Being a Friend of Jesus


John 15:9-17 NRSV

Our text this morning contains some of the greatest words Jesus ever said to anyone:  “I do not call you servants any longer. . . I have called you friends.”  The disciples are invited by the risen Christ to know their Lord in a new light; they are invited to see their Jesus as a friend.  The question that I want us to ask this morning is this: “What does being a friend of Jesus truly mean?”

First of all, we learn from this text that being a friend of Jesus means to be chosen. Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you.”  This is very different from our definition of friendship, is it not?  For we are accustomed to choosing our friends. For us to be friends with another there’s usually got to be some sense of mutual attraction. My daughter Sara is going to Charlotte this afternoon to meet a girl who may be her college roommate this fall. They met on facebook and have scheduled a meeting today to see if they would both like to choose one another to be friends. However, Jesus had a much different understanding of friendship. It is Jesus who chooses us. We do not choose Jesus.

This understanding of friendship was also completely foreign to Jesus’ disciples. In Jesus’ day, it was customary for Jewish students studying the Torah, the Mosaic Law, to seek out a rabbi whose teaching they wanted to emulate. The choice was theirs. But Jesus reverses the order. The choice is his. Jesus chooses his followers.

That Jesus chooses us to be his friends prevents us from possessing a consumerist attitude toward the practice of this friendship. As disciples, we are not in a position to dictate when and where we will act like friends of Jesus. For example, we cannot choose to be Jesus’ friend on Sunday and treat him as a stranger the other days of the week. We cannot choose to act like he is our friend in front of some people, while acting like we have never heard of him in front of others. Furthermore, we are not in a position to pick and choose to accept and follow some of his teachings, while completely ignoring those teachings that we find offensive.

Secondly, we learn from this text that being a friend of Jesus means to keep his commandment to love others as he loves us.  Again, this too is very different from our understanding of friendship and love.  Most of us would probably tend to agree that the word “command” and the word “love” simply do not fit in the same sentence. We would say that love is not something that can be commanded.  For many of us, genuine love, we would say, must be spontaneous and come from within and not without.  We simply do not associate friendship or love with the word “command.”

The reason that “love” and “command” seem at odds is because we so often misuse and overuse the word “love.”  We have reduced the meaning of the word “love” to a mere feeling.  Jesus is talking about agape hereThis Greek word for love does not represent a “feeling.”  Nor is it a synonym for “like.”  To love is to be for another, to act for another, even at cost to oneself. The supreme act of love is the giving of one’s life for the other.

But for many of us, love is simply a feeling.  Love is an emotion. And we would say that no one can command feeling. We can not even command our own. But Jesus is not talking about feeling here. Jesus is talking about action. Jesus is talking about giving one’s self for another.

This is why the preacher never asks the groom and the bride in the wedding ceremony if they love one another. Think about it. You have never heard a preacher ask, “Do you love each other?” The preacher always asks, “Will you love one another?”  “Do you promise to love each other?”  True love is a verb. True love is action. True love is not a feeling. This misunderstanding of the definition of love is why many marriages end in divorce. A spouse wakes up one day and discovers that they have lost that loving feeling, so they move out.

Being a friend of Jesus means keeping his commandment to love others as he loves us. Unlike a feeling, love can be commanded. This means that we are to be there for others, to act for others, to be there with others, to laugh with others and to cry with others. Being a friend of Jesus means that we are willing to give of ourselves completely for others. Police officers, firefighters and others who put their lives on the line for us every day are our friends. The men and women of our armed forces who we remember in a couple of weeks on Memorial Day were our friends. Being a friend of Jesus means to sacrifice.

And thirdly, being a friend of Jesus means to know what is going on. Followers of Jesus become friends of Jesus when they know what he is doing. Jesus said, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” What distinguishes servants from friends is that friends have been let in on the plans.

I once heard story of a family that was getting ready to move to another state. The parents did not want to upset their four year-old son who had made many friends at his preschool and in their neighborhood, so they kept putting off telling him about the move. When the movers came, the little boy was upstairs in taking nap, so the parents instructed them to pack up every room in the house except for their son’s room. They would finally tell him about the move when he awoke.

While the parents were outside taking some things to their car, the poor little thing awoke to find that every room in the house was empty except for his! The parents came back in and found him sitting on the floor in the empty family room crying like a baby. Realizing that it was probably a bad idea to wait until the last minute to let their son in on the plans, they finally told him that they were moving to another state, but assured him that he would quickly make new friends in their new town.

The little boy stopped crying. His face lit up with a big smile. And he said, “What a relief, I thought everyone was moving except for me!”

As friends, we do not like to be left out of the plans do we? As friends, we want to know what is going on. We want to be included in the plans. Jesus lets his disciples in on the plans. They are not kept in the dark about what is happening and what is going to happen.

Being a friend of Jesus means knowing God and God’s plans for us.  Do you remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah? “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me, I will hear you. When you search me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord….”

Being a friend of Jesus means finding God. Being a friend of Jesus means knowing that Jesus was God incarnate—God who loved us so much that he came to earth and became one of us—God who became our friend and laid down his life for us on a cross. Being a friend of Jesus means knowing that the same God who resurrected Jesus abides with us today, resurrecting our sorrow into joy, our despair into hope, and our death into life. Being a friend of Jesus means knowing that there is nothing on this earth or in all of creation which will ever separate us from the love of God we know through Jesus Christ our Lord. Being a friend of Jesus means always knowing that God is here with us working all things together for the good.

Students are in their last weeks of the school year. One of the things I loved doing during these weeks was passing my yearbook around and having my friends to sign it. I don’t know if you still do this today or not, but when I was going to school, nearly all of my friends signed my year book, AFA, a friend always.

Being a friend of Jesus means that God has signed our hearts, AFA, a friend always, and forever. It means that he will never forget us, never forsake us, always stay beside us, now and forevermore.

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