The Vine and the Branches John 15
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
I have read this passage many times and early on in my ministry I have preached on it and yet when I read it again to prepare for today it feels as if I am reading it for the first time. That’s the wonderful thing about scripture, at different seasons in our life the words from familiar scripture can speak to us in new and refreshing ways.
The thing which struck me most was the section which I have just read and the fact that Jesus chose us and he calls us to be his friends. I felt so moved when I read these words and they spoke straight into my heart - Jesus chose me and he calls me to be his friend. He doesn’t see the relationship as master and servant but as equals, as friends. As I thought more about this I understood that this means warts and all, in the worst of times and the best of times, at our worst and at our best he wants to be alongside us.
Friendship is a powerful thing and that’s why it is no surprise that one of the most popular features on Facebook is “friendship”, Facebook is the most popular social get together place on the internet. There are 400 million users and if they had their own country it would the 3rd largest nation in world. It is a place where people can share their lives, where they can talk with others, post pictures and articles they’d like people to see… presenting their life as they want it to be seen, sharing what they had for tea, their wonderful holidays, their hectic social lives or for some it’s a place to rant about the government. All this is done between “friends”, the people you’ve given the privilege of being able to visit your Facebook.
The average Facebook user has about 150 friends. But there are many that can have hundreds – even 1000s – of friends. Some have as many as 30,000 friends who get access to their page and their lives at the click of a button.
I checked and I’ve got 248 “friends” on Facebook. But there is an odd thing about these friends. They’re not all really what I’d call “friends”. Many of these are people I work with, network with, there are people there who I lost touch with , people from church people from college - but very few of them are what I’d call close friends. Very few are people that if I were sick and in hospital would come and visit me or if I was stranded on the M1 at night would come and rescue me. That’s because many of them don’t really know me. They know what I project on facebook but they don’t know the details of my life, they only know about what I want them to see about my life on facebook. They don’t know what I struggle with because I don’t share my intimate pain on facebook. In fact not only might they not know me, they might not even LIKE me. On Facebook they’re my friends but, for the most part, they’re just passing acquaintances, some are self admitted facebook stalkers who like to peep in on the lives of others but leave no trace of their visit, some leave comments some just press the like icon, some pass by.
Most of them are very nice people, otherwise I wouldn’t let them into my life but they’re not REALLY my friends and perhaps this is a reflection of real life too. Sometimes even the people we call our friends – aren’t really our true friends. They’re not there when we need them. They disappoint us forget us, or ignore us. They may even betray us and hurt us.
Sadly the reality of life and the reality of being a human being is that we don’t ALWAYS have true friends that we can always count on… But the good news is that Jesus tells us HE wants to be our friend and he will never let us down, he will always be there, he is our constant faithful friend in the truest and most complete sense.
If you take tie to reflect on this passage it blows you away. Jesus wants to be our friend. We didn’t send a facebook friend request to Jesus. He sent one to us. We know this because it is there in black and white in verse 16 when Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I CHOSE YOU and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
Jesus reached out to us – first. And what is important about that, what is amazing about that what is unbelievable about that is that if most people knew what we were REALLY like, deep, deep, down… they wouldn’t accept a friend request from us. If people knew some of the things we have SAID/DONE/THOUGHT in our entire lives, they wouldn’t have anything to do with us. But Jesus does. Jesus knows exactly what we’re like… He knows our darkest shame and secrets and He STILL wants us as His friends. Ephesians says it this way:
“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” Ephesians 2:4-5
Even when we were dead in our sins even when we had messed up lives even when we weren’t worth much --- to God… or anyone else even then he wanted to be our friend.
I know that s true because I have lived it. I ranted against God, against Christians and for sixteen years I was a Buddhist leader, I turned my back on God and I slammed the door in his face and hollowed abuse at him until I was empty and broken and lost in the darkness. And it was then - when I was a broken and lost an enemy of God, dead in my sins, lying on the floor in front of a Buddhist altar challenging him by saying; ‘ok if there is a God reveal yourself,’ it was then in that moment that God sent His “friend” request. Rephrasing John 3:16, you could say “For God so loved you and I, He sent us a very special friend request” He sent me Jesus and I thank him for reaching down into the mess that was my life then and lifting me up and bringing me to the life I have now.
“For God so loved the world that He gave (sent) His only begotten Son” - not just for me but all, for all who would accept him as their friend and who would come to know him as their savior, their Lord, their everything.
The way you become a “friend” on Facebook is that one person sends out an INVITATION to someone else to be their friend. The other person can then either “CONFIRM” them as a friend or IGNORE you. What Jesus is telling us here is “I invited you to be my friend… you didn’t invite me.” “You did not choose me, but I chose you...”will you confirm me or will you ignore me?
He invited US to be HIS friend, He reached out to us because we weren’t worthy to reach out to Him – He accepted us in all our mess and brokenness and I for one feel humbled that He thought I was worth His time.
