by Pastor Sarah Stadler
Jesus speaks with the disciples on the night before his death about love, about friendship.
Eschewing the term slave or servant, Jesus names the disciples his friends, and he says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Though I have long celebrated the way God chooses us in Holy Baptism, how God chooses us as God’s own children, I had not caught before the sweet grace of Jesus choosing us as friends. We so often speak of Jesus as savior, Lord, messiah, but what about Jesus our friend? A person we with whom we share, laugh, listen to, trust, and rely on. I’m not advocating a “Jesus is my boyfriend” kind of relationship with God. Rather, Jesus calls the disciples friends because he has deeply shared with them. He has held nothing back. In a master-slave relationship, deep sharing doesn’t happen, but between friends it does.
A couple months ago during Faith in Motion, we discussed friendship. I asked: why is it so difficult to build friendships as adults? You all shared insightful answers to that question, answers from “not very much time to dedicate to friendship” to “fear of rejection” to “shame about my life.” At the time, I was thinking about how essential friends are for support, how important it is for us to have people in our lives with whom we can share. Today, I wonder if Jesus sees friendship as a way we might follow him.
For just as Jesus chooses the disciples, Jesus chooses us as friends, co-conspirators in love and justice, grace and forgiveness. Jesus chooses not just the disciples, not just me, not just you, but each of us, all of us, together. Because God chooses each of us as friends, here we share in a community of Jesus’ friends. Instead of a focus on personal relationships with God—which are important and have their place, of course—but instead of that focus, in the gospel of John, there is very much a focus on the community, on the public relationships we have with one another that are manifestations of our relationship with God. In a culture where we have perfected the art of making business not personal, in a culture where we use the bottom line as an excuse to ignore an individual’s or a group’s humanity, today’s gospel challenges us to enter into friendship as a way of following Jesus.
Here’s what I mean: just recently, a friend of mine commented on how he prefers to spend his money by supporting his friends. He was talking about the downtown farmers’ market where farmers and other vendors sell their produce and other products directly to people on Saturday mornings. I go to the farmers’ market nearly every week, and I’m a fairly nice person. But I must have some categories in my head about who I may be friends with. Because, for months, I have watched my friend interact with the farmers at the market, and I see him really getting to know the farmers, learning their names, gathering their contact information. He stands around and asks genuine questions, checks in with people as friends do. He went to the family Thanksgiving meal of one of the farmers last November. “How do you know her?” I asked when he told me of his plans. From his face, he clearly wondered if I had been paying attention. “From the farmers’ market,” he said.
Somewhat similarly, I think there’s a temptation among Christians to see certain people not as people to befriend but as objects of pity, usually people who are marginalized in our culture. We deem ourselves good Christians when we put in our time serving other people. We do the right thing, and God bless you for doing the right thing! But we don’t get too close to the people we’re serving. Friends, that’s a problem. We can and should have boundaries with all of our friends; we certainly cannot be everything to everyone. We also need not be friends with everyone, just the people we enjoy. But designating certain types of people as worthy of friendship and others as objects of pity is not a healthy boundary; it is disrespectful of the dignity of all people.
Is this too simplistic? Do you think I’m just telling you to make friends? Hold hands and share your lunch? Maybe. But here’s what I know: I treat my friends with respect and compassion. I listen to my friends and take them food and cough syrup when they’re sick. When my friends are in distress, I do not ignore them. I pick up their calls, and when I haven’t heard from them in a while, I text message or email them. More than that, I share my own struggles and failings so that the sharing is mutual, and I receive their support and love. Is this not how Jesus calls us to love each person? The way we love our friends?
Jesus chooses us as friends and commands us to love one another as he has loved us. We who are the chosen co-conspirators of Jesus, co-conspirators in love and justice, grace and forgiveness, we get to not only serve others, not only seek justice, not only do the right thing. We get to nurture friendships with others, friendships of mutual sharing and care, friendships in which we know God’s own love made manifest. Simplistic? Yes. Important? Yes. But Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that this is indeed where joy is found.
Thanks be to God! Amen.