Friends; John 15:9-17
“No one has greater love than this,” Jesus tells his disciples, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That seems like a depressing little sentence in the waning weeks of Easter. All things considered, Jesus, I’d rather not…you know, lay down my life, if I could help it. Maybe you could find someone else for the job.
A mother made pancakes for her son Kevin, and his younger brother Ryan. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Mom saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here,” she told them, “He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.'”
Kevin considered this for a moment. Then he turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, how about you be Jesus!”
“You are my friends,” Jesus tells his disciples, “if you do what I command you.” That command is this laying down my life business. It’s no wonder that St. Teresa of Avila once shouted to God, “If this is how You treat your friends, now wonder why You have so few of them!”
All this lay down your life stuff gets pretty grim–except for one thing. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! When Jesus talks about laying down a life for friends, this is no academic exercise. He speaks these words just hours before he puts them into action. No one has greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus calls you “friend.” That’s the point today. Jesus calls you “friend.”
If my calendar is correct, it’s still Easter. We’re still celebrating the death AND resurrection of Jesus. God brings new life out of that death. So that’s what we should expect from God now. Self-giving love produces death-defeating life.
A few weeks ago we heard that Jesus loves us to death–to the point of his own death. Why is that? C. S. Lewis talks about this in his book, The Four Loves. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” he writes. “Love anything,” he continues,
and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
God would rather die than spend eternity without you. Jesus calls you “friend.”
Now, let me put a comma in that sentence. Jesus calls you, friend. That is, Jesus calls you and me to live as his friends. Let me illustrate this.
Jesus says, “But I have called you friends…” Brenda and I are “Friends of Iowa Public Television.” We enjoy the programs on IPTV. We receive regular program updates and a monthly program guide. We have a Friends discount card. We get invited to Friends events. We support IPTV financially.
It’s an odd sort of friendship. We don’t really connect with a lot of other people. Instead, we connect with a mission and a set of values. Being friends of Jesus is like that. Jesus names us as friends. And Jesus chooses us to live as his friends.
Living as Jesus’ friends means loving like Jesus loves. That means laying down our lives in various ways for others. It means that we pay attention to the real needs of others. Let me illustrate.
The stranger approached the pastor after service and said, “I’d like you to pray for my hearing.” The pastor placed his hands on the man’s ears and said a passionate, earnest prayer. “How’s your hearing now?” the pastor asked. Looking surprised, the man said, “Well, it’s not until tomorrow.”
It would have been better if the pastor listened a bit more before assuming and acting. Laying down our lives means paying attention to the real needs of others.
This wildly countercultural. In our culture, the purpose of existence is to be happy as an individual. That is not the purpose of human existence as far as Jesus is concerned. The purpose of human existence is to bear the fruit of God’s love.
That may include giving up a life for a friend. That may include enduring discomfort in order to serve. That may include making space for someone else in our pews, our congregation and—most important—our lives.
The purpose of existence is not to minimize individual suffering and maximize individual pleasure. The purpose of human existence is to mirror God’s self-giving love into and for the sake of all Creation. That is not the value system of modern, neoliberal, unfettered capitalism.
Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” God is not as choosy as I am about this friends business. We forget where we start in this arrangement. In Romans 5 Paul reminds us that we are weak, ungodly, even God’s enemies, because of the power of sin. Remember what a motley crew sits in Jesus’ audience in John 15. We would probably be much more selective.
Jesus calls us friends. This is more than mere naming. This is about our purpose in life. Baptism, for example, concludes with vocation. “Let your light so shine before others,” we say to the baptized, “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Jesus says, “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” What will we leave that lasts? Will it be a daycare center, a retreat center, a thriving congregation? We know this is about God’s faithfulness in Jesus. God’s word will not return empty. Jesus appoints us to leave fruit that lasts.
You are chosen. You are chosen to bear fruit. You are chosen to bear fruit that lasts. Jesus calls us friends. Let us pray that we live up our name…