(This is the sermon of Pastor Bob’s that I failed to get up this past Sunday morning. PB told me that he wrote it with you guys, my readers, in mind. I can see that he did. This sermon means a lot to me personally, because in it Bob reflects upon his recent visit with his grandfather, whom he never had the opportunity to get to know too well. When Bob returned home after his visit with his grandpa, he and I sat and talked for hours about all that visit had meant to him. It made for a very special time with my friend. Anyway, here’s a little church for you tonight!)
“Friend of God’s”
A sermon by Pastor Bob
Text: John 15:9-17
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
–A few weeks ago, I was in North Carolina with my Grandfather.
–He is currently 97.
–I say currently, because he fully expects to reach 98 soon this year, so for intensive purposes, he is 98, or if you round just a little bit, about a century old.
–It’s a little staggering if you think about it.
–So many stories, so much change.
–But being with my grandpa made me think not only about all of his experiences, both the good and the bad, but what it means to love for a century.
–My grandpa married a few times (a hazard of being almost 98), and surely had his share of love for friends and relatives. But what I learned most acutely in my last visit with him, was how much he loved Jesus.
–Beside a rather huge picture of his last wife, Dorothy, was an equally impressive cross.
–As it turned out, my grandpa had been a relatively active Christian most of his life, and certainly in the last half of it.
–It was a great comfort for him, that I shared his enthusiasm for this Jesus Christ.
–And one of the most memorable moments for my ministry was to share communion with my grandpa.
–To break apart that small dinner roll, to share a cup of juice and pray the Lord’s Prayer together with hands held, and God’s Spirit present.
–I realized, in that moment, that we shared something more than our genetics.
–That we were both caught up in a love that captivated our hearts, our whole selves, despite the difference in years, and the family hierarchy of grandfather and grandson.
–That, really, we were more than that.
–We were friends.
–Our gospel reading for today speaks of such a friendship.
–“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…”
–Jesus calls his disciples “friends” because they know something.
–It’s not that they know everything.
–As a matter of fact, they will get a lot of things wrong.
–They will betray Jesus, deny him, and even doubt him to his very ascension.
–But in the end, most of them will get something right: they will know that they are caught in a relationship that beckons them to God.
–That somehow, the man that stands before them—who eats with them and leads them into both uncomfortable and exhilarating places—that this man is the Son of God.
–Somehow, some way.
–And that despite centuries of the early church trying to codify this knowledge, it is ultimately found in the most accessible and elusive possession of them all: love.
–As I sat across the table from my grandpa (who looked uncannily like my father)
–As we played numerous hands of Euchre (a card game particularly favored by Mid-westerners)
–I realized that we shared a love that went beyond the few times we had been together over the years.
–It was a friendship forged not by shared experiences, but by a faith that would not let either of us go.
–To be honest, I’ve never thought of faith in terms of friendship.
–My friends have always been those folks in my life that shared a particular interest or circumstance:
–My friend Kevin and I grew up together in elementary school and as neighbors.
–We shared many bike rides and hikes together.
–My friend Keith in high school, who shared my passion for skiing and playing computer games into the wee hours of the night.
–My friend Dean in college, who shared the same crazy idea of studying physics and electrical engineering.
–He taught a Colorado boy how to eat Japanese food, and I taught him, my friend from Hawaii, how to drive on icy roads.
–And after many other friends made at work, graduate school and in ministry, including good friends like Mark and John, I continue to be grateful to one special friend who puts up with me on a daily basis: my wife.
–I think that somehow, our friendships are just the beginning of what it means to love.
–That they are guideposts to a love we can barely comprehend.
–And I don’t mean a soft, wishy-washy love, gushing with sentimentality, but a love forged with hands that dare to touch the sick,
–With a love that pauses a group of grown men to wait until a child is blessed.
–With a love that empathizes with the hungry and the lame.
–With a love that is so blind to the walls that divide people that it eats with tax collectors and shares a drink with a Samaritan woman.
–With a love that burns so brightly, that when lifted up into the horror of the cross and down into darkness of a tomb, it cannot be extinguished.
–Such a love burns the soul, firing it into something that is more than new—it is resurrected.
–Friends, I call you “friends” for that is truly who you are.
–We are friends of God and together we are friends in God.
–We share a God together, a Christ who fires our lives with hope and promise.
–And a God who cannot but shape who we are and what we are to be as a community.
–Are we different? Yes.
–Do we share both common and separate interests? Yes.
–Will we agree on every political, economic or even religious point? No.
–Are we friends? Yes. Friends in a way the world cannot fully define, for we are friends in God’s love.
–Can you see this?
–Do you believe it?
–Now, I have to confess that I have always found Jesus’ language of “commandment” to be a little funny with regard to love.
–What does it really mean to be commanded to love someone else?
–It seems a little unintuitive to me.
–After all, how can I force myself to love anyone?
–And how can I love someone if I don’t even like them?
–I think the worse interpretation of the command to love is the often stated this way: “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”
–But what people usually mean by this is: “Hate the sin, despise the sinner and love thyself a little more.”
–I don’t think this is quite what Jesus is trying to convey when he commands his disciples and us to love one another.
–Rather, our best clue is found in verse 9 of our gospel reading, a continuation of last week’s text where it speaks about abiding in God.
–To abide is to dwell in another’s presence, and I can’t help but think that this is the best definition of friendship and ultimately love.
–To love someone is to dwell in their presence, to abide in them.
–It is not to look at them through a big piece of glass like a bug in a jar, but to crawl in that jar and be with them, live with them, hurt with them, and love with them.
–It is in such abiding that someone we used to call “other” simply becomes “friend.”
–When Jesus commands his disciples to love, he is commanding them to open themselves to the reality that God deeply loves God’s creation and God’s creatures.
–Enough to die for them and even enough to live for them.
–My own experience is that God puts such people into my life, if only I would be aware of them,
–People who might not become my best friend, but whom I connect with even for a moment.
–Opening a door, sharing a smile, asking about their well being, abiding, abiding, abiding, loving, loving, loving.
–For when we open ourselves to such friendships, we are ultimately caught up in a love that is not our own, but flows from a gracious God.
–It is here that we find our deepest joy.
–And when we are able to share our faith, to express what animates our very being, then our joy may be complete.
–A few weeks ago, sitting in an Assisted Living Center with my almost 98 year-old grandpa, I found that joy and it will never leave me.
–God bless you in your friendships, those close and far away.
–God bless you in the friends you have yet to make.
–And may you know an abiding love that holds you each moment and into eternity.
–In Jesus Christ.