‘I call you friends’ – Sermon for Adel Parish Church – Easter 6
John 15: 9 – 17
Much of the best literature, whatever the surface story, is really about friendships: Holmes and Watson; Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione; Sam and Frodo; Winnie the Pooh and Piglet…
Or, if your taste in literature is a little more mature: Hamlet and Horatio; Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Collins…
Friendships make good literature, because it’s in our relationships with true friends that we grow and become ourselves. With friends at our side, we often achieve things we couldn’t imagine tackling alone.
If we’re lucky – we all have someone we recognise as a true friend; perhaps you can picture yours now. On the surface they may look very different – a family member, a school friend, someone we came across much later in life…but all good friendships have things in common.
They will be relationships that have changed both of us. A true friend will know all about us, the good and the bad, but still want to be our friend. And we’ll know their secrets too. With our friends we won’t always feel the need to talk. They’ll sympathise with our failures, and celebrate our successes. They won’t be afraid to tell us the things about ourselves we need to hear. And when we’re struggling, and perhaps have nothing to bring to the friendship…a true friend will be there anyway, expecting nothing in return, because they love us.
Yes – if we’re lucky we know about friendships. But today we hear Jesus say, “You are my friends…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, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”
That’s quite something to take in. Imagine the relationship you have with your best friend – and put Jesus into that picture. We know Jesus loves us – the cross shows us that – but to really accept, ‘I do not call you servants, but friends’, is quite a challenge.
A challenge, but for me important. A servant might love a good master – but there’s always something of compulsion, of power, in that relationship. The point about true friendship is that it’s freely given – on both sides. And it seems this is the relationship God wants with us, through Jesus.
There’s a poem by Adrian Plass that grapples with this idea…in the first verse God describes how he could, with the smallest movement, destroy us…in the second of how he brought the dead back to life and could do so again…the third lists all the ways God can be known, ‘Father, brother, Shepherd, friend, Alpha and Omega, King of Kings…
Each verse ends…
But I cannot make you love me
I cannot make you, will not make you, cannot make you love me
God in Jesus cannot make us love him, because if it’s forced, it isn’t love; he will not make us love him – because it’s our love, freely given, that he wants, before our obedience.
So, I go back to the example of my best friend…and try to picture Jesus inhabiting my life in the same way. Knowing the worst of me, not just because he’s God but because I feel able to share it, and loving me anyway. Being someone it’s ok to question; or to just sit in silence with. Sympathising with my failures and celebrating my successes. And, when I have nothing to bring to the relationship…perhaps not even faith…being there anyway, loving me and asking nothing in return.
It’s very different to many pictures of Jesus, but I think it’s important to hear Jesus calling us friends, because it helps us grow up as Christians. Good friends help us mature into better people because they dare to point out our faults, and show us a better way.
It’s said we’re known by the company we keep – but more than that, we tend to become the company we keep. Friends take on each other’s characteristics. Through friendship with Christ, far more than attempting obedience, we will become more Christlike.
Friends of course are equals. They learn from each other and change each other for the better. Can we really have that sort of relationship with Christ? There are stories in the bible of people who challenge God into apparently changing his mind…Moses and Abraham who plead on behalf of people God has said he will destroy; Jesus’ mother who asked him to ‘do something’ at the wedding in Cana; the Canaanite woman who persuades him to heal her child.
I don’t understand how Jesus could be changed by our friendship…but I do think we are encouraged to question, to wrestle…even to disagree…as we try to grow as Christians.
And even if it is only we who are changed by the friendship, the changes for the better in us may affect how Christ is seen in the world. In some mysterious way, the body of Christ here on earth may be changed by our friendship with Christ.
And as he said, Jesus calls us friends, calls us into that unique relationship with him so that we love one another as he has loved us. The friendship Jesus offers gives us choice and dignity. The invitation to question allows us to discover what faith means in good times and bad. His love gives us the confidence to fail but try again.
Only by being loved as friends will we develop into people who can love others in this way. Not just those we count as dear friends, but everyone who is part of this church.
If we at Adel St John begin to love one another as Jesus loves us, then we will be a church people want to join. And then the love of God will spill over into the community around, and others will discover its power to transform their lives.