from someone who disappoints Jesus to someone whom Jesus loves with joy, his commandment to pass his love on to his other friends is both more understandable and more possible. The word for believe in 1 John 5:1,5 is not about holding something to be true but about having faith that Jesus, the Son of God, has entered your life as your close friend.
When we function as Jesus’ loved, close friends, our mission – evangelism if you will – is not about convincing people the Bible is true or to agree with our theology or conform to our moral code. Our mission is to introduce our friends to our closest friend, Jesus, so they have the opportunity for him to become their friend too.