Sunday, May 17, 2009

John.15.9-17; Sixth Sunday in Easter, May 17, 2009

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 lay 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. (John 15:9-17, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I guess we should have sung the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It’s a fine hymn, but I must admit not one of my favorites. Oh, I know, that for some of you this is your favorite, it is one of the most common hymns requested at your funerals. As far as funeral hymns go, we can do so much better than this hymn (That’s a topic for another time). The problem is, this hymn doesn’t really talk about Jesus. It talks about our trials, our temptations, our load of care, etc. The only thing it says about Jesus is that he is our friend and that he is faithful. It almost makes it sound like if you pray to your friend Jesus, he’s gonna take your troubles away. That’s not really an idea you find in the bible. If you want to understand Jesus as your friend this text for today is a good place to look. Here in this text you can’t separate out being Jesus friends, what Jesus has done for us, and our doing what Jesus commands. Look what he says:

You are my friends if you do what I command you.

I had a seminary prof who once asked the question, “Does Jesus want you to keep the Ten Commandments?” We Lutherans are so often afraid of falling into salvation by works, by trying to keep God’s commandments we are sometimes afraid to say that God really does want us to keep the commandments. The answer is a definite “yes!” In fact that’s what it means for us to be a friend, to bear fruit, to keep the commandments. Specifically we can look at commandments 4-10. These are all about our relationships with other people, our friends. Luther is always careful to say in his descriptions of the commandments both what not to do, and what to do. Don’t kill but protect! Don’t commit adultery, love your spouse! Don’t covet, help you neighbor keep what is his! All this is the fruit Jesus expects from his friends. That’s what Jesus means when he talks about you and me “laying down our lives for our friends.” There is no better way to be a friend than to do all the things the commandments tell us to do for the people that God has place right in front of us; our friends; our family; our neighbors; even our enemies! There is “no greater love” Jesus says. Well, more on how to do this in a minute.

The very interesting thing in this text is that Jesus calls his disciples his friends. He describes his relationship with them very specifically.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.

God’s love flows through Jesus. He is their friend. But there’s more here than at first glance. In fact, the definition of a friend isn’t complete unless we look at Jesus who is the complete true and perfect friend. No one does it better. Just look, Jesus, the disciple’s friend, strips off his robe, kneels down on the floor and washes the disciple’s feet. You remember:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:1-8, ESV)

Jesus is the perfect picture of a servant. Or remember how Jesus fed the thousands from a few bites of food; or how he healed people who came to him for help; and how he even raised from the dead, his friend Lazarus. I think that’s the kind of friend you and I want to have! That’s what Jesus means by friendship. It isn’t an equal relationship. He’s the friend who is always giving. We are the friends who are always receiving.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

To help us just a bit to understand this Jesus to us friendship we need to go to another place. In John 19, where Jesus is standing before the crowds that want him dead, Pilate is trying to find a way to release Jesus. But Jesus enemies deal Jesus’ death blow on Pilate by this accusation.

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12, ESV)

Now you should know, that Pilate wasn’t Ceasar’s friend because they went out and had beers together. There was an exclusive club called “Friends of Ceasar” They had special meetings and even a ring. Pilate was Ceasar’s friend because he uncovered a plot against him. He was initiated into the special club, φίλος τοῦ Καίσαρος· this was no equal friendship. Ceasar is on top, Pilate is his servant. The use of this phrase by Jesus’ enemies is a threat. If you don’t kill Jesus we’ll spoil your reputation with Ceasar. You won’t be his friend anymore. It’s all Pilate can take and he relents. Jesus is given up to the cross. Pilate is not willing to die for a man he considers beneath him.

And that brings us to Jesus’ cross. Here’s the thing about Jesus’ friendship. We are Jesus friends, but not because Jesus is our buddy. We are not on that kind of familiar terms with Jesus like you are with the friends you hang out with. Jesus is God, himself, in human flesh. Jesus is our friend as he gives his life for us. This is the amazing thing. We are not equals. It’s like Ceasar giving his life for Pilate. Pilate giving his life for one of the servants. You giving your life for the illegal immigrant working for sub-minimum wage in the factory. Jesus dies for his friends. He gives everything, we give nothing. He gives it to those who don’t deserve anything from him. Jesus is the one who lays down his life for his friends. The God of the universe, the creator of everything, dies for the sake of those he created. It is the greatest love there is.

What about our love? Well, it’s conditional. We give it when we get something out of it. We give it to those who we think deserve it. We don’t give it to those who we think are below us, unless it makes us look good. We don’t want to waste our love on the unwashed masses. “If I give them money, I want to make sure they don’t drink it away.” “I’m not going to help them anymore; they didn’t even send me a thank you!” “I’ll help them if they cleanup their act.” What we are doing is putting ourselves in God’s place, at least what we think God’s place would be. We look down on people who need help and give it as we think will benefit us the most. It certainly isn’t the love of God flowing through Christ to us and us to our neighbors. Our giving isn’t described by the Commandments, for the sake of our neighbors. What we deserve is to be NOT God’s friends. In our sin, that’s exactly what our conditional love is, we are God’s enemies instead. We deserve his anger. We deserve his punishment. We deserve to die. We deserve Hell!

But our Friend, Jesus, suffers and dies on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin! That anger of God, that punishment is poured out on Jesus. Jesus in his ultimate love for his friends dies like no other person can ever do. When he gives up his life for his friends it is more than just death, it is the eternal punishment for our selfish sin. Jesus is our friend, the true friend that gives up his life for his friends. Next time you want to talk about, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, don’t leave out the forgiveness of sins we get from our friend, Jesus by his death on the cross.

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there, does he. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus gives everything and then there’s still more to give? He says it here.

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.

We bear fruit. Just like I said last week, we bear fruit because we are in the vine. Jesus says that God’s love flows through him, to us and from us to… our friends. How does it work? Where does it begin? Jesus says ask for anything, he’ll give it. Ask for fruit. Ask to be a friend. Ask to be able to give of yourself like Jesus does. Ask… pray… it’s the same thing. There’s that old movie about baseball, “build it and they will come.” Jesus says, pray for it and it will come. “Lord, make me a better father.” “Jesus, help me to serve my neighbor.” “God I can’t stand the way that person wants everything their way, help me to serve them.” “Let me be Jesus to my family, children, husband, and church.” “Give me a giving heart to give and expect nothing in return.” “Help me to see the needs around me, in my community, in my country, in the world.” That puts a whole new perspective on prayer doesn’t it? “Ask anything you need for serving your neighbor, your friend, and I’ll give it.” So be it!

Jesus is our friend. He gives us everything; forgiveness through his life, death and resurrection. And everything we need to be friends with those who are all around us. What a Friend We Have in Jesus, indeed! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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