Unlike Facebook… where most of my “friends” aren’t really my friends, not only is Jesus my friend, but my friendship with Jesus improves my friendship with others. I believe that my friendship with Jesus makes me a better person, my friendship with Jesus gives me a heart for other people to be the friend to them that He is to me. His life, his example his stories make me want to be like him.
My friend Helen often used to say to me that in this world, earthly friends will disappoint me, that she would disappoint me, that she may even hurt me and I never really understood at the time what she meant, I felt it was a bit of a cop out for letting me down. But now I understand. I understand because I know I am human and If I am your friend… sooner or later I’m going to disappoint you too, not because I want to not because I mean to but because as human beings we mess up and we can be selfish, we can put ourselves first, we can fail to see life through the eyes and situations of others. It’s not normal for us to think of others first. It’s not normal for us to worry about other peoples problems when we have problems of my own. We human beings tend to be inherently selfish to lesser or greater degrees. I know that much as I hate it I tend to think of myself first, I will admit that if I am sharing chocolate with Polly and one of the two pieces has broken bigger I want the bigger one, I hasten to add she does too, and what follows is a cover up for our inherent selfishness which follows this pattern of you have the biggest, no you have the biggest – she always gets the biggest. Because I love her, and love overcomes that inherent selfishness, love dissolves greed.
Jesus said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” It’s a repeated command, over and over again throughout the Scriptures. Why repeat such a command? Because Jesus knows that this doesn’t come naturally to us. We don’t really know how to love until we’ve learned the love of Jesus in our lives and how did Jesus love us?
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I believe that God isn’t concerned with how many friends you have on facebook, He’s concerned with how many people to whom you are a friend. How many people you and I laid down our lives for. Because God KNOWS that in this world people can be lousy friends because human beings can be selfish. Despite best intentions human beings look after their own interests first. But Jesus set us the example of putting others first. He laid down His life for us… so that we could live.
That friendship he offers us models why Jesus put such an emphasis on friendship in His ministry. Friendship is the framework for His church, and it’s the power of our ministry for Him it also emphasizes the value friendship can have in SAVING others from death.
My friend Helen spent eight years building a friendship with me so that I could be saved from death. There are friends in this church who have also saved me, who have listened to me, prayed for and with me, who have even loved me enough to tell me when I have messed up and as you look around this church I hope and I pray that you too share friends who will do the same for you.
Jesus showed compassion and love towards the weak and the outcasts. Jesus loved the unlovable. I think I was pretty unlovable when I met Helen. But she loved me and she loved Jesus enough to show compassion to share with me her Jesus stories and slowly bring me to faith.
My favorite Jesus story is the on the night that he was betrayed by Judas, when he and the disciples went to an upper room. Before they sat down, Jesus took off His outer robe, he knelt down and he gently and lovingly washed their dirty feet. His love that night was the love of a man who was willing to be humbled as a servant.
In John’s Gospel, John uses two Greek words that both translate into the English word “love”. The first Greek word is philos- which means a friendship type of love and the second Greek word the John uses is agape - which is more of an intimate type of love.
As John was writing this passage, he used both words, alternating between the two of them. The English translators translated philos as “friend” and agape as “love”.
Jesus knew that the type of love that we needed to show each other was more than just a facebook friendship; it needed to be a love that was genuine, a love of patience and a love of tolerance, a love of compassion. A love that would love the unlovable, a love that would forgive a love that didn’t hold grudges because Jesus instructs us to love people in a different type of love than we are taught to love in the world.
I fully acknowledge that I am nowhere close to demonstrating the type of love that Jesus wants me to demonstrate, I dearly wish I was.
But I can promise you one thing I promise you that I am trying and I will keep trying and I ask you to try with me. Because I believe that it is a love such as this, it is a church such as this that will become the center of this community in Rawdon. It will be a church such as this that will be known as a loving church where people care. It is a church such as this, which will bring the lost home. It is a church such as this which will have a servants heart for those outside these four walls.
We have been commanded to do this and we have a promise that we will not do it alone. I know that we can do this because Jesus has promised to guide us.
I am not asking you to do anything that I am not trying to do myself. But I can’t do it alone, I need you to stand with me, and when I fail I need you to encourage me and when I get it wrong I want you to tell me and when I mess up I need you to forgive me. If we truly want to serve Jesus if we truly want to bring people home to Christ then it starts with love and we can do it because Jesus said we could, Jesus said he will guide us. We wont be alone and we don’t have to be scared. Jesus said: This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus died for all those times we mess up, he died for all those things we are ashamed of, He died so that we might become His friends but to be his friend means that he also asks us to love others.
My prayer for this church and by church I mean you – my prayer for this church is this; my prayer is that everyone in this church accepts that friend request from Jesus not just today, but every day and my prayer is that we become addicted to that friendship and through that friendship we all learn how to love as Jesus did and my prayer is that as we do we will bear fruit and we will bear fruit that will last.