In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus said “I have called you friends.” We are Jesus’ friends. And “The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime… if not asked to lend money!” That’s according to Mark Twain.
Today’s scripture lesson is about friends and friendship. If it has never occurred to you before, note that Christians were called “friends” before they were called Christians.
What are some of the characteristics of a good friendship? Think of a few. First of all, friends share their lives together: They do something together. They eat together. They drink together. They sing together. They laugh together. And they cry together.
C.S. Lewis once said, “There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.” It sounds like a little-bit sexist, doesn’t it? But, I think, this is because most of his friends were male, not (necessary) because he was sexist. Anyway, for him, friends are virtually better off than lovers. He said, “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever talk about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; but friends are side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”
I have a covenant group with my clergy friends. Last Monday, we sat side by side and shared a lot more than (just) food. We shared our life-stories. I shared that Jonathan made his decision in terms of his college long time ago and he never changed his mind that he is going to go to California State University at North Ridge. And we are planning to a cross-country road trip in August.
We also share what is going on in our ministries: some were happy and some were sad. Some are encouraging; some are disappointing. Yes, every time we gather, we laugh together. We share our concerns and prayers together. And some times, we share our tears together. After each gathering, almost always, I felt like I have become wiser…, I mean, I have become a better person, a better father, and hopefully a better pastor as well. But, more than that, I felt like we all have become closer, because (You know) “We got to cry together before we become close friends.” Deep friendships are often forged in the sharing of suffering.
What else makes for friendship? According to Jesus, expectations involved. “You are my friends if you do what I command you….” Friendship often requires sacrifice of some sort, and, in some rare cases, even the supreme sacrifice. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
On our way to Confirmation Rally yesterday, I asked, “how many close friends with whom you can share everything do you have?” There were three girls in my van. One said, she has a lot of them. Two other girls said, “Hmm…, I don’t know.” Let me ask you: “How many close friends with whom you can share everything do you have?”
According to a study, 60% of men over 30 cannot identify a single person they would call a close friend. Of the 40% who list friends, most were made during childhood or school years. Most women can identify 5 or 6 women whom they call close friends. A closer look shows that a lot of these were functional relationships. Friend or friendship is a wonderful thing. But, it is a rare thing too. Friendship is not easy to develop. How many of you have a friend who will lay down his/her life for you?
Have you ever had a friend like that? At least one…that we know of. It was on a hill called Calvary. It was there that your friend and my friend died that we might live. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
How do you get to be Jesus’ friend? Jesus told us: “You are my friends IF you do what I command you.” But even as simple a statement as that could lead some to misunderstand if we take it out of context. Friendship with Jesus is not simply about following some rules, as that sentence might lead us to believe. Remember what the command IS: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, if you want to be my friend, be a friend to my other friends. That sounds so simple. But we know it is not.
When I first came to the States as an international student many years ago, one of my favorite TV programs was ‘The Wonder Years.’ Remember? Nowadays, we can record any program we want and watch it later. But as you know, there was no such a device at that time. So, every time I had a chance to watch, I would never miss that week’s episode, because I liked the stories very much. Just like a gathering with good friends, I felt like I became wiser every time I watched it. There was an episode about choosing a basketball team. I remember this episode because I have been there. When the kids at the playground picked players to play soccer game, I was always the last one to be chosen if I was chosen at all. Maybe I was not wild enough to play soccer or my legs were not well equipped to control the ball. And even when I was chosen, I was rarely allowed to play with other kids; they asked me to be a goal keeper!!! (But, I’m not that bad at other sports… believe it or not).
On this particular episode, the Gym class teacher chose two captains who then picked the rest of their teams. As usual, the poor players were always chosen last which did little to help the self-esteem of those chosen after everyone else. Some of Kevin’s friends, who were usually chosen at the bottom of the list, complained to Kevin, the main character. Kevin brings their complaint to the teacher, who promptly makes Kevin one of the next captains. He has to choose his team. His best friend – and one of the worst players – looks at Kevin with eager anticipation. Will Kevin choose him early in the rounds…or be like all the other captains?
Kevin chooses his friend – and he felt good about bolstering his ego. So the next round, he chooses another poor-playing friend. Kevin kept picking the losers – and he felt good about it – and they felt good about being picked early. How did Kevin’s team do? Did David knock off Goliath? No! They were miserable! They did not come close to winning, but they enjoyed the game. They were not playing to win. They were playing to have fun.
If Jesus wanted to win in the religion game, he should have chosen the Pharisees. They were the pious people. They were the ones who prayed at least three times a day. They knew their Bibles. They worked hard at obeying ALL of God’s laws. They fasted once or twice a week to show their religious devotion.
But whom did Jesus choose? Not the Pharisees. They were fishermen – known to be crude and foul-mouthed, impatient and hot-headed. He chose a tax collector – and everyone knew those people were swindlers. He chose a zealot – a fanatical revolutionary, modern-day terrorist, and one who wanted all the tax collectors dead. It must have made for some interesting dinner conversation. Jesus chose us – known sinners, known to be somewhat less than perfect, known to have all kinds of problems in our lives. God elects the rejects.
There is one thing common between Jesus’ team of poor players and Kevin’s team. It is no longer about winning and losing. Because Jesus’ victory is already assured, it is about enjoying the game. It is about having fun in the process. What was it that Jesus said, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete?” Filled with joy! Life abundant! What a Friend!
One time while I was driving, I came up behind a car at a stoplight that had a bumper sticker paraphrasing the slogan decrying drunk driving. This one said, “Friends don’t let friends die without Jesus.” I understood the sentiment, but I wanted to change it to “Friends don’t let friends LIVE without Jesus.” Over and over and over let it be said, Jesus is more than life insurance. My friends in Jesus, remember that Jesus is joy. Jesus is peace. Jesus is love. Jesus is life abundant. Jesus is our friend! And he is my friend. He is your friend. Amen!