Sunday, May 10, 2015


John 15: 9-17
May 10, 2015
Prairie Dell Presbyterian Church, Shannon, IL
Christina Berry

John 15:9-17
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

BFF. You know what that stands for, right? Best friends forever.

It’s a term that wasn’t around when I was a kid – BFF. We just had friends, and best friends. And occasionally, ex-friends. Nowadays we have work friends, and club friends, gym friends, casual friends, church friends, school friends … and of course, Facebook friends. I have over 500, which sounds like a lot until you know that a pastor colleague of mine lists over a thousand friends. How can someone have a thousand friends – really? Friends? I don’t even know how I can have 500, but I assure you, I have some kind of connection with each one of them.

Friendship is being re-defined by social networking, and by technology. It used to be that when you didn’t want to be friends any more, you had to figure out how to kind of “break up” with someone. Now you can cut off “friends” on FB by “unfriending” them. How many of you had a BEST friend growing up? Keep your hands up. Now, how many of you are still friends with that best friend?

I read some research this week that said about every seven years we have a 50% turnover in friendships. So on average, by the time seven years have passed, half of our friends are no longer our friends. It seems that it must be a rare thing to have a BFF.

I recently got back in touch with my two best friends from childhood, Jan and Terri. Jan lived out in the country, on a dairy farm. We met at church, when we were newborns. Cradle buddies, our moms called us. Jan and I sat together at church, every Sunday morning and night, and every Wednesday night. We spent Sunday afternoons at each other’s houses. Her parents would swat me when I misbehaved, just like mine did, and I helped her gather the eggs, feed the calves, take milk to the cats. We drifted apart in our teens, but kept in touch through our moms.

Terri lived across the street, in a little brown rental house. We played together almost every day, at her house, because her mom wouldn’t let her cross the street. We made up our own secret words, and made up silly games, and climbed up in the mulberry tree, and screamed whenever we heard sirens, and played circus on her swing set. We went to the same school until Terri moved away. I went to her 7th birthday party, and didn’t see her again until Junior High.

When I re-connected with these two friends, I had two vastly different responses. Jan said warmly “…Those were the good old days. Thanks so much for touching base with me. It means so much.” When I got in touch with Terri, I said “Terri! My BFF when we were 5!” Terri’s response? “Tina?! We didn't know what bff's were at that age!!” Here’s the thing: I thought we did.

When I was five, Jan and Terri were my best friends forever. But things change as we grow older. When we were in high school, we found out how fleeting friendship could be, how fickle friends could be, how painful it was to be isolated, how costly it could be to be popular. We learned how freeing it could be if you were not one of the chosen ones. Since those days, most of us have learned about the ways in which we are friends in spaces and times, how we are friends for seasons, and not forever, often temporarily, and sometimes not for better. And sometimes, it turns out, we find friendships that last our whole lives long.

Throughout our lives, we learn how important friendships are, how friends shape, sustain and strengthen our lives. It is our friends who love us just as we are, who know us thoroughly and like us anyway, who will call us to account, and remember our stories, and encourage us. It is our friends who know our heartsongs, and sing them back to us when we forget them.

When Jesus calls the disciples friends, he isn’t just tossing that word out like Facebook friends do. Jesus is talking about the rare, maybe nearly impossible kind of friendship that really does last forever. There are several important points about friendship in this text.

First, to be a friend of Jesus means to be loved and chosen. The dramatic definition of love given in John 15:13, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”, describes friendship that is rooted in the life-giving event of his death, in which Jesus becomes not king but servant. There’s an old saying, “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.” Just in case we have some notion that friendship with Jesus is a result of our decision, our choice, Jesus pointedly dispels it: “You did not choose me but I chose you”

In that time, faithful Jews who wished to learn the Torah sought out a rabbi whose teaching they would follow. They not only listened to him, they traveled with him, ate with him, shared their lives with him, and obeyed his every command. But the choice was theirs. Jesus reverses the order. The decision is his. He chooses his followers.

So we are not consumers of Christianity, casually hanging out with our buddy Jesus until someone more interesting comes along. We are not in a position to dictate when and where we will act like friends. We are not in a position to demand or expect something from Jesus that will meet our needs. We are chosen—to produce, to bear fruit, fruit that is not of our making, but from the true vine.

Perhaps most comforting, since we are not the ones who do the choosing, we can’t “unfriend” Jesus. Our fears and failures, our betrayals and neglect do not shake the hand that sustains us. Jesus won’t drop us, won’t casually brush us off, won’t stop returning our calls.

Second, we learn that to be a friend of Jesus means intimacy: to know and be known. Close friendships don’t ask their friends to be someone else. When Jesus chooses us to follow him, he is not setting us up to try to be something we are not. When Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, he simply called them to follow. Jesus didn’t give them a list of skills and characteristics they had to live up to, or point out their deficiencies and drawbacks, and tell them to work on them. Jesus actually called them to use their strengths as fishermen, but to use them in a new way. That’s the same way that Jesus calls us.

We are not expected to spend our lives figuring out the gap between who we are and who we are supposed to be, struggling to close the gap, and finding ourselves always, always inadequate to the task. When Jesus calls us, as individuals and as a congregation, he is calling us to be MORE of who we are, not less!

In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks— we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” Palmer tells the Hasidic tale of an old man, Rabbi Zusya, who said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me: 'Why were you not Zusya?'”[1]

That being said, Jesus choosing us as friends does ask something of us – he asks us to live up to that choice, to be faithful, truthful, loyal. He asks us to live up to his friendship. Jesus said, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” That kind of knowledge of one another assumes the very deepest level of trust. It’s a given for most of us, I think, that we know we can trust in Jesus. So the question arises, as it must, in a true friendship, whether Jesus can also trust us?

It has been said of this friendship with Jesus: “As our God he knows every fiber of the being which he has made; as our Savior he knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from his obedience; but, as our friend, he waits for us to tell him.”[2]

It’s important for us to be trustworthy friends of Jesus, because the third point of this text is this: To be a friend of Jesus means to keep his commandments. His commandment, over and over and over, is to love. To love as he has loved. 
To love God.
To love one another.
To love our neighbors.
To love our enemies.

John’s Gospel repeatedly speaks of love as a commandment, not exactly in keeping with our contemporary notions of love and friendship. But this love is not just because we feel like it. We are called to love as Jesus loved, and to do it because he told us to! To be connected to others in loving relationships is to be connected to God. And conversely, to be alienated from others is a form of alienation from God. 

There isn’t a handbook for abiding in love, no diagram for living that demonstrates a life of joy. There are no step-by-step instructions to obey the great commandment. But we do have a text, a message, a love letter we can open any time we want to read it over again. And we have this friend, this loving friend who chose us, who knows us and loves us just the way we are, and who makes only one request of us, commands us but one task.

Here is what he commands:
Be my friend.
Make me happy.
Make you happy.
Abide in my love.
Love one another as I have loved you.
He’s our best friend. 

And he wants us to live like that.


[1]Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

[2] Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914)

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