I have called you friends
he Apostle of Love sees our whole life in the New Covenant as being based on and revolving around loving friendship. He picked it up from his best friend, Jesus. John was probably a lovable guy; naturally. We have all known people who were open and friendly with everyone, who never seemed to be having a bad day. John was one of those popular fellows whom church tradition says was the only one of the Twelve who was not martyred. He died of old age on the Isle of Patmos, a beautiful Greek island in the Aegean Sea. God may have allowed him to live so long because he loved so well.
Many of our after Easter lectionary texts have focused on the nature of the deep level of love that was a part of the first believer's communion. Last Sunday Evening, from John's first epistle, (4:7-21) we heard him explain that the Christian experience begins when we realize how much God loved us in that He sent His Son to befriend us; thus, making it possible for us to love our friends in Christ. Today we see how love within the Church is one of the chief benefits from the metaphor of "The Vine and the Branches." The cutting off, pruning and grafting of branches has as its goal the establishment of a powerful new community built on love which produces bonding and singleness of purpose. The love of God given to believers is the concrete that holds the Christian Church together and makes it invincible. Mutual love in Christ is not reserved for naturally lovable folks, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit that God has waiting for all of us. In Christian love we can call each other friends.
Of course, this notion of loving friendship extends beyond the bounds of fellow believers to all of our neighbors. Our mission is to offer Christ to everyone everywhere. The world wide mission statement of our denomination is to "Make Disciples of Jesus Christ." This means that everyone is a potential disciple and a potential friend.
I was reared around a lot of old time Quakers in North Carolina who had named their movement, The Religious Society of Friends. It seems as if their view of the Church is based upon the imagery presented in John fifteen, as being a group of friends making new friends. The whole Church could benefit from this archetype.
One barrier that has prevented persons from being friends has been racial prejudice. It seems that every race has some other race that they think of as inferior and with whom they cannot get along. Thankfully, much of this bias has broken down, especially among those who were born after segregation was ruled illegal in public life. Baby boomers are the last to have experienced racial segregation, however many younger persons have been told stories of how bad it was.
Jackie Robinson was the first black Major League baseball player. In his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers he faced prejudice everywhere. Pitchers threw fastballs at him. Runners spiked him on the bases; brutal epithets were hollered from opposing dugouts. Even the home crowds in Brooklyn taunted him. The racial slurs seemed to reach a peak in Boston. To make matters worse after making an error Robinson stood at second base dejected while the fans hurled insults. His teammate, a Southerner by the name of Pee Wee Reese, called timeout. He walked from his position at shortstop toward Robinson at second base, and with the angry fans looking on; he put his arm around Robinson's shoulder. The crowd quieted. Heads dropped. Jackie Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his baseball career.
As we know, all of the vestiges of prejudice have not been eliminated. In today's world the great social divider is elitism. Poor whites, along with racial minorities, are subtly sealed off from full participation. Children become familiar with the invisible boundaries. Yet, schools and churches are leading the way toward inclusiveness. It is hard to sound the loud trumpet of the Good News without allowing all to hear it.
John quotes his best friend Jesus as saying that we have been called to bear the fruit of mutual love toward all people. If we are viewed by the world as being an ingrown, self centered, isolated private club, we will never accomplish our mission and we will become useless in Jesus' Kingdom. Just as individual branches that bear no fruit are cut off from the vine and burned in a fire; so are groups of believers cut off whenever they become ineffective. Churches fail because of their lack of love, not from lack of funds.
This means that the sure way to succeed as a local church, and as a person, is to focus upon others. One of the compliments paid to the early church was that they loved each other and were always reaching out. The largest Lutheran Church in America is named "The Church of Joy." It is centered on the model of reaching out with the message of love and joy.
Verse eleven quotes Jesus as saying that, "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." The reward of love is joy. Christian joy is not limited by outward circumstances but is a byproduct of being swept up into the love of Christ within the Church. Joyfulness remains even as we walk through times of adversity. The joy we have keeps us levelheaded amid the lows and highs we have in life. Success does not turn our heads because we have already known the thrill of knowing Jesus. Failure does not steal our inner joy because we have a foretaste of heaven in our souls.
Verses twelve and thirteen remind us that as imitators of Christ we have been given the spiritual ability to show our love by serving others. This means that the Christian doctor, lawyer, contractor or teacher has an added dimension of love for the people they serve. Kindness and graciousness is sometimes the best medicine.
We can become lovers in this sometimes unlovely world, and it will make all the difference in our world. We cannot accomplish this by merely deciding to do so. We must allow the Spirit of Christ to remold us from the inside out. This kind of radical change is impossible without Him, but with Him all things are possible. The heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ is that New Life and New Living is possible through His transforming power. The great miracle of Grace is that, even though all of us do not have sweet and kind personalities, God can transform us into the kind of people who can learn to have concern for others. We have all known wonderful people who seemed somewhat gruff on the outside but on the inside we knew that they really cared for us: The only thing better than having a friend like that is becoming a friend like that. God wants to polish the rough edges of our personalities and use us as a friend for others. It is possible through Him, but we must allow the process to work in us. It usually takes time and failure and learning to lean on Jesus. He changes the world one soul at a time.
He has called us friends. Didn't our parents always say that if we continue to hang out with those kinds of friends that we would become just like them?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor