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Friendship with God

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, May 6 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was John 15:9-17.
Ask any child who has moved to a new place and they will probably tell you that their biggest worry was if they’d make new friends. As parents, we worry if our teenager, young adult or older adult has friends that will be kind and generous, if our son or daughter will find mutually beneficial relationships when they move far from us. 

When my son Christian and his wife, Marisa moved from Syracuse to Kansas City, Kansas, we were concerned about them. They had wonderful neighbors and great friendships in Syracuse. Would they make friends in Kansas? Well...they have and we are thankful for that. 

We are not immune either from our own relationship trials. Busy lives, competing priorities, transitions, and death can mean the end of a sustaining relationship. Bullying, fear-tactics, and misuse of others are common problems, so friendship is precious. We treasure new friendships and work to keep tending those that are long-lasting—because we need them. (sundaysandseasons.com).

True friendship is rare today. We have issues of competitiveness, a mobile society, fragmentation of life and the fact that people are typically more isolated than in previous generations. Even those who are very involved with social media are isolated and lonely. Those that some would refer to as friends are nothing more than mere acquaintances. The necessary ingredients of deep relationship, empathy, support and mutual struggle are often missing. 

We now have an invitation to accept a unique relationship of intimacy and reciprocity; friendship with God.  When Jesus speaks of friends, he is really saying, “those who are loved.” It is “Because of the work of Christ, Christians are now friends of God through Christ, and they are able to love one another because the capacity to do so is given them by God” (Soards, Dozeman, and McCabe). We are so used to the language of friendship that we have lost the shock of Almighty God calling humanity friends. Friend can be a powerful metaphor for God. However, it needs to be the surprising balance to ourselves as servants of God.

Jesus said to his disciples, “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” (v. 10). Jesus later explains this verse this way, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (v. 14). Those who keep Jesus’ commandments are his friends, those for whom he lays down his life. 

To be a friend of Jesus is to be loved and chosen. Jesus defines this kind of love as a friend who will lay down their life for another. As Jesus demonstrated in his own death, it is a friendship rooted in sacrifice. Jesus chooses his friends. The whole idea of being chosen by Christ is incredibly humbling, but it is also a comfort. How many times have we struggled in relationships with someone we really like and want to be friends with and it just kind of falls flat? Here we have been chosen!

Jesus’ disciples were appointed to go and bear remaining fruit; to manifest the life of God. It’s interesting that the idea of “going” is introduced at this point. This suggests that the fruit is something more than just character qualities in the disciples’ lives, but rather involves fruit in the lives of others—those who become believers in Jesus. “Fruit that will last” works attest to the abiding presence of and union with God and Jesus. This involves a mission, one which affects the lives of others. 

Here are three corollaries of true friendship. The first is if Jesus’ loving choice is the basis for divine-human friendship, then there is no room for a consumerist attitude in the practice of friendship. Disciples are not in a position to dictate when and where they will act like friends or to demand this or that benefit from the relationship to satisfy their own felt needs. It is not self-centered. 

Jesus’ choice of us does not mean we’re anything special. We are not chosen for privilege, but for bearing lasting fruit, to be continually productive in God’s reign. When the task of lasting fruit bearing becomes difficult, we can be encouraged by the fact that we did not choose ourselves for this task—Jesus did! Our own fears and failures do not shake the choosing hand that sustains us. 

The second corollary of true friendship is that Jesus’ friends know what he is doing. The difference between friends and servants is that friends have been let in on plans, not kept in the dark with secrets. Long before the time it would take place, Jesus told his disciples about his approaching crucifixion and departure. They were made aware of what was happening and what was going to happen.

What makes people friends of Jesus is being captured by the story. It is as one follows the sometimes comforting, sometimes disturbing plan that leads to the cross and empty tomb and finding in it the light to guide their way in the world (Gaventa).

The third corollary of true friendship is that to be a friend of Jesus means to keep his commandments and to love as he has loved. John’s gospel speaks of love as a commandment (15:12, 17; 13:34). However, John does not use the term commandment to speak of the law that is a burdensome load from which Jesus frees us. Instead, it refers to directives Jesus receives from his Father. These comprise the script by which Jesus lives and this is the same script given to guide the disciples. It all boils down to love.

Sociologists have a theory called the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (spouse, parent, boss etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees? (Stoffregen)

Who did Jesus choose? He chose fishermen—known to be crude and foul-mouthed, impatient and hot-headed. He chose a tax collector—known to be a swindler. He chose a zealot—a fanatical revolutionary. Jesus chooses us—known sinners, known to be somewhat less than perfect, known to have all kinds of problems in our lives.      

I’d like to share a story about a little boy God has chosen.

          4-year-old Superhero Using His Power to Feed the Homeless by Steve Hartman.

He is faster than a speeding stroller, more adorable than a kitten, and able to get a stranger's attention with a single courtesy. This is America's latest superhero -- and the only superhero with the power to feed the homeless. By day, Austin Perine is a mild-mannered 4-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama. But once week, he turns into this alter ego: a superhero set on feeding as many homeless people as possible. He likes to go by the name "President Austin."
 "That's his idea of what the president is supposed to do," said TJ Perine, Austin's father. "I was like, buddy, you have no idea, but hey, I'm going along with it."
 
TJ says this all began when they were watching a TV show about pandas. It showed a mama panda abandoning a baby, and TJ told his son the cub was now homeless.
 
"He says, 'What's homeless?' I said, 'It's when you don't have a home and sometimes you don't have mom or dad around,'" said TJ. 
 
That's when Austin asked: are people homeless?  
Once Austin learned some people are homeless -- and some are hungry -- he launched this caped crusade. Told his mom and dad that he wanted all his allowance and money they would spend on toys to go toward chicken sandwiches instead.
 
After he gives out each sandwich, he gives each person a bit of advice. "Don't forget to show love," he tells them, and most do, immediately.
 
Raymont Baugh says this kid gives him hope. Everyone who meets Austin leaves with hope. That's why, with any luck, someday "President Austin" won't be a superhero anymore, he'll just be a president. 
(https://www.cbsnews.com/news/austin-perine-alabama-4-year-old-superhero-using-his-power-to-feed-the-homeless/)
 
References

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B

Beverly R. Gaventa,Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B

New English Translation notes

Gail R. O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: John

Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

Sundaysandseasons.com

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