Friday, 14 July 2017

I dream of a church

I was sent this beautiful poem in a card from one of my non-christian friends on the day of my ordination.  She said that it reminded her of me and the dreams I hold for my church.  I pray it will bless you as it blessed me.

I Dream of a Church 
Kate Compston

I dream of a church that joins in with God's laughing
as she rocks in her rapture, enjoying her art:
she's glad of her world, in its risking and growing:
'tis the child she has borne and holds close to her heart.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's weeping
as she crouches, weighed down by the sorrow she sees:
she cries for the hostile, the cold and no-hoping,
for she bears in herself our despair and dis-ease.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's dancing
as she moves like the wind and the wave and the fire:
a church that can pick up its skirts, pirouetting,
with-the steps that can signal God's deepest desire.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's loving
as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost,
a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
the imprisoned and poor, and then shoulder the cost.

God, make us a church that joins in with your living,
as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release,
a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring;
lioness of your justice and lamb of your peace. 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The road to Emmaus

Lets imagine for a moment that we are there that Sunday evening watching these two men, with their heads bent down walking in silence along a dusty and deserted road to a place seven miles from Jerusalem, a small hamlet called Emmaus.

These two men  had once been disciples of Jesus and were amongst those he had gathered around him during his ministry. They walk with great sadness and now you can just about hear their hushed voices as they discuss what they had heard that morning on the disciples’ grapevine, the news that the women had reported to the Eleven of the empty tomb and the angels.

We now hear the name of one of them, Cleopas,  his companion has been said to be none other than Luke himself, the author of this gospel and the empty house to which they were returning in Emmaus was possibly Luke’s home.

Suddenly another, a stranger who falls easily in step with them, joins them.  As they walk they start to talk. It is Cleopas that is the first person to speak to Jesus about what happened and how shattered Jesus’ followers were after his crucifixion. They begin to tell their story so sadly to this stranger that you cannot help but feel moved by the scene as it unfolds.

They tell him how they had hoped that Israel would be liberated once for all from pagan domination, free to serve God in peace and holiness. They explain that’s why the crucifixion was so devastating to them. It wasn’t just that Jesus had been the bearer of their hopes but now he was dead and gone and they couldn’t understand why their redeemer didn’t defeat the pagans, but instead die at their hands.

They finish their story and silence falls, then the stranger begins to speak and as he does his words begin to comfort them, they find peace in them and they feel encouraged once more.

The story that you just heard is an age-old story, it’s the model of how many people come to faith. It begins with two men who feel broken, whose dreams have been shattered, who are facing a dark future because someone they’ve loved more than anyone else in the world has died a cruel death. They feel that promises have been broken, and all hope is lost.

Then God in his providence brings a stranger into their lives.  As they make their journey away from all that has happened they fall into conversation with this stranger and as they walk together, they feel a growing openness towards him. They then share their story, their hurt and their fears with him.  A relationship develops and they are encouraged and comforted by the stranger’s response to their situation, then as they reflect on the experience their eyes are opened and their savior is revealed.  It’s a story of our relational God gathering His community by meeting people where they are on their journeys in life.
It’s the model Jesus used and it’s the model the early church used to build up the body of Christ.

A small group of us from Trinity recently began a yearlong course called Mission Shaped Ministry. The course is being run by a nationwide Anglican initiative called ‘Fresh expressions’.  The course loos at finding new ways of doing church and fresh ways of sharing the gospel.  We have started to hear stories of how people are doing their ministry in places other than church buildings – from pubs to coffee shops Gods people are taking Jesus to where the people are.  The body of Christ is going out into the communities where they live and through the works and guidance of the spirit are helping people to meet Jesus in their own context, in places where they feel comfortable.  They are literally taking the presence of God into parks and shopping centers, and church; or rather church community is taking a very different shape and looking very different to how we normally experience it.

They are following the early churches model of entering the worlds of those who they are called to serve and as they do so they are transforming communities by bringing people closer to Jesus in a way that is natural and comfortable to them. 

God is a relational God, God is community and when people gather in His name there is community.  He sends people out to find people in their despair and sadness, to walk alongside people, to share stories and to be his son in this broken world we live in.

This story is our model, as these two men walk away in despair Jesus pursues them, he listens to their stories and then he offers them words of comfort and encouragement. But this story is not just the story of discipleship, it’s a story of hope.

Luke’s story ends with joy and praise. The crucified Jesus has been resurrected and has ascended to heaven to take His place at God’s right hand just as the ancient prophets predicted. For the band of disciples, Easter joy has eclipsed Good Friday sorrow.
This ending point becomes the starting point for Luke’s sequel, known as the Acts of the Apostles. The story isn’t  over; it’s just begun. The life and ministry of Jesus that Luke has just recounted is the mustard-seed stage of the kingdom of God that continues to grow and grow and grow.

