Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for May 13, 2012
Friendship with Jesus
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
May 13, 2012
Think with me for a just a moment about your best friend. Picture that person in your mind’s eye and call forward the way you feel when you are with your best friend. Who is it? Is your best friend male or female? How long have you known this person? Where did you meet. When did she or he become your best friend, or your BFF as people write online these days? What does it take to be his or her friend? What does it take to be your friend? What is necessary for you both to qualify as “best friend?” Now let’s shift gears together and think about being friends with Jesus. Is Jesus your friend and are you his? What is required in that relationship? How are you doing with that? Let’s really focus for just a few minutes on Friendship with Jesus. Please pray with me.
God we know that you sent your son to be your Divine presence with us. He is our ever present companion, faithful and true to us in good times and in bad. Show us this morning how we can truly experience friendship with Jesus by upholding our part of the bargain, too. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.
I think the today’s lectionary leaves out an important part of the Gospel, so I want to go back and add it right here at the beginning. The missing verses are John 15: 9 – 14, which say,
"As my Parent 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 Parent’s commandments and abide in my parent’s love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘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."
That, for me, makes the instruction of this Gospel even more impactful. After all, could the gospel writer really be serious about us laying down our lives for each other. Perhaps the answer to that question really is, YES.
Consider three points with me. First, Love involves obedience. What do you mean, you might ask. Or, “obedience to whom?” It sounds counter cultural to so many of us who thing life is about doing our own thing, making ourselves happy at all costs and above all other causes and let me just remind you of the words of Jesus, “this is my COMMANDMENT, that you love one another. It’s not an option, it’s not a suggestion; it’s a commandment of God. At the same time I want to suggest, as does seminary professor David Lose, that we must be very careful about the commands or expectations that we choose to obey. You know that the Bible has been used to justify and support slavery, and we know better than that. The Bible continues to be used to support the oppression of women, and we know better than that. And perhaps these past few weeks more than ever, right winger preachers and politicians are attempting to use the Bible to oppress us and we know better than that, too. We know those are false uses of the word of God, put forth by false profits to whom God would never ask us to pay attention or to follow.
So how do we know what are right commandments and what are wrong ones? How cane we determine the difference. That brings me to the second point. Godly obedience HAS to be about loving one another. God is never going to tell us to oppress each other. God is never going to tell us to abuse each other. God is never going to tell us to keep the insiders in and the outsiders out. We’ve heard it several times this morning from the mouth of Jesus, “This is my commandment that you LOVE one another.” How do we tell the difference in a command we must obey and one that I want to suggest we MUST ignore. God’s commandments are about love. God’s commandments are about taking care of each other. God’s commandments are about inclusion and not exclusion. God’s commandments make every one of us and every one of them insiders and family in the kin-dom of God. And yes it is true that sometimes Godly love calls us to sacrifice for one another. I love the way Dr. Lose writes about this, “ Love does indeed call at times for sacrifice, but sacrificing for another and being less of a person isn't the same thing. At its best, sacrificial love invites us to live more fully into the kind of person we are called to be. I think that's what Jesus means when he says "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…Jesus isn't less of who he is called to be by laying down his life, but more. I know this is complicated, and again open to abuse -- not all sacrifices are holy -- but when I look at some of the loving sacrifices people have made for me (my parents, my spouse and a few of my friend) or that I have made for others, we were never disgraced or devalued by making those sacrifices but actually lived more fully into who we were called to be.” We are not brought down when we answer the call to sacrifice, but we are build up and we enter into that realm where we truly experience friendship with Jesus, fellowship Divine.
I want to talk about parents as an example of that love and I want to be very careful. Some of us have been blest with the best parents we could ever hope for and some of us simply have not. Some of us have suffered through a great deal with our biological parents and many of us have been amazingly blessed by others who stepped up to share real Godly sacrificial love with us. I want to honor parents here this morning. I want to honor women who have served as moms and I want to honor men who have served as moms showing deep deep mother-love. I’ll say more about this next month, but I want to honor women who have served as Dads and who have shown deep deep father love to children who needed it so bad. I want to honor each and every one of you who has shown love to a child regardless of your own gender. The Bible says, beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. It goes on to say, the one who does not love does not know God and therefore is not the friend of God. So, beloved, let us love one another. I honor each and every one of you who loves today. I honor those who love children. I honor those who love the elderly. I honor those who love the homeless and the hungry and as God’s minister, I honor you in the name of Jesus.
I pray every day that all of us will be known as Friends of Jesus because of our love. How do we do that? I like the suggestions Henry Nouwen offers - we all lay down our lives for one another as we are vulnerable with each other. We lay down our loves as we invite people in to our lives. We lay down our lives as we share (every step of) our journeys with one another.
Friendship with Jesus, fellowship divine, loving God and loving each other. In Jesus name.
Acts 10: 44-48
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
*Gospel Reading John 15:15-17
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 [divine Source]. 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 [divine Source] will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
The gospel of Christ.
Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ.