BIBLE READINGS: 1 John 5: 1-6 John 15: 9-17
What a friend we have in Jesus. This is a song from my childhood – my brain tells me that I ought to be more cautious than to get caught up in the sentimentality of it – but my heart loves it!
Did the disciples, do we, truly realise what Jesus offers when he offers his friendship — “(All) that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” he told them (Jn 15.15b). The very intimacy he had with God, his Father, he was passing down? And then there’s Moses. It says over in Exodus that “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33.11). And God says the same thing about Abraham, “Abraham, my friend” (Is 41.8). It is a staggering thought to be included in such company. But that is where we are if we are willing to accept it.
Frederick Buechner once said, “The love of God. The mercy of God. The judgement of God. You take your shoes off when you think about that. But the friendship of God?”
Nobody can be a friend alone, apparently not even God. Further, friendship is something far more about what we are than what we do. I can love you. I can even make you my beloved, but I do that altogether on my own, single-hearted. If my love is not returned, I’m in for some painful feelings of rejection. But on the other hand, I suspect it’s not possible to befriend someone, and do it all alone.
George Fox, the founder of the 17th century so-called Quaker Movement, actually preferred to think of his followers as friends of Jesus. They call themselves The Religious Society of Friends and they take their name from the text we just heard from John’s gospel. The Quaker name came from Fox’s constant stirring up the status quo and frequently ending up in court. He told a judge once that he ought to be trembling before the Lord. The judge was not impressed, and accused Fox of being the trembler, a quaker, instead.
While we are not Quakers or belong to the Society of Friends, we to are to be about friendship. About friendship like that with Jesus and his friends. I have friends. They have me. Like you, I’ve had many friends over the years, some, close “best” friends, others more distant. Friends, the way Jesus used it, is not an “instead” word, some casual word for servants. Friends is an inclusive word. Servants maybe cannot be friends, but friends for sure must be servants.
There’s something about the verb “to be” that makes love and friend become beloved and befriend and to change their meaning, sort of to make them verbs. Beloved, befriend.
One of my colleagues signs off on emails with “Be blessed.” It is a gentle command, an attention-getter, a question — it says to me, “Why don’t you allow yourself to be blessed, to let Jesus call you his friend? For Jesus to call us friends is a blessing in itself. Which brings us back to the old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus”!
Here's an old story:
Sister Mary Ecumenica’s assignment in her Order was to stay in touch with the “Others,” the other denominations. It came upon her in the keeping of this work to visit a Quaker Meeting. She arrived at the appointed hour, took her seat, and waited. Silence. Later, more silence. Later, still more silence.
Finally, thinking she’d made some indiscreet mistake, the Sister discretely asked the person sitting next to her, “When does the service begin?” Only to hear the even more discrete answer, “As soon as the Meeting is over.”