Luke’s Gospel is about what Jesus began to do and teach, and Luke’s sequel is about what the risen Jesus continues to do and teach through His followers. Luke writes in hope that future believers will be taken up into this beautiful story that will never, ever end.
But human hope is such a delicate and fragile thing, and fear and lack of confidence can be so overwhelming and at times paralyzing.  So when opportunities arise to walk alongside the stranger or friend and share our stories we often don’t take them because fear takes over. I’m sure that we have all suffered times in our lives when we have had the perfect opportunity to share a faith story and we don’t.  This leaves us feeling hopeless, and when the next opportunity arises we don’t even try.

But we need to hold onto this story, because when we draw near those longing to hear the good news the spirit draws near, he draws near and gives us words to speak into the hearts of those he sends to walk with us, those he sends for us to hold and those he sends for us to speak his words of comfort into our lives and situations.  He draws near but sometimes we don’t recongnise it and our eyes don’t allow us to see what is right in front of us.

Perhaps as the travellers made their weary way to Emmaus they were so focused on their defeat that when this stranger joins them they don’t realise that it is Jesus, right by their side in their moment of despair, ready to listen to their troubles ready to comfort them ready to walk alongside them in their troubles.  They don’t see him because they are so wrapped up in their own situation and their own pain.

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own fears and anxieties we don’t see the opportunity that is right in front of us. The opportunity not only to share the gospel with someone but the opportunity to draw close to Jesus ourselves.  Because when we share His story in our lives there He is also and you feel him so close you could almost touch him.

We can all take comfort from this story, because just like those two despondent disciples our eyes can also be opened.  Because Jesus is also there with us in those journeys and conversations. He is the unseen "stranger", walking with us and, if we are willing to hear his voice, revealing himself through our stories. He is always there and he always will be there we just need to lift our heads, open our hearts and we will see and we will hear and we will have just the right words.

In this story there is a model to follow and there is a commission, for just as Jesus has been the hand that has pulled us out of the turbulent waters we too are expected to seek out the drowning and take them to dry land.  Just as he has walked alongside us in our dark times to strengthen and comfort us we too are expected to do the same for his beloved.

When we look up, when we take his hand, when we acknowledge that Jesus is making this journey with us in our lives, we then have a responsibility to share this with others.  There is no testimony without a test and in those tests and we must remember that part of our Christian walk is to share those testimonies with not only with those who do not yet believe but also with those who do, because this is the heart of Christian witness. Later in this story the Emmaus two share their testimony of their meeting with Jesus, with the other disciples and suddenly He is with them – their enthusiasm passion and pure joy is so intoxicating that Jesus is in the room with them.  It really is that simple – when we tell our stories, when we share our testimonies when we bear witness to our faith then Jesus will be there with you. You don’t have to be able to explain a detailed theology, or be able to preach a sermon – you just have to tell your story, in your words, in your experience in your way as you walk along side someone and fall into step with them. You too can naturally share your journeys, how when you were walking along a road, struggling to understand or cope or make sense of your world, and you met Jesus.  This is a commission, not just to the Emmaus two but to all of us; when you have seen God do something amazing in your life, share it! Because when you do amazing things happen, just like they did for the disciples on the Emmaus road when you share your story, Jesus appears. It’s such an encouraging passage, because as followers of Jesus we too can also have the same experience as these disciples, as we share our stories with others, Jesus will be there.  The holy spirit will work through you -  you will feel it at work and more importantly so will the person with whom you are sharing your story.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The breath of life

Today I have been asked to look at the picture of the holy spirit as breath, and as breathing is the most natural thing in the world so too should be the breath of God, the breath that fills us with a new life just as it did in the beginning when;
‘the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person.
I once read that the Holy Spirit is like; ‘the air we breathe’, I love that analogy, so simple and yet so true, because without air we cant exist and without the Holy Spirit, we can’t have the relationship God intended us to have with Him. The Holy Spirit completes the Trinity, it completes us, it gives us life, it restores us, it is the reason for life; the Holy Spirit is to the Church what air is to every human being. The Holy Spirit empowers our lives, deepens our faith, motivates our mission. The Holy Spirit freed the first Christians from the slavery of fear and it can free us, it can free us today and inviting the Holy spirit to work within us is as easy as breathing - it really is that simple. 
And yet I have really grappled with this sermon today. Because I feel that along with our relationship with the spirit come a lot of terms and labels, which we all use to describe peoples faith journey, and in doing so I wonder if we might alienate or exclude others. As I prayed about this and talked to others I began to feel a responsibility to de-mystify theses terms and this language that we often use.

A few weeks ago I went to Birmingham to a BMS day and I talked to my friends and fellow trainee ministers about the language we Christians use to describe our faith journey and our relationship with Jesus. As we sat discussing these terms I heard a student from the other end of the table, who was from Spurgeons college say; ‘you can tell that lot are from Northern they are getting all spiritual already and its only breakfast’.  

We were seen to be getting all ‘spiritual’ because we were talking the talk we were using the right words quoting the right chapter and verse from the bible and using the correct theological definitions.  Our Spurgeons colleagues joined in and by now it was getting to be a very heavy theological conversation for 7.30 in the morning.

Finally my colleague from Spurgeons college said; ‘listen, its simple – is the Good news Good news? When your church community leave the building on Sunday morning do they feel they have had good news?’ 

