Sermon for Sunday, May 10th, 2015 || Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B || Acts 10: 44-48; Psalm 98; I John 5: 1-6; John 15: 9-17 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
According to Facebook, I have 761 friends. Isn’t that ridiculous? Seven hundred and sixty one! Can you imagine actually having that many real friendships to nurture and tend or that many friends to love?
But of course, Facebook friends are not real friends. Oh, some of them are–and I consider myself incredibly blessed to have some very, very good “real” friends. But some of my Facebook friends I’ve never even met; and many barely qualify as acquaintances, much less real friends. Real friends are the kind of friends with whom you can touch souls…the kind with whom you share such a mysteriously deep connection that it cannot be broken despite time, distance, events or emotions. Those are very special friendships indeed.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus invites his disciples into just this kind of friendship. As he continues his rather lengthy farewell address before his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion, Jesus radically reframes the relationship he and his disciples have had as one not of master and servants, or even of teacher and students, but of real friends. Friends, Jesus tells them, in whom he has entrusted all he knows about God, his Father…friends he has chosen, and loves, and with whom he wants nothing more than to share the secret to experiencing deep and abiding joy. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Now here’s the most astonishing thing: 2,000 years later, in this very place and through this very same sacred word, Jesus is inviting us to be his trusted friends, too. Jesus—the risen Lord who laid down his life for us and in whom we live and move and have our very being—longs for us to be his friends, longs for us to make our home in his love, longs for us to know the fullness of true joy.
And not just us. Jesus longs to have a very special, soul-touching friendship with all sorts of folks with whom you and I would rather not engage: the guy down the street who uses four-letter words in front of his kids… the telemarketer who calls every other day at exactly the wrong time… the colleague you thought you could trust but who stabbed you in the back… the pompous politician whose positions make you apoplectic.
The trouble is that apparently the only way to satisfy this longing Jesus has for us, is by loving each other the way he loves us—as real friends. All of us. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…I have said these things so my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
Think about that: If we were all to love each other as real friends, the way Jesus loves us as real friends, our joy would be complete. If we were all the kind of friends whose souls touched, the kind who shared such a mysteriously deep connection that it couldn’t be broken despite time, distance, events or emotions, we could know the true meaning of joy and friendship in Jesus. Can you imagine?
It’s not as pie-in-the-sky as it might sound. It’s not altogether impossible…not if we think small, start right in our own backyard, and grow where we’re planted. It’s not impossible, because it is God’s desire for us.
When my daughter was a teenager asserting her independence, we insisted that she go either to church, or to our church’s youth group. She had to do one or the other. She chose youth group. One Sunday as I drove her there she said something like, “Ya know, I think I get it now. We talk to each other about all kinds of things here that we could never talk to our school friends about.”
At first I wondered what kind of friends her school friends were that there were things she couldn’t talk to them about. But then I remembered how many adults are uncomfortable talking about matters of the heart and soul with their friends in the secular world–so I gave thanks that my daughter and her church friends had someplace they felt safe being open and vulnerable; someplace they could talk about what was bothering them, explore ideas about life and about God, support each other in their struggles, and even learn to pray.
Church friends are different from school friends. They’re different from work friends, neighborhood friends…from gardening, golfing, sailing or skiing friends. Church friends have at least one soul-touching thing they share in common: Jesus. Jesus, who longs to be friends with them, and who longs for them to be friends through him.
But like all friendships, this takes time. It takes commitment. It takes the desire of the heart and the assertion of the will. You have to want it.
You have to want the kind of friend who brings out the best in you, who knows you better than you know yourself, who listens not just to your words but for their meaning…a friend you can rely on, who readily forgives you and speaks the truth to you. A friend you trust, with whom you can be your most authentic self, open and vulnerable. A friend who provides safe space in which to explore your ideas about life and God, to share your struggles, and even to learn to pray. A friend who will lay down his/her life for you—and for whom you would lay down your life. Friendships such as these take time. Church friendships. Christian friendships. Spiritual friendships. They take time.
And Jesus is calling us to take the time. Jesus is calling us to make the time. He longs for us to be his friends, longs for us to know his love, longs for us to know the fullness of true joy that comes with loving each other as he loves us.
I wonder if we’re willing to give Jesus enough of our time to be a real friend?
I wonder if we’re willing to give each other the time?
And if we’re not… well…I guess I wonder what we think could possibly be more important?