Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 25, 2003
The Gospel: John 15:9-17
Sermon: "Friendship and Love: One and the Same"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
As the Father 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 Father's commandments and abide in his 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. 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 Father. 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 Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
Friendship and Love: One and the Same
Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 25, 2003
What is your definition of the word friend? We probably tend to think more of the characteristics than we do the definition of the word itself. How do we define friend? We might say a friend is someone we trust. A friend is someone who will stand with us through thick and thin. A friend is someone we care about and love. Most of all, we hope a friend cares about and loves us.
These are all our own correct definitions of the word friend. I looked up the definition in Webster and found the definition to be somewhat in line with our own thoughts. Webster defines friend as a person attached to another by respect or affection; an acquaintance. Webster also defined the word as someone who is not hostile. I guess if we are not hostile that means the same as one whom we care about and love.
Have you noticed one important fact about all of these definitions? All of them deal with relationships on an individual basis. I am a friend with an individual person. You are a friend with an individual person. I have even heard people say things like, "I have a friend at school, but I can't stand his brother or sister." Or how about this one, "Boy, So-and-so is a really great friend. I swear I think he or she would give you the shirt off his back, but I can't stand his or her spouse." When it comes to friendship we can be very individualistic.
I believe the core of this issue is in our culture. There is no doubt we live in a great country. We should be grateful to live in these United States. After all, the United States was founded on freedoms. We wanted to be free to choose our own ways, our own way of worship, our own allegiances, our own daily pattern of life, and even our own friends. Our culture promotes individuality. We don't see ourselves often as a collective whole unless it involves some sporting event. We have Tar heels, Demon Deacons, and Blue Devils. In the fall and in the winter I can tell which team had a game late Saturday night by who is present in the pews on Sunday morning. I bet you didn't think I was paying attention. Other than sporting events and occasional groups we tend to be very individualistic. I am afraid to say the trend towards individualism is growing even stronger. In order to establish their individual identity some people have incredible tattoos. Some people have multiple body piercings. Some people have specialized identity plates on their cars. One of my friends at seminary had these plates. His last name is Clodfelter. He is a really great priest. However, his name was too long to go on one license plate. So, he split his name in half and placed Clod on one car and felter on the other car. As a result they had to try and park the cars a certain way at night in order for the plates to make sense. The drive for individualism is very strong in our society. I can't help but believe that this drive impacts our understanding of friendship. We look at friends individually.
However, in the scripture reading from John we see Jesus with the disciples. Jesus tells them to abide in his love and he tells them to love another as he has loved them. Then he calls them his friends. They are friends because they have been told everything that God has shared with Jesus. Now, there is something very interesting in the Gospel of John about the words love and friend. In this Gospel, the two words are used interchangeably. Our understanding of the word friend does not convey the depth of the word in John's Gospel. The word friend means to love with the same love that Jesus loves us.
To put this word in proper context we want to step back in the Gospel just a little bit. This reading comes from the middle of Jesus' last night with his disciples. Jesus has just washed the disciples feet. He washed all of the disciples feet including Peter who will deny him, and Judas who will betray him. He has celebrated the meal with them. He broke bread and shared wine with Peter and Judas again. Right after Judas received the bread he left to betray Jesus.
Then Jesus begins to teach the disciples. The metaphor he uses is a vine. Jesus is the vine and they are the branches. The metaphor is very powerful when we relate it to the words love and friend. A vine grows and the branches are all wrapped around the vine. Sometimes they are wrapped and interwoven so deeply and tightly it is difficult to distinguish what is the vine and what are the branches. Jesus is describing the kind of community, not individualism, God desires for us. We are to be intertwined, woven together, just as the vine and the branches. As the community of God we are woven together caring for and loving each other. As this intertwined community we support each other, nurture each other, and care deeply for one another. Love and friendship are intertwined in John's Gospel because as the community of God we are to be intertwined with one another. We are intertwined in the deep, rich, love of God. Yes, we have our own talents. Yes, we have our own personalities. But we all grow together combining those talents and personalities into one growing, loving community.
By growing and loving I don't mean that surface kind of love. The kind of love that is only present for a moment and then dissipates on the wind. I mean real love. I mean the kind of love that sticks together through thick and thin. I mean the kind of love that comes from deep inside our hearts, minds and spirits. That love continues to grow and nurture, even when, and especially when things for the other person are tough. Jesus is offering to us, his disciples, this kind of deep, rich, nurturing love. Jesus desires this kind of love for each one of us as the community of God's people.
We are not called to be individualistic entities of Christ. We are called to be the corporate body of Christ. We are called to be the loving, nurturing Body of Christ in this place at this time. We are called to be the branches of the one true vine, Jesus Christ. A vine that does not grow in soil, but grows in love. This love is not self-contained. It is shared throughout all the branches. The branches share this love to the world around them. As this love is shared, more branches develop and grow and then they bear fruit. The fruit is sweet and juicy because the fruit is filled with the love of God. Our collective gifts and talents used for the glory of God are the fruit. This fruit is shared within and without the community sharing the message that God is love. Furthermore, the fruit bears the message that God loves us. We are not called to be rugged individualists. We are called to be members of the loving and growing community of God.