Sunday, May 10, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Opening the mail the last couple of weeks I’ve been bombarded with letters soliciting donations. They range from sending money to support the local Northeastern Emergency Medical Services to conservation groups. While these are all worthy causes, I am struck by the way they address their letters to me. The letters don’t begin with the usual salutation that we were always taught, “To Whom It May Concern.” No, instead they begin with Dear Friend. These organizations, to whom I am not a member, or to whom I have not previously endorsed, address me as “friend.” They don’t know me. I am simply the person who lives at the address attached to the mailing list they have somehow obtained. To them I am a future donor, a possible volunteer, a hopeful benefactor, but not friend. Yet that is what they call me. It’s a useful manipulation of rhetoric and marketing to get me to feel somehow connected to them
in the hopes I will help their cause. Yet, I am not persuaded. The use of this word “friend” seems instead like a violation of trust.
In fact, in a clever marketing ad by JC Penney, I received a notice in the mail pertaining to an offer for a credit card that said, “Say hello to your wallet’s new best friend.” Now honestly, I love making new friends, but my wallet? My wallet does not need a new best friend, that will as they say give me “one more thing that you can feel good about.” Since when are credit cards our new best friends? Some people may think they are – and if used wisely they can be of some help – but if not monitored carefully credit cards can leave a person with one more thing not to feel good about. They can be a source of instant gratification and lead us down a path to worry and financial ruin. That’s hardly a description I would use to describe a friend.
So what do we mean when we call someone a friend? Is it just a simple greeting that applies to everyone, like hello? Do we go around calling everyone friend, and if so are there different levels of friendship? I’d certainly agree that some of our friends are closer than others. Some people are merely acquaintances that we know briefly. Others are people we can share some aspects of ourselves with yet not too deeply. There are those people we call friends, who know quite a lot about us and our personal lives. And then there are those BFF’s – Best Friends Forever – those people who know everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and they love us no matter what. They are there for us to help us through the very worst of times, and they are there to celebrate our joys with us. They love us not just when we are dressed nicely, but when we wake up in the morning with crazy bed hair and baggy pajamas. They love us – unconditionally – flaws and all. Our best friends are the ones we can call no matter what time of day or night and know that they will be there for us and we in turn for them. We can remember the first time we met them and I don’t think any of us would say we chose each other to be friends. Sometimes, you meet someone and you are friends right away, but that deep level of friendship takes time. And it’s a joy to call someone a friend. A friend is one of God’s greatest blessings in our lives.
In our gospel text from John today, Jesus is talking with his disciples one last time before his arrest and crucifixion. Although it’s the 6th Sunday of Easter, we recall these stories in light of the resurrection. We can see in hindsight the real meaning of what Jesus was saying to the disciples at that time, and to us today. Jesus called the disciples from all different vocations to follow him. He knew their flaws; he knew they would make mistakes and even deny him, but he chose them anyway. And when he was talking to them one last time he told them how important it was for them to understand that their main purpose was to love one another as he loved them. He was going to lay down his life for them – and for us – and yet they didn’t quite get that yet. He shared with the disciples all the things that God, his father, shared with him. Jesus shared with the disciples God’s wisdom, God’s peace, and God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus shared all these things with the disciples because as he said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” The disciples had been with Jesus for three years non-stop. They didn’t just visit with him for a few weeks out of the year; they were with him constantly. They heard him teaching and preaching, they witnessed his miracles, they experienced his love, and now they were no longer servants or apprentices of Jesus, they were his friends.
What does it mean to be a friend? When I was away this past week to visit my mom, I had the opportunity to see a couple friends of mine who invited me to go to their church to a workshop they were having on relationships. The topic on the particular night I went was on friendship. And in this workshop we discussed the six golden rules of friendship:
- Friends invest time – they show up; they make their friends a priority.
- Friends earn their trust – trust is something that takes time, but a friend acts with integrity
- Friends listen with empathy – they don’t just have sympathy, they put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They try to imagine what it feels like to experience what they experience. They don’t just hear, they listen.
- Friends accept their flaws – they know the other person is not perfect, and they don’t nag them or expect them to be. They love them as they are.
- Friends celebrate wins and losses – good things don’t happen to each of us all the time and so if we celebrate the wins of the other person, then we always have something to celebrate and be happy about.
- Friends bring out their best – they compliment them when they do something good, and they speak the truth in love, kindly, when the other person needs an honest answer.
Did you ever meet someone so great that you said to yourself or others, “I wish I could be their friend!” In the case of the disciples, they didn’t choose to be Jesus’ friend; Jesus chose them. Wow! Jesus the perfect model of what a true friend is chose them! He chose them knowing they would mess up, knowing they wouldn’t understand him, knowing they would deny him and betray him, knowing they would choose fear over faith time and time again. And still, He chose to share with them all the things that God had revealed to him and teach it to them. He chose to breathe into them the Spirit of peace and joy. He chose to die for their sins so that they would never be separated from God. Jesus chose to die and rise from the dead so that death would not have the final victory and we would have eternal life. That is a real true friend and that is the kind of friend Jesus was to the disciples, and is -to us – his disciples today!
Jesus is the model of these six golden rules of friendship. He is the ultimate true friend. Jesus shows up each and every time we need him. He is present here in this place of worship today and in the Holy Meal we will share. Jesus has earned our trust because he is faithful to the promises he made to us – the promise to never leave or forsake us. He listens with empathy and answers our prayers in God’s perfect time. He accepts our flaws and loves us anyway, just as we are. Jesus celebrates with us and cries with us. The most powerful example of Jesus empathizing with us is when he wept at the death of Lazarus. Jesus knows and feels our pain. And he brings out the best in us. This is why Jesus gave us the commandment to love one another as he has loved us, because love will transform us. Love like Jesus’ love will bring out the best in us. It will show forth the glory of God and will transform the world.
Jesus called his disciples friends. He calls us friends. And we can call Jesus our true and very best friend forever because he died and rose again that we would have life with God forever. Jesus, God incarnate, calls us – God’s creations – friends. Unlike the letters we may receive in the mail that call us friends out of some slick marketing campaign, Jesus calls us friends from his heart. Jesus knows who we are – sins and all – and still calls us friends. What an honor to be called Jesus’ friends. And what a blessing of grace to call Jesus our true friend, our Rock, our salvation. We could receive no greater gift today or any other day than the gift of God’s Son, Jesus the Christ, the source of true joy, our best friend forever. Amen!