One of the most common words people use to describe who Jesus is to them, is “friend.”  Jesus is my friend.”  but let me ask you would he describe you the same way?  ARE YOU JESUS’ FRIEND?  We always look at it the other way around – Jesus is MY friend.  And what does that even mean?  That we like to hang out together?  That we like the same things?  That we value the same things? That we have each other’s back?

 

Dictionary.com defines a friend as

  1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
  2. A favored companion.
  3. Or simply a person who is not hostile towards you. Put that way, we’ve all got billions of friends!  So maybe not the most helpful definition.

 

Jesus speaks of friendship in much more meaningful terms:  a friend is someone who “lays down their life for a friend.”  Now to give credit where credit is due, Jesus was not the first to say that.  Aristotle said it a few hundred years earlier.  In Greek society, one of the most noble things a person could do was to put the greater good above their own, and to sacrifice for the greater good.  In the Roman and Hellenistic society of Jesus’ day, friendship was a civic duty, for similar reasons.  We also start to hear conversation among philosophers about the difference between a true friend and a false friend.  According to Plutarch, a true friend was counsel and advocate, and one who tried to foster the growth of what is good in another.  Which sounds a lot like Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.  Cicero said a true friend’s agenda is to build you up.  A false friend’s agenda is to build themselves up. Which may also have something to do with Jesus’ statement about being on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing – you know who they are – those who say flattering things to your face, while behind your back they’re plotting against you.

 

It may seem odd to connect Jesus’ teachings to the philosophers of his day and earlier, but I think it just goes to show – the kind of life Jesus invites us to, and the kind of relationships he desires for us, is not foreign or new – it’s just hard.  For many people, friendships are transactional.  I do something for you, you do something for me, and as long as our relationship is mutually beneficial to us both, we’re good.  As soon as it’s not, we move on.

 

I remember when I was a kid, we put an in-ground pool in our backyard.  All of a sudden, girls who never paid any attention to me tried to be my best friend.  Because I had something they wanted.  When I realized what was happening, I stopped inviting them over.  Guess what – they had no interest in being my friend after that.  I was no longer useful to them. Friendships can be like a contract.  I do for you, you do for me.  And as soon as you don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.

 

How many of you have had friendships fall apart over a disagreement?  Or a misunderstanding?  Or a betrayal?  Or because you no longer had time for the things you used to do together?  Friendships are tricky, because they ask us to be vulnerable to another, and sometimes that backfires and we get hurt, so we often put conditions on friendships, even if we aren’t aware of it, just to protect ourselves.

 

But this idea of laying down one’s life for a friend – that’s not transactional – that’s something more.  That’s love in action.  ONE thing Jesus asked of his disciples that last night – love others as I have loved you.  Actually he said “this is my commandment – that you love others as I have loved you.  IF you do this, you are my friends.”  I used to be uncomfortable with the conditional nature of that statement – it sounds like Jesus making a contract with us – you do this and I’ll be your friend – but if you don’t, I won’t.  But it’s not really a “do this or else” kind of statement – it’s how we put our friendship into action.  Just like love isn’t a feeling, neither is friendship.  They’re actions.  They are a way of life.  I asked you at the beginning of the sermon – ARE YOU JESUS’ FRIEND?  Well, what does that look like?  This is it – love others as Jesus loves you, and you will be Jesus’ friend.

 

So I guess the question is how did Jesus love his disciples?

  1. He called them out of their routines and invited them to take part in something bigger than themselves.
  2. He taught them.
  3. He mentored them.
  4. He shared himself with them.
  5. He encouraged them.
  6. He helped them find their strengths and grow into them.
  7. He recognized their needs and went out of his way to meet them.
  8. He was honest with them – when they missed the boat, he told them why – he spoke the truth in love to them, all for the sake of building them up;
  9. And none of it was conditional.

 

Kind of like what Cicero said – a true friend builds you up.

 

The other thing Jesus did is he never turned away from his friends, even when things got rough, even when they disappointed him, even when they betrayed him.  HE NEVER TURNED AWAY.  Love really is unconditional, and he is going to love us no matter what.  Because that’s what friends do.

 

Friendship for Jesus wasn’t transactional, it was transformational.  Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas, Mary Magdeline, Mary the mother of James, Salome, none of them were the same after they met Jesus.  They saw life in a new way, they experienced life in a new way.  They got a taste of what God intends for all humanity, for all peoples, and it changed them so much that after Jesus died and rose, they tried to adopt a way of life that reflected that idea of sacrifice for all, and building each other up.  We see that in the Acts reading, where everyone shared everything, and no one owned anything – everything was for the good of the whole.

 

Now that didn’t last – not because it was unreasonable or impractical, but because we are flawed human beings.  We don’t always act in love.  And we aren’t always good friends to each other.  And we aren’t always willing to put the needs of others before our own desires.  So the grand experiment failed.  But we can get a taste of it whenever we build each other up, whenever we ago out of our way to care about another person, or to make their day, whenever we act as a true friend and not a false friend, and whenever we help someone else grow into the person God created them to be.

 

It starts right here.  Jesus was pretty clear about that – it starts in how we love each other.

 

Ann Weems, in her book “Reaching for Rainbows,” imagines an unspoken dialogue of thoughts between two people seated beside each other in church, two people close in physical space yet far apart in what they are willing to share with each other.  She titles the scene “You— Sitting in the Pew Next to Me.” Each one imagines what the other must be thinking, and each wonders if they will have the courage to risk getting to know one another. Near the end of the unspoken dialogue, one worshiper thinks: I’m scared when I look at myself. That’s why I’m here— because I’ve heard there is a better way. I’ve heard that some take Christ seriously. … Could I talk to you about it? Would you laugh to think successful me needs you? Or would you be compassionate because you know I’m scared? Maybe you’ll be the one to tell me. Or are you just another person in the pew that I’ll never know?

 

 

What does it mean to be a friend to that person next to you in the pew?

 

Imagine what kind of a church we’d have if we felt safe in really sharing with each other what our fears are, what our hopes are, what our needs are?  How could we grow and support each other?

 

Imagine what kind of a church we’d have if we each built each other up, and stopped tearing each other down?

 

Imagine what kind of church we’d have if we helped each other find that special place where Christ is calling them to something larger than themselves?

 

Imagine what kind of a church we’d have if we were all willing to put the good of the community – or each other, above our own wants?

 

When we do, our own needs are met, because while we’re lifting that person up, someone else is lifting us up.  And when we’re willing to give what’s essential to our lives for the sake of someone else, someone else is doing that for us.

 

Idealistic?  Sure.  I know as well as you do that we are not perfect.  No church, no group, no collection of friends, is ever going to be perfect – we are all going to fail sometime.  But that’s OK, because friendship isn’t a contract, where if I don’t live up to my promises you don’t have to live up to yours.  I know if I slip, you’ll still be there for me.  Because friendship is a covenant, where we say to each other, I will be there for you, and you will be there for me, no matter want.  Because that’s what it looks like to love others, as Jesus loves us.

 

One of the most powerful things in the scripture reading are three simple words.  I choose you.  Jesus choose you, to be your friend.  To love you in action.  To love you boldly.  To love you completely.  And to love you unconditionally.  Those aren’t just words – he loves you in word AND deed.  You don’t ever have to be afraid of him turning away from you.  Through those who love him, he will always be there to lift you up, and to help you grow.  He will always be your friend.  The question for each of us is, will you be his friend too?  If your answer is no – we’ll still love you, and so will Jesus.  If your answer is yes, then your world will expand, and your joy will overflow, because there’s nothing more fulfilling than being a true friend to someone else.