Growing up, I was blessed with good friends. Living in a small town made it easier, I think, because we could easily ride our bikes to one another’s houses. Our parents were friends. We went to the same schools, same churches, and would play on the same teams. If any of you are fans of the show “Stranger Things” that’s exactly what it was like. This was before kids were constantly entertained with a slew of scheduled activities. We had to make our own fun. So we created our own adventures. But it fostered true closeness.
We had each other’s backs. We looked out for one another, supported one another. We were a tribe. We were thick as thieves.
If one of us got in trouble, we all got in trouble, because no one was ratting anyone out. I recently read a quote that summed it up perfectly. It said, “A good friend would bail you out of jail. But a best friend would be the one sitting next to you, saying “dang that was awesome!” There is a mutuality to true friendship.
My best friend growing up was just like this. He was such a good sport. For example, I loved heavy metal in high school- Motley Crue, Poison, Guns & Roses- loved those bands. But not many of our friends did. Ok, none of them did. But he would always go with me to the concerts so I didn’t have to go by myself. That’s a good friend.
Any of you have friends like this? They’re a cherished gift, let me tell you.
Friendship is about loyalty.
Friendship is about trust and partnership.
Friendship is about love.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is instructing his disciples about this type of love. He tells them that when they keep his commandments, they will abide in his love. Now abide is an active word. Some translations use the word “remain” and that could work. But it doesn’t necessarily capture what’s going on here. Another definition of “abide” is to continue without fading or being lost. So in this context, when we obey God’s commandments, we will continue in God’s love without fading and without being lost. What a comforting promise.
I love that.
Because so much of what ails our society today is that feeling of being lost and detached. I think more people feel disconnected and isolated. I’m no psychologist or sociologist, but it’s hard not to think that perhaps the source of so many of our ails—depression, loneliness, anger, all this division – is not abiding in God’s love.
Because Jesus tells the disciples that by abiding in love, they will experience joy. The joy of Jesus will be in them. Abiding in God’s love means we will experience joy. I feel like our world needs a little of this joy right now, don’t you?
But Jesus isn’t talking merely about happiness here. He’s not promising this emotional response. The joy Jesus is speaking of here is a steady feeling of contentment. Jesus isn’t promising that following his commandments, abiding in his love, results in a state of euphoria.
Because we all know that following God’s commandments aren’t always easy. Two weeks ago I took some confirmation students to Lutheridge to learn and discuss the 10 Commandments. We agreed that they aren’t always easy. “Honoring my mother and father” isn’t always easy when you don’t feel understood or want to express my teenage independence. But we learned that God’s goal in these commandments isn’t control, necessarily, but to live in God’s love. And when we do this, Jesus tells the disciples, they will be able to rest in the experience of God’s love. I would argue that, regardless of our age, when we make the right decision, one informed by our faith and values, we do feel that good feeling. And that is joy. Happiness comes and go. It’s more of an emotion.
But joy- joy is an overriding feeling of contentment.
And this is what Jesus promises. And that’s what our world needs.
But it requires something of us. And Jesus doesn’t shy away from it.
He says quite clearly, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. No none has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Now Jesus isn’t encouraging martyrdom here. What he’s telling them is that self-givingl love is what will identify you as a Christian. When you put others before yourself, that’s Christian love. It’s a surrender. I would guess many of you have friends in your life whom you would take a bullet for. It’s loyalty. I don’t believe Jesus is encouraging self-neglect or submission. But what I do believe he is saying is that putting others needs before your own is an act of Christian love.
Love one another as I have loved you, he says. How has he done this? Well, he’s washed the disciples feet, he’s risked his life and reputation to reach out to the Samaritan Woman, he’s healed, he’s fed, he’s encouraged. These are all marks of friendship. These are all active examples of loving and being a friend.
And that’s what he tells the disciples. That no longer are they simply slaves but friends.
Jesus is offering here something even greater. Friendship. The original hearers of this message would have realized what a big deal this was. And I hope you also realize it.
In some ways maybe our understanding of “Friend” has been cheapened in our digital age. We can easily “Friend” or “unfriend” someone in a matter of a click. And the responsibilities of these “friendships” are no more than occasionally “liking” one of their posts or tagging them in something they might enjoy. But here friendship means something much more.
A friendship means intimacy. A friendship suggests partnership.
Jesus is inviting the disciples- and us, for that matter- into a friendship with God.
God no longer has to be a distant stranger, but our intimate friend.
He chose us. Isn’t that amazing?
So how do we respond to this friendship?
How do we respond to this incredible, divine offer of friendship?
Jesus tells us. Jesus tells us to go bear fruit.
Live a fruit-bearing life.
Take care of other people. If someone is having trouble, help them out. We are blessed in this country in ways others will never be able to understand. So be a blessing to someone else. Share in that good fortune. Don’t be afraid that if you share you’ll somehow lose and someone else wins. Help someone else have a chance to experience the joy you experience. That’s bearing fruit.
Encourage other people. We all can use a little encouragement. Never try to guess who needs it and who doesn’t. You might be surprised whose day or week might be better with just a little encouragement.
Spread kindness. A fruit-bearing life isn’t one that tears other people down. I disavow this culture of meanness that seems to be becoming more acceptable. We need to honor and respect one another as fellow children of God.
Because as Christians we should live differently. If you’re abiding in love, you live differently. Christ gave himself so that we may live, so let’s live! Let’s live fruit-bearing lives. Let’s bask in the friendship of the almighty.
I think I learned a lot about God through the friendships of my youth. I learned how God always has our backs. How God is there with you, celebrating with you in the good times, and sitting next to you when life gets you down. God joins you on all of your adventures and one day will plop down next to you and say, “dang that was awesome”.
Thanks be to God.