5/6/18: Holy Friendship, John 15:9-17
Fifth in the series, Resurrection by Candlelight
First Lesson: 1 John 5:1-6
Second Lesson: John 15:9-17
It’s still the Thursday of Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, and the last night he will spend with the disciples.
We as noted last Sunday when we looked at the verses just before these, John tells the story of that last night together differently than the other Gospels. There’s no breaking of bread or lifting of cup in John. Instead we’re told how Jesus washes his disciples feet. And where in the other gospels the meal is the focus and little else is described, in John this supper lasts several chapters, recording in detail Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in what scholars call his “farewell discourse,” which again, as we noted last week, gives it a kind of official air, but the words themselves reveal something much more intimate.
Jesus has a lot on his mind that final night. His words to the disciples are at times beautiful, at times rambling, but underneath all of them is a deep tenderness. And it doesn’t get much more tender than these verses here in the 15th chapter.
There’s so much here it’s hard to focus our attention:
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. “
“I say these thing to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
That your joy may be complete—what might that mean?
And then saying again—so they wouldn’t forget it—“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
But it’s what he says next that I just haven’t been able to shake this week: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for one’s friends. You are my friendsif you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer…I call you my friends.
Most of the time in the gospels, we know Jesus’ closest traveling companions as his disciples, or his followers—at one point he calls them “apostles,” the ones he’s sent out into the world. Matthew reports after he was raised from the dead, Jesus tells the women at the tomb to go and tells his “brothers” he will see them in Galilee.
And these all point to a different element of Jesus’ relationship with this inner circle with whom he shared a life and a ministry, and they’re powerful in their own way. But then here in John, on the last night he would share with them, sitting around that candlelit table, knowing what would await him, he looks at them and says, “You’re my friends.”
I think about what that would have meant for them, to know that Jesus saw them in that way—how they must have needed to hear it. How it must have been both a source of pain, but ultimately comfort after he was gone.
But more than this, I think about how Jesus must have needed to say it. How he must have needed them to know it—how he must have needed them to say it in return. Yes, through his ministry he needed disciples, he needed followers. But when it was all on the line that final night, standing there at the edge of the turning point not only of his life but, we confess, the life of the world, Jesus didn’t need disciples. He needed friends.
You know something about that.
Family has their place, and a roll that I’m not sure anyone can fill. Those bonds of kinship can be strong and are of their own particular character. But friendship—true friendship—is something different. They’re the family you choose, as I’m sure you’ve heard it. And maybe even more powerfully, the family that chooses you. They know you in ways others don’t, in fact, it’s your friends who probably know you the way you’d like to be known. Sometimes family has a way of knowing us how we used to be, but friends, they know us for who we are now.
This past week I gathered in Black Mountain, NC with a few close friends who are also pastors to share ideas for preaching, talk church, and generally just support each other in our ministries. It’s the third year we’ve done this, and these relationships have already become among the most important and life-giving that I know. We call this week in the mountains Preacher Camp, but we actually call ourselves “the Dear Friends,” which actually pokes fun of how we quote each other in our sermons—“as my dear friend Emily Hull McGee says,” and so forth.
We all need these relationships to sustain us, to feed us.
So it’s funny and odd, for all its verses and verses on love and community, the Bible has little to say about friendship.
There are a few proverbs and other verses here or there. And there are a couple of friendships described in scripture—David and Jonathan come to mind. Ruth and her mother in law Naomi seem to share something beyond the typical daughter and mother in law relationship, something closer to deep friendship. Job had some friends, who may not have been his friend after all. Paul and Silas are more missionary partners than friends, although Acts does report that they had a falling out along the way, which is very friend-like. Abraham and Moses are both referred to, at different times, as God’s friends, which is peculiar and fascinating. What would it mean to know that even God Almighty needs friends? But other than this there’s not much else in scripture devoted to friendship—which is odd, because how important is friendship to life?
So what we have here between Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper is important, because it tells us the love we’re to share as his disciples or followers or apostles—this close-knit community gathered in his name—this love is to look like the love between friends. To be a friend to Jesus is to be a friend to each other. To choose each other. To support each other, and even at times, to challenge or speak what Paul calls “the truth in love” to each other.
And one of the most beautiful things about being a part of a congregation for a length of time is the bonds of friendship that form. It’s almost inevitable when you do the things we do together. When you gather week after week and share your lives in the way we do. When you lift up prayers and celebrations—when you hear the celebrations of each other’s children, like we do every Wednesday night down in the Fellowship Hall. When you share meals together. And hard conversations. When you make yourself vulnerable, and trust that the people around you will handle it with care.
When you grieve with each other. When you go and sit with each. When you show up to funerals and weddings.
I remember when we were forming our new Sunday school class for young adults a few years back, one of the couples we invited to be a part asked, “Now is this going to be a class we age out of after a while, or are we going to grow old together?”
Friendship happens. Almost mysteriously. Love is always mysterious, and the love in friendship is no different.
It’s easy to see how the bonds of congregational life lived through years and years would mirror the bonds of friendship, but the challenge of Jesus’ words is that it’s these bonds of friendship we’re to extend to all people. This may be even harder than the call to treat all people as brother and sisters—brothers and sister we don’t choose and hold permission to treat poorly from time to time. Our boys treat their friends way better than they treat each other. But Jesus says, when you abide in my love, you may find yourself loving people more in the way of Jesus than you would expect.
One of those Dear Friends I mentioned earlier, Alan Sherouse, shared a story with us some time ago he first heard from his friend, Ken, at their church, Metro Baptist, in New York City, on September 11, 2011, ten years after 9/11.
Ken owned an African music store located in the shadow of the towers, three blocks, which he ran with his friend, Alberto Barbosa (or Beto as he was known), who was from the very small West African nation of Guinnea-Bissao. On Sept 11, Beto was on the last subway to arrive at the World Trade Center terminal, meaning as he came up from the tunnel he entered the madness. Like everyone else, he just wanted to get out of there, but he noticed as he steadied himself a woman who was very pregnant, and very frightened, struggling to breathe. He came near, but she couldn’t really speak to him, so he lifted her up in his arms and carried her as far as he could, let her down in the shelter of a doorway, gave her some water.=
“I’m not in labor” she said “I’m just terrified.”
“Me too,” said Beto, “But we’ll help each other.”
He helped her to her feet, put his arm behind her waist, and they walked. When she needed to rest, they would stop and then keep going.It took them 7 hours to walk 7 miles to the Hudson Ferry crossing on W 33rdSt that would take them back to New Jersey. People raced by them the whole time, but still they walked slowly, arm in arm, until they arrived at the river where masses of people had converged there because it was the only way to leave Manhattan.
Beto had her sit on a bench and after some searching he found someone in authority who let her on the ferry.
“I won’t go without this man” she said. And they crossed together and arrived in Hoboken, into another mass of people trying to get as far away form the city as possible.
Someone with a car saw the woman and said I’ll take you wherever you have to go. There was no room for Beto, she wanted to wait for him, but he said you go on ahead of me…and she left.
It wasn’t until 8 years later that Beto told anyone that story. You see, he’d been in a shopping mall, and he bumped into a woman. “Alberto,” she shouted.
“I know you,” he said.
“September 11,” she continued, “You saved my life.”
“Ohh, you were strong… we helped each other,” he told her.
“Alberto, when death surrounded me, I prayed to God that he would spare my baby and when I opened my eyes you were there, and you lifted me up and you carried me away from danger. You saved me and my baby.”
Beto said, “How is your baby?”
She came back with a man and the man rushed to Beto and embraced him.
“Every night I thank God for you and prayed that we would someday meet.”
Behind the man, of course, was a boy.
“Alberto,” the woman said, “I’d like you to meet our son. His name is Alberto.”
And Beto said, “Oh, is that a name in your family?”
And the father said, ‘It is now.’”
I call you friends, Jesus said. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
And friends, it turns out this holy friendship Jesus has in mind is much wider than we would expect. It extends out past those well-aged and time-tested bonds that sustain us and we couldn’t imagine living without—important and necessary as they surely are. But the life and the friendship Jesus imagines for us,
the life and the friendship he hopes for us,
the life and the friendship he lived for us,
he died for us,
that he was raised in for us,
the life and the friendship we aim to practice here so that we would be found ready out there—well this is something much greater. It’s something we can’t fathom to understand. It’s something we can only embrace, it’s something we can only abide in. It’s something we can only abide in together. Amen