What does it mean to have a friend in, and be a friend to, God?
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We rarely talk about friendship in the church. That’s a bit of an oversight, isn’t it? Because for most of us, friendship matters quite a lot.
I’m blessed to have some really close friends who I know will always be there if I need them. If my car broke down in Massachusetts, I know I could call my friends Kathryn and Becky. If something happened at 4am, I know my college roommate andria would pick up the phone. If I need someone to pray for me, I know I can ask my friend Mykal.
And more importantly, I know that if any of them needed something, they know that they could call me. And they have. I’ve changed tires. Tried to fix broken hearts. Lugged moving boxes. Even posted bail once. Because that’s what friends do.
We are born with one family, but often our friends become our chosen family. Their stories and our own become inseparable, and we become better for knowing them.
We value the idea of our friendships with others, but how often do we think about friendship in terms of our spiritual life? Not just in terms of our friendship with one another, but also in terms of our friendship with God, and God as incarnate in Jesus Christ?
Growing up in the South, when someone asked me, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” I knew it was time to get away, because Someone was about to try to convert me. That phrase was sort of a code for members of fundamentalist churches looking for new members.
The truth is, I was already a Christian. Not because I had had the sort of revelatory, sudden conversion experience that my more fundamentalist classmates told me I had to have, but because I’d
always had this sort of quiet, mainline faith that had grown over time
My on,y exposure to churches were in th kind that often get called the “frozen chosen”: Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian. We emphasized God’s love for us, and mission, and trying to live a good life, just like we do here every week. But we rarely talked about what it means to have an actual relationship with Christ. We knew who we are were and that God loved us, but we just didn’t talk about it much.
And most of the time, we were just fine with that. Hence the name, frozen chosen.
But sometimes even us frozen chosen need something more. And thats where Scripture passages like today’s come in.
Jesus is talking to the disciples about his relationship with them. And the language he uses is not the kind those of us from the more frozen chosen backgrounds my expect, or even be most comfortable with. It’s not Christ the CEO who gives us orders. Not Christ the lawyer with a bunch of statutes for us to follow, neatly bound together. Not even Christ the teacher, or benevolent religious authority.
It’s Christ, the friend. Christ who calls us friends.
Those folks who used to ask me whether I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ were not espousing a kind of Christianity I subscribe to, but they also weren’t all wrong. Christ does call us to be more than just servants of him. He calls us to be more than even just disciples. He calls us to be friends.
That idea can take some getting used to. If it’s four am and I have a flat with no spare, I need someone with a cell phone and drivers license. I don’t think Jesus has either. And even if he did, would you call? Or would you want to keep a little comfortable distance? A little space. Boundaries, even.
I think a lot of us put those walls up in our hearts sometimes in our relationship with Christ. We know he’s there. We know he loves us. But do we have the day to day relationship that our friend might want from us?
The reality is I’ve made a lot of late night calls to Jesus. Maybe not via cell, but certainly in my heart. It’s usually when I’ve needed something. Maybe you’ve done the same. I can’t say I’ve always been a good friend to Jesus.
But the thing is, as my relationship with God has deepened through the years, more and more I want to be.
I don’t think that’s an accident. Jesus tells us that before we chose him, he chose us. That grace was offered to us and we had no choice but to accept it. And once that grace gets a hold of you, it doesn’t let go. There is a continuing longing for God that may ebb and f,ow through the years, but that never goes away, no matter how frozen we may appear on the outside.
That’s not unique to our relationship with Christ, you know. Because we have another example of it in our lives.
Today is mother’s day, of course. And it’s fitting that we are talking about this idea of being loved first on this day. Because parents, even as imperfect as every parent is at times, love before they can be loved. They chose to love their children. And children learn to love by being loved.
It’s the same with Jesus. We are Christ’s friend because we first were his. We chose him as a friend only because he first chose us.
Christ tells us, 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Christ laid down his life for his friends before we even knew we were. And now he asks us to do the same for our own friends, including him.
So how do we lay down our life for those we love? Fortunately, being a friend to Jesus and being a friend to others are often two signs of the same coin. You find you can’t do one without doing the other.
Now, sometimes laying down your life for your friends, and Christ’s, really means laying down your life. A few weeks ago, with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it seems like the story was everywhere. I’ve never been particularly interested in the story, but one thing I saw caught my eye.
it was the story of the priest on the Titanic, Father Thomas Byles. When it became clear that the ship was sinking, he twice turned down a seat in a lifeboat. Instead, he stayed on the deck, and prayed and comforted the people who couldn’t leave, and went down with all of them. He could have saved himself, but instead he decided to be a friend to God by being a friend to God’s friends.
It leaves you wondering, could I do that? Could I pass up a lifeboat twice and instead choose a certain death? Could I embrace that greater love of laying down my life for my, and Jesus’ friends?
I’d like to think so, but thankfully most of us will never have to find out.
But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Because there are a lot more ways than one to lay down your life, and be Jesus’ friend. And very few of them involve actually going down with a ship. Most involve laying down the life you know and instead choosing one of greater commitment to being a friend of Christ.
That’s not always easy. Sometimes being a friend of Christ means you end up making choices that may feel a lot like sacrifices. Sacrifices of time, or money, or prestige. Or sometimes you might find yourself unable to just be happy with the life you thought you always wanted. You find yourself looking for something a little deeper. A little more meaningful. As our friendships with Christ deepen, pure hearts, maybe a little frozen at times, warm and thaw. And everything changes because Christ’s friendship changes everything.
The one thing I know for certain about friendship is this: it tends to be a two way street. What you put in to a friendship, like every relationship, is what you get out. That’s especially true when you know the other person is committed to it. Christ already showed us he is. He did it 2000 years ago when he became one of us. And so now we respond, giving our gifts of gratitude. And what do you get the Friend who has everything? Just our hearts, and our hands, and our lives. He has a lot of work left to do in our world, and a true friend always shows up when a friend needs a hand. Amen.