Friends for Life
6th Sunday of Easter
Rev. S. D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church
Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
In that upper room Jesus surrenders Himself to death to save the world. He’s with the Twelve. He washed their feet acting as The Servant among servants. He celebrated the Passover in a new and unique way. He gives them His own Body and Blood as a gift even before it’s sacrificed. He teaches them the divine truth of Word and Sacrament, the same that He teaches us today. Listen carefully to His Word.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9)
Love, that’s a fuzzy word, a thorny word, a threatening word to some. But don’t think of puppy love here, nor a love that a mother gives her baby. Don’t think of erotic love, that type of love that we speak of when we fall head over heals in love. And don’t think casual, friendly social love, as when someone says, “I just love everybody,” which is a likely indication that person actually loves no one in particular.
Think self-sacrificing, all consuming love here. In the Greek the word is agape. What St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians chapter 13: Patient, kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful, not rejoicing in wrong but rejoicing in right. Bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. An action more than a feeling. An intentional laying down of one’s life for another. This is what faithful husbands are supposed to do for their wives as pictures of what Christ does for the Church.
This is love that lays down its life for those who could care less. “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son.” Did the world care? Not really. Did the world ask for this love? Not at all. God could have just sent flowers or a box of chocolates. Does the world care today? Not particularly. The world speculates as to whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a relationship, whether Jesus really died. That’s how the world treats divine love. It yawns and mocks it and makes movies denying it. But God loves the world anyway. God can’t help Himself. For God is love. It’s His very nature to love. He can’t help Himself. He loves the loveless, the unlovable, the unloving. By the way who are these people? It’s you, me and the world!
You see, He loves us to death, His death. Do you want to see this love in action? There’s only one picture I can give you. Jesus on the cross! Yes, the bleeding, dying, pardoning and loving Jesus. It’s odd. But this oddness is precisely what it is, because it is so “unworldly.” And that’s why it’s so difficult for us, so offensive and scandalous to be loved this way. “I can’t love like that, or be loved like that” you might say. And that’s right. We can’t. We won’t. Our pride, our ego, our old Adam, says “I want things my way” - I won’t love like this or even be loved like this.
“If you keep my commands you will remain in my love.” There’s the promise. Don’t get thrown by the word “commands” and the mistranslation “obey.” It’s to keep, not to let go of. Jesus has only one command to obey, to love one another as He has loved us, but that comes a later. His commands are not things for us to do so that God will love us, but a thing by which God’s love in Jesus has come to us. Commands such as be baptized, hear His Word, trust Him, eat and drink His Body and Blood, “do this in my remembrance.” Those are Jesus’ “commands” by which we remain in His love. To remain in His love is to not let go of what He has given us. That’s the dynamic of love: His to give, ours to receive, passively. To receive Jesus’ love is to remain in His love, to abide.
Jesus isn’t laying a burden on us. We are the one’s that make things oppressive. We’re the ones who make receiving His gifts a burden. We’re the ones who think coming to hear God’s Word or coming to receive the Lord’s Supper is a task on our part, as though God should be pleased with us because we decided to get out of bed and show up. Wrong perspective, everything’s upside down. “This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Only in that sacrifice, in the cross and its fruits, can the love of God be seen and known. Nature won’t reveal it; nature is just as harsh and cruel as it can be loving. You can’t know it from your inner feelings or thoughts. Those are your thoughts, not God’s, and that “inner voice” will always be busy accusing you or making excuses. You can’t know it by looking at the world or by other people. We’re sinners! We’re naturally unloving. We naturally kill and destroy. We’re naturally turned inward, not outward. That’s why capitalism works and communism doesn’t. Capitalism assumes we’re greedy from the very start.
You know about the love of God by being joined to Jesus, by being baptized with Him into His death, by hearing His Word of forgiveness addressed to you, by taking your place at His table and receiving His gifts. That’s what it means to keep His commands and so to stay in His love.
The singular command flows from this: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Not simply “love one another.” That just wouldn’t do, for we wouldn’t do it. But love one another as I have loved you, that’s what Jesus says! Jesus’ love comes first. He’s the first that goes the way to the cross and to His tomb. He first dies for our sin and forgives us. Notice how it works with forgiveness - forgive as you have been forgiven, love as you have been loved. It’s only when we have been forgiven can we forgive. It’s only when we have been loved by God in Jesus that we can love. Only then we know the love isn’t our own. It doesn’t come from within but from above. It’s God’s love, not our love, not our futile attempts at showing affection. Only by Him (T) can we truly love one another.
No friend of Jesus can say, “I don’t have this love to give.” You have it! You may not use it, but it’s there. You have it as friends of Jesus. Friends of Jesus! I hope you caught that. “No longer do I call you servants, instead I call you friends.”
In the Middle Eastern culture, to be a friend is to be in the know, to have insider information, to have the mysteries revealed. “A servant doesn’t know his master’s business.” But Jesus has revealed the Father’s business, which in the Son the world should be saved through faith in Him. You are in on the big mystery; you’re an insider. Your Baptism is your backstage pass. You’re a friend of Jesus. And that may not carry much power in this world, but being a “friend of Jesus” is the only thing that will carry you through to the Last Day.
Years ago I drove a limousine. One particular Saturday I was called to drive some musicians to a concert. I won’t name them but they had me drive their own limo. As I parked outside the concert area they told me I could come back stage and watch the concert. All I had to do was let the stage guard know that I was with the “Band.” I a lowly driver could be in the presence of these well known musicians. As I ventured backstage one of the security guards saw me and asked, “What are you doing here?” My response, “I’m with them.” Imagine it’s Judgment Day, the Law will say, “What are you doing here?” and the only response you should have is to point to Jesus and say, “I’m with Him.” (T)
As a baptized believer, Jesus calls you His friend, a friend for life. And again, it’s all His doing, not yours, so there’s no boasting, no bragging. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” God says. Before you believed, you were chosen. Before you even were, you were chosen in the Chosen One, beloved in the Beloved Son, to go and bear fruit. Branches joined to the vine bear fruit. Believers joined to Jesus are fruitful. And the fruit is LOVE.
When I think of fruit, I think in terms of its entire life. Wait too long and it rots. That’s how it is with many things we do. It has a moment, it has a time of ripeness, and then it’s gone and forgotten. But not love. Not the love that flows from the Vine to the branches, from the cross to you and through you to others. That’s God’s love, a fruit that never fails, never rots, and never goes bad. It remains forever.
Much of what we do in this life is temporary. We build buildings, they will fall down. We design things that are useful for a while, but they will be replaced. We work on our houses, just to fix what we’ve fixed before. We bandage wounds but our bodies die. Sermons are forgotten. Paint peels. Wood rots. Weeds take over landscaping. Most of what we do will be forgotten, undone and exist no more. But not love. St. Paul said, “Love never ends. Prophesies pass away, tongues cease, knowledge disappears.” But love is fruit that lasts forever. It goes from death to life. It survives the grave. It’s never forgotten.
You are chosen; you are loved in Jesus. Jesus calls you His friend for life. And in the freedom of His laying down His life for you, His dying to save you, His rising to give you life, love one another. There’s nothing else you can do, not when you are a friend of Jesus. For the love of Jesus tells you why He died and rose again. So that all your sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for Jesus is a friend for life, your life paid by His, in Jesus name, amen and amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!