Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
Jesus calls us friends!
That little word “friend” has been used to describe many different types of relationships. You may have heard the word “friend” used to describe someone in a work relationship, when it would be more appropriate to refer to the other person as colleague. You might have heard “friend” used to describe someone whom you have met casually once or twice, when it would be more appropriate to refer to that person as an acquaintance. Jesus does not call us colleagues or mere acquaintances, Jesus calls us friends. It may be helpful then, for us to know what that truly means, because if we are truly to be Jesus’ friends, we need to know what that really demands of us.
Wikipedia offers a fine description of the word “friend.” “Friends care for one another and look out for each other . . . they must open up about personal things, listen carefully, and be loyal to one another.” (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendship ) Furthermore, Wiki states that the behavior of friends includes demonstrating on a consistent basis the following: 1) Show desire for what is best for the other, (2) show sympathy and empathy, (3) offer honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, (4) offer mutual understanding and compassion (5) go to each other for emotional support (6) trust in one another (7) and have the ability to express one’s feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgment.
When Jesus calls us friends, as we hear in today’s gospel, the kind of relationship he desires with us, all of us, is not merely one in which we are a mere colleague or acquaintance. Jesus calls us into a relationship of caring, listening, trusting, and non-judgmental sharing. This friendship is at the heart of the relational life of the Trinity. This is the circle of love, which is the life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God invites his beloved creation, each one of us, not some … but all into a loving friendship with God, and with each other.
If you are familiar with the popular social media, Facebook, one of the reasons why it is so popular, is that you can connect with your “friends” from all over the world. You can share pictures with each other, you can send messages, and you can renew old relationships. I have friends from seminary, from conferences I have attended, from Tennessee, from Florida, and from all over the world. With these friends in the social media world, I can post little events on my daily “wall,” I can upload pictures of my latest adventures, and I can share links of my favorite videos. I can pick and choose with whom I will be Facebook “friends,” and I can even choose what I will share with those people I call “friends.” I imagine if Jesus used social media to connect with us, the friendship invitation would be sent out to all folks, Jesus would probably encourage each one of us to befriend each other, and Jesus would give full access to everything about himself and by the way, we would be asked to do the same. That is not the way it is in social media world, nor is it that we way with our own connections. We are exclusive about who we invite into our circle of friends. We rarely venture out of our comfort zone to reach out to someone different from us, but that is not what Our Lord teaches us.
See, Jesus invites the least likely folks into the fellowship friends. In today’s scripture reading, we heard that the “believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” Gentiles were not the only so called outcasts for that early community. Do you remember how Jesus called tax collectors, blind folk, lepers, prostitutes, and other outcasts as disciples? That was not merely a suggestion or a good idea he had, he seriously wanted us to follow his lead. Jesus invites us to invite the outcasts into fellowship with him, and with us. So who might those folks be in our little community today?
Look around us in Englewood. Who might be the outcasts with whom we are called to be friends? Well, consider the folks who are struggling to make ends meet each month. Did you know that nearly 10% of our neighbors around us are living below the poverty line? Jesus calls them into a relationship of caring, listening, trusting, and non-judgmental sharing. Jesus invites us to love them as he loves us. We have the resources to do that very thing, but it takes more than one or two people to serve. In this parish, we serve the least, lost, and lonely every single day of the week through our food pantry, our Backpack program, and through our Cold night shelter. It takes many hands, many gifts, and many hours of mission work to make this work of friendship and love a reality. Not sure that you can serve in that kind of ministry, then maybe, you can just be a friend. Come, sit with those who are hurting, listen to their story, empathize with their plight, and love them.
There are many others Jesus invites to be his friends: the poor yes, the brokenhearted, the lonely, and the prisoner. That invitation extends to others too regardless of their immigration status, sexual orientation, handicap, addiction, homelessness, or marital status. The invitation to be friends of Jesus is not exclusive, but it resonates beyond all boundaries, all walls, and all divisions. When we consider who might be in this circle of love, those who we consider worthy to be in the circle of acceptance, love, grace, reconciliation, and mercy, we must look through the gospel lens. The Gospel message is, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” God so loved the world! Notice that John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the Church.” Surprised? God calls us ALL into relationship. God so loved the WORLD. For God so loved the entire world, not merely a select group. God laid down God’s life for us. That is good news, and the story needs to be told again, and again, and again. It needs to be told in fresh, new ways. We can no longer open the doors of the church, hope people will come in, and expect them to want to merely hear our story and be like us. We have to begin loving as Jesus loves us. We have to meet people where they are and develop friendships. These friendships will embrace what is best for the other, offer sympathy and empathy, embrace honesty, exalt mutual understanding and compassion, share trust, and offer the freedom to express feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgment. We need to make some friends for Jesus.
A little over six months ago, my dear friend the Rev. Becky Robbins-Penniman preached here at St. David’s during “Our Celebration of New Ministry,” and that evening I was installed as your Rector. The words from her sermon are just as important today as they were November 6, 2011. Becky gave us all a challenge with these words: “Eric is going to keep calling you to live up to the life of St. David, and do the little things – a LOT of little things to make some new friends for Jesus. So, if you’re ready to love God, love each other like Christ loves you, and be like St. David, doing all those little things among people that are different from you as if you were in the presence of God, I invite you all to say after me: Hey, Eric! Let’s go make some new friends!”
Today, Sunday May 13, 2011, I say to you all, God’s people of St. Davids, “let’s go make some new friends.”