As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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 that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
I wonder, do you have a Facebook account? If you do, you may have learned a different meaning of the word “friend.” Because on Facebook, a “friend” is simply a person that you have okayed to be connected to your account, whether you actually have a relationship with them or not. The truth is, sometimes words can be confusing. Sure, sometimes they are helpful in describing things, and getting us to understand, but other times they just muddy the water and bring us off in the wrong direction.
Many times, in the church we hear big confusing words like “redemption,” “atonement,” “sin”, “justification,” “repentance,” and “salvation.” But thinking about it, those aren’t words that I remember hearing Jesus talk to the crowds about. Jesus talked about loving your neighbor, and feeding the hungry, letting your light shine, and asking, seeking, and knocking. He told stories about lost sheep, lost coins, and sons coming home after being away. He told parables about wheat and great pearls, fishing nets, and treasure buried in fields. And when he talked to his followers, he called them friends.
Folks, many times “friendship” is not talked about in the theological world because it seems like more of a secular word. People have friends in this world, but somehow in God’s world, they imagine something more.
I don’t know about you, but I like my friends. My friends are the ones that I go to when I’m feeling lost, sad, or unsure, or when I’m feeling happy and want to celebrate. They are the ones that I trust to not only be there for me but to be open and honest with me. Basically, my friends love me unconditionally, just as I love them. Sound kind of familiar?
Though the church often uses big fancy words like atonement and salvation, Jesus has always used simpler words, like, loving and serving and being friends to one another. We hear it clearly in the gospel of John when Jesus reminds us that: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” You see, for Jesus, it’s through friendship that we share love for and with one another. And in the New Testament, a “friend” is literally understood as “one who loves.”
If we take Jesus’ commandment to love seriously, and if we long to be called “friend” by Jesus, in more than a “Facebook friend” kind of way, then it is our job to love freely and unconditionally, without looking at what we will get in return. So, it’s not about doing good now so we’ll get into heaven someday, or loving others so that God will be happy with us. It’s about loving others as Jesus loved us–not because we are going to get something in return, but because it simply makes the world a better place.
Now you might be thinking, “But some people don’t deserve my love,” because of the choices they make, the opinions they have, and the things that they do. But I would encourage you to think again! Jesus loved Judas, even though Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. Jesus did not exclude Judas from his circle of friends but loved him in the same ways that he loved all his other followers.
Folks, Jesus gave everything to his friends–his knowledge of the divine, his encouragement and inspiration, and even his own life. Jesus shows us how to be a true friend because he loves without limits.
Folks, think about this for a minute: being a friend is not a one-way street, even on Facebook, where the word “friend” may not mean anything other than the fact that you have accepted a two-way connection. True friendship is knowing the heart of another and sharing our heart in return. It is about trust and confidence. And as Jesus’ friends, it is not only about us trusting in Jesus, but Jesus trusting in us too. After all, who else is going to carry on the work that he began? It’s up to us, his friends! That’s why it is our job to continue to offer friendship and love to others because that is how we pass it on.
We are given the greatest gift in God’s love, but we don’t fully experience the joy of God’s love until we pass it on and share it with others. So, friends, in the week ahead, do your best to love others as you follow in Jesus’ footsteps and widen his circle of friends!