(Congregational conversation around the question, “what is a friend?”)
When I asked that question, did a dictionary type definition pop to mind, with bullet point characteristics of what a friend is? Or did a real-life person come to your mind? (Let people answer). My guess is that this friend came to your mind and then how you answered my question about what a friend is, you pulled out characteristics that you have really experienced in the relationship with that friend to define what a friend is. Is that correct?
And that is what Jesus is talking about here in this portion of the farewell discourse, this long speech he gives right before he heads to his crucifixion. He’s talking about a relational friendship, not something metaphorical, but real and tangible with a person, with him. And as he talks about this divine friendship, we look at and to him for what it means to have a friend in Jesus and what friendship can look like in the community of faith.
Jesus’ criteria for living into this divine friendship is three-fold. Jesus’ friends are those who love one another. Now, we have been reading a lot from the Gospel of John and John’s first letter about love over the past couple of weeks. And the love Jesus is talking about is that self-sacrificial love that puts the other person first just for the sake of love. No agendas, no getting something out of putting the other ahead. Just love.
It is what Jesus’ whole ministry is about, and we even find his understanding of love in his words today. He says, “I no longer call you servant, but friend.” That word that usually gets translated “servant” is actually the Greek word for “slave.” Think about the hierarchy between a master and a slave. Now what does it look like between two friends? Jesus has lowered himself and at the same time elevated the status of his disciples by calling them friend. That’s one of the ways we love one another, not by elevating ourselves in the community, but by lifting each other up, celebrating each others’ gifts and mourning with each other when our hearts are broken. In building our friendship with Christ, we love and build our friendship with one another.
The next part of friendship, as Jesus reveals it, is that everything is revealed. Jesus does not leave us in the dark. This is one of those parts of scripture that that I have a hard time wrapping my mind around. Jesus holds nothing back from his disciples when he states clearly, “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Everything. No secrets to dig out of what Jesus said. No special knowledge for a select few best disciples. Everything is and has been revealed in Jesus. In order for us to live in a loving relationship with God, Jesus has spilled the beans that we need to love one another. No secret handshakes or special rituals. Revealed love.
And that is what friends do with each other, they hold nothing back. It’s easy to share the good stuff in our lives, and it does take time to build trust and share those things that lay hidden in the back of the closet. But I think that Jesus is calling us to reveal those things to one another so that they are exposed to the light and love of God so healing and transformation can take place. Friends hold nothing back from God or each other. Everything is out in the open.
The last part of this divine friendship is understanding that being Jesus’ friend means that he chose us to be his friends. There was nothing we did or could do to be his friend. It was his initiative to lower himself so that we could be lifted up and be friends with the divine. Look around: God in Christ has chosen everyone here to be a friend. Indeed, he chose us long before we chose him.
And that is the second part of this choosing. It isn’t one way. We also have to chose to respond to God’s friendship. Friendship is a two-way street. I really like how Friedrick Beuchner talks about it. Friendship isn’t “something God does. It is something Abraham and God or Moses and God do together. Not even God can be a friend all by himself…” In speaking of the friendship of God and Abraham, Beuchner adds, “There is no agenda. They are simply being together, the two of them, and being themselves.” We respond to Christ’s invitation to be his friend by spending time with him and each other. That is how we build and maintain any friendship.
Friends, we are called to a personal relationship, a friendship, of love and loyalty to the one who has loved us more than we can begin to imagine. He is the one who calls us friend. And to prove his love for us, he shared everything and gave up everything for us. He lived, died, and was raised from the grave for us. And in that friendship with him, he calls us to a simple, profound, and difficult command: Love one another. Amen.