Jean Simmonds: June 2015
A friend of Jesus
Preached by Revd Jean Simmonds on 28th June 2015.
Isaiah 41 verses 8 — 10
John 15 verses 9 — 17.
Among the things I remember from the 9 years I shared with this church are memories of people with deep faith and strong commitment I remember the way you cared for each other and the deep friendships you shared. So, on a day when we look back with gratitude and forward with both hope and a vision for the future, it seemed appropriate to look at what it means to be a friend of Jesus — but we'll start with the Old Testament lesson.
Isaiah the prophet addresses God's message to his people with these words, "Israel my servant, the descendants of Abraham my friend." It's an indication that because of Abraham's trust and obedience, God had a special relationship with him...the same is true of Moses, another trusting and obedient man of God, because in Exodus we read that the Lord "spoke to Moses face to face as one speaks to a friend."
There's a big difference between being servants and friends but our New Testament lesson tells us that Jesus changes that in terms of his relationship with his followers. In this conversation which John's gospel links with the last supper, Jesus, knowing what he faces, looks around the table at those who have been closest to him; those with whom he has shared so much. He sees Peter who will three times deny knowing him, the other disciples who he knows will abandon him and the gap created because Judas has left the supper to betray him, and then he says, 'you are my friends'.
There's so much we could focus on in the verses from John...love, obedience, bearing fruit — because these verses follow the words of Jesus about the vine and the branches — but it's that word 'friends' that stood out for me as I planned this service. Jesus says it several times: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.....you are my friends if you do what I command you". That sounds a bit authoritarian until you remember the context, his command is that they should love one another. Then he says, "I don't call you servants any longer, I call you friends because I've shared with you everything that I heard from my Father." You don't share everything with your servants, we'll come back to that later.
These verses prompted 2 questions in my mind.
1 How wise was Jesus about choosing his friends?
It's easy to say, he was God's son so of course he knew what he was doing! But, looked at rationally, we would have to say, he doesn't seem very wise at all! He needed people who were wise, confident, teachable...were they?
One of our daughters, when she was about 15, began to be friendly with a lad who lived locally and we had some hesitations about him. We were on the point of moving house and I'd made the big decision it was time to let my wedding dress go but she said, 'Let me just try it on first Mum'. We had a big hall with a long mirror so when she was ready, complete with train, tiara and veil, she went to look at herself in the hall mirror. Just then, the doorbell rang, Michael opened the door and there stood potential boyfriend! His jaw hit the doorstep....and do you know what, he never came back! She was a teenager but you would expect better of Jesus' choice of friends.
Think about the disciples he called — 4 fishermen...Peter, who I read somewhere described as a man with a foot-shaped mouth! His brother Andrew was quieter, gentler but the other 2 fisherman were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder....so, even though John is mentioned as being especially close and loved by Jesus, violent tempers or being argumentative come in there somewhere. Then there's a tax collector who'd be despised, marginalised, probably greedy because they made a lot of money for themselves. There's Simon the Zealot who'd be called a political extremist today, Thomas who needed everything proved and questioned all sorts of things rather than take them on trust and Judas who betrayed Jesus for cash. What sort of group of friends is that? Why did Jesus choose them?
2 What does it really mean to be a friend of Jesus?
We interpret the word friend very broadly these days. On social media you can have literally hundreds of friends who you may not really know at all, friends may be people you've known since school days or someone you only met last week, people who share your interests or neighbours who are unlike you in every respect but happen to live next door, folk you send a Christmas card to every year but don't have any other contact with...all just called friends. What does Jesus mean when he calls his disciples friends?
Let's answer the 2nd question first and get rid of a few seemingly obvious negatives. Being a friend of Jesus doesn't mean you're a member of the elite and specially privileged. It doesn't mean either that you just come to him for what you want like popping in to a supermarket when you run out of milk!
Friendships are 2 way, we have to give as well as take... but there are those who only pray when they're in need of help. There's no such thing as a consumer only Christian. Jesus isn't a first aid box to be kept on a shelf until you have an emergency! What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus John records 3 words in these verses that we need to remember if we are friends of Jesus?
Some translations of the Bible use the word 'remain' but I prefer the translations that say ABIDE: Abide in my love as I abide in my Father's love....and abiding means being at home in his love, it indicates a close relationship. Think of the closest, most special relationship you have, the friend with whom you always share the good news and the problems....the person you can absolutely trust who will be there for you whatever happens....that's the friendship Jesus offers.... but it's also the friendship he requires. I wonder if he was thinking about Roman emperors, it's quite possibly at that time. The Emperor had a posse of important people who held high office but he also had a group who were called his friends. They didn't hold high office but they had access to him at any time of the day or night to discuss his concerns or theirs, a special relationship, a way of putting minds at rest among special friends. Maybe that was in Jesus' mind when he said his joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. Abide, know that I am always available to you and I ask you to be available to me.
Then he says, LOVE. As well as abiding in his love as he abides in his father's love, we are to love each other as he has loved us and he sets the example of laying down his life for his friends. We're unlikely to face that but I have seen folk in some my churches do amazing things for people who need far more than a caring, pastoral friendship.
KNOW Jesus said, "I have called you friends for everything I learned from my father I have made known to you" In other words, you know what you need to know for real friendship with me.
Then think about that 1st question. Was Jesus wise in his choice of friends?
He looked round that last supper table and he knew all about their faults and failings...but he also knew their potential — and they didn't. Peter felt so defeated by his denial, Thomas couldn't believe they had seen Jesus so perhaps they didn't expect to be treated as friends. I guess nothing's changed, we, like those first disciples are still surprised to be called friends of Jesus. Our response is often to say, "yes, I do love you Lord but I have faults, failings and weaknesses, a foot-shaped mouth or a quick temper and anyway, I'm too busy, too tired, too old." Like the first disciples we can't imagine He would use us, just as Peter never imagined that after such a failure, he'd be a addressing a crowd at Pentecost and become a leader in the early church.
Periodically, I start using a different translation of the Bible. Different wording helps me to see new things and a favourite at present is Romans 12 vs 2....LET GOD TRANSFORM YOU BY CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK. Whoever you are, whatever you feel about your strengths and weaknesses, if Jesus sat here now, he'd look round at us and say, "You are my friends, love one another" and, like those 1st disciples, who knows where that might lead you.