Dorothy Churn LaPenta

Hope Presbyterian Church

Mitchellville, MD

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

 

 

THE REASON FOR EVERYTHING

 

Jesus said, “ You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer because the servant doesn’t know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”

 

This week I did a little exercise is looking up the word “friend” in other languages. Now, I don’t speak or know many languages; Greek, Hebrew and German. Most of you know more languages that I do. But I was very intrigued that in all the languages, there were at least four words that could mean “friend.”  In some cases, there were up to ten words, which could be translated as “friend.”

 

We can understand that because when we use the word “friend,” we also have different meanings for it.  The saying goes, “friends for a season, friends for a reason, friends for a lifetime.”

 

But what did Jesus have in mind when he called his disciples “friends.”  This passage seems to mostly be about “love,”  “agape,” in the Greek.

 

  • 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.
  • This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.
  • I am giving you commandments so that you love one another.

 

Then, “You are my friends.” or because the Greek word used is “philio,” a translation could be “loved one”

 

Friends are indeed loved ones.  My best friend died a few years ago to pancreatic cancer, and she was indeed a loved one for me. There’s been a big space in my life since she died.  I miss her a lot, and those daily early morning walks we took for fourteen years.  But that space she left in my life has filled because the love we shared in that friendship has been able to be poured out to her family, and to others.  That did not go away.

 

Jesus’s definition of friendship is to love Jesus, and to be loved by him. [1]That’s where it begins; friendship for the sake of friendship.   The philosopher, Aristotle said this is the best and highest kind of friendship. Friendship for the sake of friendship. [2]

Frederick Buechner  writes,

 

“Basically, your friends are not your friends for any particular reason. The job you do, the family you have, the way you vote, the major achievements, the blunders of your life are all set aside. If you are old friends, you know a lot about each other, but even that is beside the point. Your friendship is the point. The distinctions of older, younger, richer, poorer, smarter- dumber cease to matter. Each time, you meet with a clean slate on equal terms. Anything may come of it or nothing. Only the getting together matters.”[3]

 

Because in true friendship, something will come, good cannot help, but flow out of this kind of being together.

 

That’s what Jesus knew. Jesus told the disciples, “I have told you everything that God has told me.” So, being together with Jesus, truly being together with Jesus, as friends cannot help, but yield good. The most important thing Jesus has told the disciples is God’s command to love one another. It’s the reason for everything.  For everything!!!

 

Back to Aristotle for a second, he also said, ‘The best way to habituate oneself in a particular virtue is to emulate those who already embody.”  In other words, if you need to be a kinder person, then be around people who are kind.  If you want to be a calmer person, then be around people who are calm.  [4]

 

We know that can go either way; you can be around groups whose habits are bad for themselves, and the community, and if you hang around them long enough, you will come to emulate them.  So wait a minute here, does that mean that we just isolate ourselves, and always make sure we’re hanging with the right kind of people. That doesn’t seem to be what the Bible says.

 

I am so confused!

 

 

 

Thomas Acquinas, about a millennia after Aristotle, took Aristotle’s words about  wanting a particular virtue, and emulating those who already have that virtue, and he said:

 

“Part of the goal of the Christian life is to become friends with God,  because in doing that, we will emulate God.”  Jesus definition of friendship was to love Jesus, and be loved by him, not for an end to itself, but so that love might flow into loving one another.  It is the only way we can follow God’s command to love one another.  “You are my friends, if you do what I command- love one another.”  [5]

 

Have you “friended” Jesus? Are you hanging out with God, just to be with God, with nor agenda, but just to be with God in friendship.   Usually, we are praying to God, talking with God, thinking about God, and remembering stories about God.  But, do you know how to just be with God, to center on that relationship, and emulate God so that it impacts every encounter that you have with others?

 

I have been thinking so much about Baltimore these past few weeks. It’s the city that raised me- unfortunately, I now, it’s the racist city that raised me.  I grew up in an integrated neighborhood in the 1950s in Baltimore city. I had no idea that my friends living on either side of me couldn’t go where I could go.  I did not realize that we got federal housing assistance, but my neighbors didn’t.  I had my first job at the Sears and Roebucks at Mondawmin Mall, where the riots started a few weeks ago.  I remember the day that my parents said, “You can’t go there anymore. It’s too dangerous.”

 

My brothers, and I have talked a lot these past few weeks. We remember my Dad taking us to almost every neighborhood in Baltimore city.  We would go to these missions on Sunday afternoons, and have church services.  But he never took us to Sandtown.  He went, but he wouldn’t take his children there, even in the 50s. I never knew Sandtown, until I worked with Habitat projects there in seminary. The community volunteer coordinator at the Naval Academy had to pull the midshipmen group from our Habitat projects because there were so many needles found at the sights where we were working.

 

Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” and that’s to love one another. I guess my family, and a lot of others didn’t love Baltimore very well, even though I thought I grew up loving Baltimore.

 

You see, to be Jesus’ friends, we have to figure out how to be each other’s friends.  We have to do it- it’s the reason for everything!

 

So, you have also been on my mind, the congregation of Hope Presbyterian Church.  You have been on my mind as much as Baltimore.  Jesus wants to call you “friends,” but you must love one another as Jesus loves you.

 

That does not mean, enjoy one another’s company, or plan lunch together, or gather on a Saturday night to enjoy some social time. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but Jesus has not called us to a social gathering. Jesus has called us to love one another, and we can only do that, by having a friend in Jesus.  Yes, that does mean sharing our grief and sorrow, and in his arms, he will take and shield us. But the words from that beloved hymn cannot be an end in itself.  Loving Jesus means loving others. Being friends with Jesus means being a friend to others.

 

There’s a lot of churches in this area, and some of them are huge, some of them are small.   Do the people that sit in these churches on Sundays love one another? Are they friends of Jesus, and therefore friends to each other, and therefore friends to this community?  Are we?

 

To be Jesus’ friends is to be each other’s friends.   So, be…. each other’s friends, and love one another.  It’s the reason for everything!

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

 

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible,  Abingdon Press, Nashville: 2003.

[2] David S. Cunningham. “Feasting On the Word” Year B Volume 2, Barbara Brown Taylor and David Bartlett, ed. Westminster John Knox, Louisville: 2008, p. 500.

[3] Frederick Buechner. “Beyond Words,” Harper, SanFrancisco: 2004, p. 120-122.

[4] Cunningham on Aristotle.

[5] Cunningham on Acquinas.