May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Over the past few months we’ve spoken quite a bit about duty and commitment and sacrifice. We’ve walked through the covenants as opportunities for God’s people to accept and reflect back the love and faithfulness that God shows to us. We’ve looked at the incredible awesomeness that is God’s will and desire to save us from our sins, as Jesus, the Lamb who was slain from before the foundation of the world, offered himself freely as a sacrifice to cover the sins of the whole world. And then we’ve turned our focus to the absolutely necessary – but extraordinarily difficult – message about the desire and sacrifices that true love requires.
In all of this, it’s clear that God loved us first, that He reached out his hands of mercy long before we were ready to accept it. For that alone, God is certainly worthy of our praise.
But, as much as God deserves our worship, as much as we know that – when he comes again – every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, today we hear our Lord say something absolutely incredible: yes, He’s the Lord of all creation; yes, He alone is worthy of all worship; yes, He’s the one who has conquered the power of death, and has opened the pathway to abundant life, but, he says, “no longer do I call you servants… I have called you friends”.
Jesus calls us his friends. Jesus wants to be your friend.
Friends or Neighbours?
Now, to be completely honest, “friend” really isn’t a category that gets much attention in theology. If anything, what we hear most often is to down-play the importance of friendship: we’re reminded, time and time again, that we’re not just to love and serve and care for our friends and family, but our neighbours. Our love, our desire for a yet-more-glorious future isn’t limited to those we like, but extends to strangers and even those we might consider enemies, those who work against us and what we have planned. As followers of Jesus we all know that the entirety of what God commands is summed up in the love of God and the love of our neighbour; we all know that serving the person across the street or across town is an act of faith, whether it’s a simple act of kindness, whether it’s a second or third or seventy-seventh chance offered in grace, or whether it’s being ready to offer that simple word of hope and mercy when you feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck or get that little twinge in your gut that it’s time to speak up.
We all know that love carries obligations. But then, after Jesus teaches us about love, and as he prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice, He calls us his friends.
And the difference, of course, between friends and neighbours is what brings them together.
My neighbour, your neighbour, those to whom you owe a duty to love as much as your love your own life, is anyone who crosses your path. Anyone within your sphere of influence is your neighbour: the good, the bad, and the ugly; those whom you would choose, and those who, let’s say, give you an opportunity to exercise grace.
But friendship… friends are those we want to be with, those we want to share our lives with, those whose presence we enjoy, with whom we look forward to chatting, to sharing the ups and downs of life, those we can’t wait to call when we get good news, and those whose burdens we would gladly bear in their time of need.
And, though He’s worthy of all worship, though He’s Lord of all creation, though angels and the host of heaven bow down in worship before him, Jesus wants to be your friend. Think about that.
Obligation or Desire?
One fundamental truth proclaimed by scripture, cover to cover, is that God doesn’t want us to serve him out of obligation. True, there is no one or nothing else worthy of worship, and certainly the Lord and the Holy Spirit working through the Church have provided certain ways of worshipping that are beneficial. But as soon as our worship or our service or our offering becomes something we have to do, rather than something we earnestly desire to do, it loses its’ value. God knows the heart, and it’s the attitude of the heart that matters.
And so Jesus calls his followers his friends. Yes, we believe every person will stand before Christ, and every person will have to acknowledge that our deeds, the fruit of the life we lived fell short of the glory of God. But, in the most incredible way, the judge on the throne wants to be our friend. He told his friends how these cases play out, that the only hope is to plead guilty and ask for mercy. And then, the whole point of Pentecost is that he sent the Holy Spirit to be our advocate to guide us along the path. It’s absolutely incredible, it’s a plan we could never write ourselves: we actually do have friends in high places. Jesus wants to be your friend.
What a friend we have in Jesus.
The thing is, though, that friendship can’t be one-sided. It has to work both ways, doesn’t it?
I have to be honest: I have a hard time making friends. Sure, I do my best to honour, serve, and love my neighbours, and my door is always open to walk alongside whoever pops in. But, deep down, I’m an introvert, and any fellow introverts in the room will probably agree that friendship is sometimes hard work. Taking the time to share joys and concerns, even just taking the time to call and have a chat after a game of phone tag can sometimes feel like a bit of a chore. But, as one who has lived in 3 countries and whose friends move around even more than I do, the cost – the sacrifices – of friendship are worth it. Nothing can replace that handful of people who I know I can pick up the phone and share my life with, with whom I can pick up where I left off, even if I never did return their last email, and who know I’ll do the same for them. In a lot of ways, honestly, it’s that handful of friends, those few strong relationships, that allow me to bear the ups and downs of loving my neighbour.
And the absolutely amazing thing is that Jesus wants to be one of those friends.
It’s not enough that the Lord of all Creation says that you have value, that out of all the things in the vast universe, you matter, personally. But more than that, the Lord of it all wants to be your friend.
He wants to be one who you chat with not to get something done, but just for the sake of chatting; one who you know you can just pick up where you left off, even if you forgot to return that last call or message. He wants to be one who can listen when you need to get something off your chest, who can be there when you need to vent, and like any real friend, who can just be there at those times when there just aren’t words to say.
Jesus wants to be your friend.
And like everything, God always makes the first move. He’s made the offer, he’s made the invitation to sit and chat. He already calls you his friend. But, have you done the same?
You’ve heard me speak a dozen times about the importance of taking even just a few minutes each day in prayer and Bible reading. No matter how busy you are, every one of us has at least 10 quiet minutes that we can carve out of our day. (Many of you do that already; if you don’t, the time to start is now!) And maybe it seems daunting, maybe we don’t know where to start. But the whole story of Pentecost is that God sent the Holy Spirit to guide you. Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and the righteous and merciful judge wants to be your friend, so simply open up and chat. Read a psalm, read one of the lessons assigned for morning prayer, read Our Daily Bread, read something so you spend a few minutes listening to what God says in his Word, and then simply say what’s on your mind, like you’d say to your friend. It might just be “Lord, today’s great. I’m feeling useful. I did good and made a little difference. I’m so glad I had the opportunity.” (yes, that’s a prayer – it doesn’t have to be fancy!). It might be “I’m frustrated. None of this is working out. I’m sick of wasting my time”. (Yes, that’s a prayer too!). And, it might be “I’m broken. I’m tired. This hurts.”
Jesus wants to be your friend. He wants to be the one you can trust in, the one you can lean on. He wants to be your friend in high places, encouraging you to see the big picture and to trust in that yet-more-glorious future for which you were created.
But friendship means making time to be together, not because you have to, but because you want to.
Jesus said, “you did not choose me, but I chose you.” He considers you his friend; so today, this week, have a chat, pick up where you left off, or maybe get to know him for the first time. He’s a friend like no other!
To God be the glory! Amen.