... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter 6 Year B, Message May 13th, 2012

New Life: Complete Friendship

Text: John 15:9-17

New life seems to be the theme that pervades all four readings for today. And perhaps it is even more poignant that these readings should be heard of the day we celebrate mothers – those through and by whom new life as sons and daughters are born and nurtured.

Notwithstanding the honouring of our mothers, the readings present a newness for life which is altogether surprising astounding and beyond human initiative. And while this new life is both innovative and beneficial it also engenders love and acceptance on the one hand and fear and hate on the other.

In the Acts story we are told that those who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles and that in response to this newness of the Spirit’s work those Gentiles were baptized. What lies behind this climax of the story is the witnessing of God’s love for all humanity – Jews and Gentiles. However, to put the reading in perspective we need to know the full story – the visions given to both Cornelius the Roman centurion and to Peter – the one directing Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa and the other to Peter concerning clean and unclean food. Both visions were initiated by God and intimately connected so as to bring these two men together and in this meeting a new life would be enabled, not just for Cornelius and his family but for the meaning of church and world-wide union within Christ’s ministry.

For as much as both Peter and Cornelius along with Cornelius’ family had been prepared by the Spirit to receive Peter and his teachings concerning Jesus, Peter’s companions had not. You can imagine the shock and surprise they had when during Peter’s teachings the Holy Spirit descended upon these Gentiles and they began speaking in tongues. All their former beliefs and prejudices concerning Gentiles and their own favoured positions as the chosen totally shattered and through this shattering God providing for a new life on both sides. For us in the 21st century this may not have much shock or impact.

However at that time we are further informed that the apostles and believers who had remained in Jordan and who had heard about the events in Joppa were terrified and extremely angered over what had taken place and they criticized Peter. Fortunately after hearing Peter’s version of the events they too came to see God’s hand working a newness for life.

Perhaps God’s vision given to Constantine prior to the Battle Saxa Rubra or even the evolution of President Obama concerning the rights of the LGBT people might be seen as similar shocks to the establishment each calling for a newness in life which was to be seen as grounded in God’s love.

Certainly the psalmist of Psalm 98 called for a new song in response to a newness of life. Whatever the extraordinary events experienced by Israel, the results were a decisively transforming set of circumstances which gave new life for the people and the nation. God had intervened and had rescued the people and the nation, changing their situation into one of prosperity joy and peace. It was a new way and a new life and so the psalmist called for a new song to celebrate as another symbol for proclaiming praise to God and a new interpretation of their own previously held convictions.

The author of 1 John had at the core of the letter the understanding of the connectedness of God’s love for humanity and how that ideal love should be displayed among individuals. The attempts at a logic which could prove God’s love was foundational and by extension to show God’s love was given to all people and that this love ought to be displayed one to another is often difficult to comprehend. However if we were to see the author’s thinking in mathematical terms it would sound like 1+2=3; 1+1+1=3 therefore 1+2=1+1+1.

In John’s gospel passage which is an extension of the ‘I am the true vine’ statement we heard about last week, Jesus was attempting to create a new way of life among the disciples; a way of love which for them would be similar to that he had experienced with God. This new way involved a particular type of relationship what has been translated as ‘friends’. Jesus tells his disciples that they are no longer slaves but friends and in that term lies an understanding of relationship that is grounded in Divine love.

Unfortunately in our world friendship has taken on a very glib meaning. We use it to speak of someone we have just met, perhaps an acquaintance who we might run into at scattered social events or maybe the next door neighbour whom we say hello to as we both pull out of our respective driveways and go our separate ways. The point is that what we consider friendship has very little to do with what Jesus was intending.

Jesus’ use of the term friend was to elevate his followers from merely being students and disciples to being equals and part of the intimate circle of knowing. The intimate circle was one directly resulting from Divine love and allowed each disciple to be open to one another as Jesus had been to each one individually. In this short closing directive for newness in life we learn several lessons.

To be a friend of Jesus is not of our choosing but of Jesus’. Just as the disciples had not chosen Jesus but rather that Jesus had chosen them so too have we been chosen. And if we have each been chosen to be part of that circle of friendship then there really is no place within that circle for self-glorification or self-deprecation. There is no room for elitism or prejudices; one for or against another. As each was chosen as friend so by extension each was to be a friend one to another.

A second lesson we must hear is that as a friend of Jesus we are brought into the circle of those in the know. Slaves or servants only need to know what is enough for them to do their tasks. Not so with friends – friendship carries with it an understanding of equality and in that equality an openness for what is happening. Jesus made known to his disciples now friends all that he had heard from the Father. He had opened for them the Scriptures as they had been intended to be known and he had apprised them of what lay ahead not only for his own life but for theirs as well.

Yet a third important lesson is that to be a friend of Jesus has certain responsibilities and these involve obedience to his commandments especially to love one another as he himself had loved them. In all his teachings Jesus had 2 prime directives – to love God with your entire being and to love neighbour as self.

For Jesus the ultimate act of friendship was to be willing to die for one’s friends and indeed it was his ultimate act. The cross was both the total commitment to God’s will through obedience and to his friends’ lives through self sacrifice. That is true love and that is the love Christ has for each of us and what we are called to have one for another.

May the love of Christ be in each of us and may we be able to truly call one another Friend in its fullest understanding.