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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Friday, November 17, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

From Servant to Friend

From Servant to Friend

John 15:9-17

A large and prosperous New England church learned the centrality of community to its life and mission when one of the poorer families in the church had a year when everything that could go wrong for them did go wrong.  The father of the family discovered he would need an organ transplant to stay alive.  The small business the mother and her mother owned burned to the ground.  They had a car accident and one of their cars was totaled.  A child was discovered to have a learning disability.  A beloved pet died.  The family began to feel like they were cursed, and they came to the pastor asking what could be done to lift this feeling.  The pastor invited several other members of the congregation to come together one Sunday afternoon to bless the home of this family and the family itself, to offer intercessions in each room for those who dwelt there.  As the afternoon progressed, prayers were said and candles were lit, and the community held hands with the family and walked around the house with them in love.  Not all the family’s troubles disappeared in an instant, but the community created that day gave them such strength that they had a whole new attitude with which to face their problems—and a new set of people to use as resources to get the help they needed.

Jesus commanded his disciples to love each other.  It would seem an unusual request after they had been together for nearly three years.  Wouldn’t one assume that friendships had been formed, that they knew each other deeply.  But we have examples of how they argued with one another.  There is the story about how several argued about who would be first or who would sit close to Jesus in the kingdom of God.  Also which of them would suspect Judas of betrayal, no one knew who Jesus was referring to except Judas himself.  Who would suspect that one of them would deny knowing Jesus.  Also their relationship with Jesus was one of teacher and student and it almost sounds like he was, at times, frustrated with their lack of understanding.

But Jesus knew he would soon be gone, that they would have to deal with his death.  He knew the potential for them to fall apart, to think that their whole world had suddenly gone seriously wrong.  And he knew he knew they would experience his resurrection and his absence once he ascended back to God, after he appeared to them initially.  Jesus knew their relationship with him would have to change.  His first clue about that came in his words about their relationship with him changing from servant to friend.  They were to become his equals and as equals would become as Jesus was with God.  They were commanded to love each other, just as Jesus loved God and God loved him.  They were to model the same type of love, as we are today.  So I suggest we take a look at what that love might be like.

God and Jesus shared a relationship of trust, knowledge, love and unity.  Jesus knew what God was like and knew what God wanted.  God trusted that Jesus would do the right thing, would choose the right path based on his knowledge of God, even though Jesus wanted the cup to pass from him.  Jesus and God were united in one plan to end the power of sin and death once and for all.  Both stayed the course even though it meant pain and suffering to accomplish the goal.  Their love held them together.

Jesus imparted his trust, knowledge, love and unity to his disciples, teaching then what they would face and how to face it with love and how to love one another.  His was the deepest form of love available to humanity, love that would cause him to lay down his life for his closest friend as well as all of humanity.  Jesus’ love was the ultimate love and the model for his disciples and for us.  But we don’t often have to lay down our lives for others very often.  So how do we express our love for others? 

One of the deepest influences in my life came from an older woman in the church I attended as a child and youth.  She didn’t seem to mind that I was an awkward child, quiet most of the time, withdrawn and pensive.  She didn’t seem to mind that I was often dressed in homemade clothes and shed tears frequently when something moved me or bothered me.  She didn’t seem to mind that I was just a twig of a kid.  She simply embraced me when she saw me, made sure I got from one place to another when involved in activities.  She picked me up for church when I didn’t have a ride in the winter.  I felt welcomed in her presence.  Even though she never said it, I felt loved by her.  My own faith grew from her very strong faith.  And she not only embraced me but shared her love for others with all those around her.  She was very outgoing and always helping someone.  Her love was not self-centered.  It was just that she loved people so much that she had to give of herself.  She was my model for the type of love Jesus wanted others to embrace.

I don’t know that we are very good at this love stuff.  Every once in awhile we are good at loving  close friends or family members.  But frequently we love others because of our own self-centeredness.  Some people are simply easy to love.  But there are some who are very difficult to love.  In a sense we tend to serve them rather than be friends with them.  We do what we feel comfortable doing for them when they are in need.  But we might not befriend them the way Jesus befriended his disciples.  Those are the cases where Jesus commands us to love others, to be their friend as fellow Christians especially.  Those are the people we may pay lip service to being their friend but when we carefully examine our motives we find we cannot embrace them as true friend in the way that Jesus befriended.  In fact we might find that we do not even love them.  We are caught between the tension of what we want to be like (like Jesus) and the reality of daily life in the community of faith.  We really want to love one another.  We seek peace as we live and do church together.  But all too often we come nose to nose with others and find it difficult to be willing to go soul to soul with another.  The messy gray areas of simply not liking a person’s personality or opinion or even their way of communicating gets in the way.  There are too many difficult people wrapped up in the vine with us.  How do we love them?  How do we love the demanding person who wants to attack us verbally?

It might be good for us to remember that Jesus says nothing about our differences of opinion, our meanness or the unlovable among us.  He simply says, “Love one another!”  End of that commandment.  So how do we do that?

One of the best descriptions of how we come to faith and the love it calls us to is described in this paragraph from Janice Hearn, some words changed or added:  First, we need to remember that being Christ like evolves over time.  We may not be able to love some people the way Jesus wants us to early in our faith walk.  But our knowledge of faith and what Jesus wants expands as we draw closer to Jesus.  We find the intimacy and community that Jesus has given us come true, little by little, as we abide in Jesus’ love.  There is no other way to do it.  Abiding in Jesus is not static. It’s kind of like a dance.  We move toward Jesus.  We find ourselves afraid or overwhelmed, we step back—and Jesus woos us back toward him, and we know him more deeply as we are drawn back.  We wander from the path, and Jesus brings us back.  We try to break away and maybe become bitter or angry or frustrated, we refuse to love the unlovable.  The voice of Jesus continues to call us back to be wrapped in his love and to love one another.  It may take a lifetime and more of dancing back and forth towards Jesus and towards each other.  But at each step we will find ourselves coming closer to the love Jesus offers to each of us.  And then we get it!  We are so wrapped in the love of Jesus, the love he shared with God, that we can’t help but love others the way God wants us to love.

Simply put, as we allow ourselves to be wrapped around by Jesus, to become soul mates with Jesus, to live in deep intimacy with Jesus, we find that we are bound up with all others in the community of faith.  And we find that there is no other choice than to live by Jesus’ imperative and love one another.  Sometimes we think getting there is impossible, but Jesus gives us the power to experience and live that kind of love.  The Spirit of Jesus within us teaches us how, little by little, until we do get it.  We already see glimpses of it when we experience or see a mother’s love for her child, a time especially when that mother or father for that matter, loves the child unconditionally.  She or he simply wants to hold or hug that child just because she or he loves.  That comes close to what Jesus meant in loving each other.

So, how are we doing?  Most of us need more time to come to that sort of complete love, love that forgives, love that embraces another person as a child of God, love that truly cares and sees the need of another, love that imagines what it is like to walk in another’s footsteps, love that goes soul to soul and strives to understand another.  We are the body of Christ, called to love one another.  And it is in that love that God’s greatest work can be done.  Have we taken a step away from Jesus because we don’t want to love the way he wants us to?  Isn’t this the time to take a step forward into Jesus’ embrace and from that embrace learn to love the ones we don’t particularly want to love or find it difficult to love? 

 

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