"Love God! Love People! Change the World! #3"

Date Sunday May 06, 2018
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 15:9-17


      Sometimes on Facebook people are invited to list a song title that includes a particular word. So, today I’m inviting you to think of one with the word friend. When I did this myself I immediately thought of three. The first was “What a Friend We have in Jesus,” in which Jesus shares all our sins and griefs. In my mind it’s being sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford because that’s the record my Mom played while cleaning, and that song was on it. The second was, “You’ve Got a Friend,” sung by Carole King, of course, in which we are assured that if we call out a friend’s name, wherever that one is, he or she will come running to see us again. And the third one was, “I am a friend of God,” in which a Christian band proclaims that God calls us friend. I’ll be interested to hear what songs come to your minds.

     Thinking of Jesus as a friend is a great sentiment, but do we view our Lord in that way? If so, what does doing so imply? How does one describe a friend? Here’s some of what I read this week while preparing for this sermon.

     The Rev. Dr. James C. Howell notes that in this day and age friends are people with whom we share interests, have fun, enjoy the same diversions and probably look like us. (1)

     Pastor Catherine Maclean says friends fill in for family when family is lost. “When we are distant by geography, when we are shunned for who we are, when we are up to our ears in work that family cannot understand – friends fill in.” (2)

     Pastor David Ewart writes that friends are equals who have a solemn obligation to look out for each other’s good. (3)

     Pastor Janet Hunt asks why one person is an acquaintance and another is a friend – is it due to common values, a shared sense of humor, history together or a similar world view? (4)

     What would you add? Pastor Howell reflects that Aristotle of ancient Greek fame said a friend is someone who helps you to be wise or to be good. And Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish theologian, said that to love another person, to be a friend, is to help that person to love God. (5)

     I think a significant quality of friendship is forgiveness, and I am thankful my friends are just that, since I am often so preoccupied with my life and ministry that I forget to check in concerning theirs’. (That’s not so wise in my case, since I have no family to fall back on.)

     That’s a lot of sharing about friends, but what does it mean that we are claimed as Jesus’ friends? By the way, claimed is the correct word, because that’s exactly what happens as Jesus speaks with his disciples (and by extension to us, his later disciples) shortly before his death. What we read in John 15 today is Christianity 101 with five key points.

     Jesus says #1, God loves me. #2, I love you. #3, Abide (rest in, stay in) in that love. If you do, then, #4, you will keep my commandments (since doing so emerges from, and is an expression of, abiding love). Actually, there is only one thing Jesus says to do that is labeled as a “commandment.” It is, #5, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And, how is that? It’s sacrificial love.

     The commandment to love as Jesus has loved may be the most radical words of the Gospel, writes Gail R. O’Day, because it claims that the love that enabled Jesus to lay down his life for his friends is not unique to him. This love can be replicated and embodied over and over again by his followers. (6)

     And we are not just followers, but friends. It’s vital that we note that in the Gospel Jesus tells his own they are no longer slaves, but friends. That is not based on anything that they have done for him, but because of what he has done for them.

     Jesus chose us, Jesus declares that we are his friends, irrespective of our deserving that status. And, having been chosen, our purpose is clearly stated by Jesus: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…”, which we do by loving sacrificially.

     Is that what it truly means to be a friend? I think so …. Jesus has been the ultimate friend—he gave his life in love for us. Now it is our turn to be Jesus’ friend, which means that we love one another as he has loved us. Let me quote Gail O’Day:

     “If we take Jesus’ commandment to love seriously, and if we long to be called “friend” by Jesus, then the Christian vocation is to give love freely and generously without counting the cost and without wondering and worrying about who is on the receiving end of our limitless love. What counts most is the embodiment of God’s love in the world, not the character of those who receive this love.” (7)

     That’s why Dr. Peter Storey, a great spiritual leader in South Africa who worked along with Archbishop Tutu and President Nelson Mandela in dismantling apartheid, says that when we invite Christ into our lives, he insists that we let him bring his friends with him. Jesus made it unmistakable that we cannot truly love him and not also love those he loves.

     I imagine this all sounds very familiar of you were here during April when we focused on outreach; it’s certainly a similar theme. I promise you that I did not change today’s Gospel reading to make that happen. Hearing about loving as Jesus loved AGAIN is a reminder of just how important this is to Jesus; so important that he chose to focus on it during his “farewell discourse.” In other words, these were Jesus’ dying words.

     Often people cling to last words from loved ones in hopes of gleaning some meaning, some promise, some legacy, says the Rev. Dr. Timothy Smith and that’s exactly what we receive in today’s reading. “Last words matter. These are precious. Of all that Jesus might have said, he chooses love and relationship, even as he chooses us in love and sends us into the world to be love. Not a feeling or inclination, this love, but obedience to his commandment to choose to love others as God has chosen to love us.” (8)

     Our legacy is that we are friends of Jesus, and as such are empowered (and expected) to love as he loved. And so, one more time, we are reminded:

     Love God!

     Love People!

     Change the World!


(1)   “As the Father Has Loved Me” by the Rev. Dr. James C. Howell, John 15:9-17, May 17, 2009, www.day1.org

(2)   “Living by the Word” by Catherine Faith MacLean, Christian Century, April 11, 2018, pg. 21

(3)   “Holy Textures” by David Ewart, John 15:9-17, May 13, 2012, www.holytextures.com

(4)   “I Have Called You Friends” by Janet Hunt, John 15:9-17, 2015, www.dancingwiththeword.com

(5)   Same as #1

(6)   “I Have Called You Friends” by Gail R. O’Day, Institute for Faith and Learning, Christian Reflection Project: Friendship, www.baylor.edu

(7)   Same as #6

(8)   “Last Words” by the Rev. Dr. Timothy Smith, John 15:9-17, May 10, 2017, www.day1.org