I was reminded of again when Alan said a few weeks ago, we are in the business of discipleship, of sharing the good news.  Shouldn’t that news be as accessible and as natural as breathing, something we don’t think about, we just do, something which is part of our lives and which lives within and lives alongside us in a way which is personal and unique to us.

The day after the conference I was awoken at 7.00 and as I started to come round, words, these words which I am sharing with you now, started pouring into my head – I ran downstairs and started typing – and here they are….

Words are very powerful aren’t they?  they can make us feel incredibly happy, empowered, valued, confident  and also angry, sad, confused, isolated, rejected, insecure…the list is endless.  In my experience I have found that Christians can be very good with words, we can have our own little exclusive language, our own little labels and our own special words that we like attach to people and to their faith, to their church and to their walk with Jesus.  They can be very damaging; they can be empowering but are they helpful?  If we are in the business of bringing people to faith and encouraging them in that faith are we being helpful by attaching label’s to their faith walks?   My friends and I may have felt quite flattered that we Northern students were seen to be very spiritual, but was it an accurate label? I’m not so sure.

So my question is this - are labels always accurate? Do we really know what they mean?  Are they helpful when we are in the business of bringing people to faith or do we alienate people and do we isolate them?  As I prayed and read the bible I began to realise I had just accepted these terms and words which people had attached to my coming to faith and although I could identify them as stages in my walk I wondered if I had really understood what they meant.  During our discussion at that breakfast table three trainee ministers were all interpreting them slightly differently, perhaps we too may have different interpretations an understanding for Baptism in the Spirit, being born again and salvation.

So I went back to my own conversion to try and dig deeper, to interpret what it meant in my story to be converted, of being born again, and being baptised in the spirit.  What I realised was that I had just assumed these labels when people referred them to me and I had never questioned them, I had just accepted them and left it at that.

I remember it all as clear as if it was this morning. I remember  sitting on the brown leather chair that belonged to my uncle Charlie in the room that is now my study looking out into the yard and being literally filled with the holy spirit, it poured into me like a waterfall, from the top of my head I felt the weighted of the world being washed away and when it had finished I was filled with a peace which I had never known before and I spent a week being terrified it would leave me.  I remember the following morning kneeling by my bead, I didn’t know why and these words coming out of my mouth;
‘Father I am sorry for turning my back on you for all these years, forgive me and let me serve you as I served the Buddhist community – be careful what you pray for…and I remember my baptism, of gasping for breath as I came out of the water with the feeling of being propelled at great speed towards a piercing light…. I remember all these things. I remember my story I remember my conversion I remember being baptised in the spirit I remember being saved I remember giving my life to Jesus I remember feeling I had been born again and I remember being told what had happened to me using these biblical terms which I understood through my own experience. But it was my experience and it was my story.

I remember my story but when I tell it to people who haven’t come to faith it’s the same story but without the biblical terminology, its my story of how I asked Jesus to come into my life and how I asked to be forgiven for my past and for all the times I had messed up and its how I asked if I could walk with him for the rest of my days.  I love my story and I love the way my  story continues, because  I still ask to be forgiven I still ask him to walk with me.  I was saved and forgiven on February 17th 2003 and I continue to be saved and forgiven because I continue to mess up and I will need to continue being forgiven and saved until the day I die and go to be with Jesus.  That is my on going story as a disciple of Jesus. 

So in all my praying and reading and grappling as I prepared for this service I have come to the conclusion that we can over complicate things which should be natural, and when we over complicate things and use our biblical terminology we can actually do the opposite of what we are intending to do, sometimes we can cause damage, we can make something as natural as breathing into something which people become afraid of and confused about.  Speaking from my own experience, when I first came to faith I went to a church where every week during the service people would speak in tongues or sing in tongues,  there would be interpretations, people would fall in the spirit and there would be prophesy and testimony.  People danced and waved flags, worship was extravagant and sometimes the service would go on until 1.30 when the spirit was on the move. 
But I often left feeling I hadn’t heard the good news, feeling left out, worrying because I was not like them, that I was not a real Christian, not good enough to be a Christian.  The reason why was because  I hadn’t been given the gift of speaking in tongues and I was told this was a mark of being saved of being a Christian, of being baptised in the spirit.  So I was anointed with oils and I was prayed over and I had hands laid on me and I think most members of the church tried to get me to speak in tongues –  but still I couldn’t speak in tongues and it weighed heavy on my heart, and the words I’m not good enough became my mantra and they have weighed on my heart for many, many years.  I tried and tried to be a good Christian by my works so that I could be a proper Christian so I could be good enough so I could make up for not having that gift of the spirit. I now know that I am good enough, we are all good enough we are not saved by our works we are saved by grace;
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. 
We have been saved and we have been given the holy spirit as a blessing and as a gift. We can’t be loved any more by our good deeds by trying to be good enough, we are loved and accepted as we are. 

I remember my conversion, I remember my story and I have heard people attach words to the different stages of my story but I have come to understand that the most important thing to remember in my story is my relationship with Jesus, its my story and its unique  to me and your story is your story and your experience of the holy spirit and your walk with Jesus is yours.
We can all walk the walk and talk the talk, we can all look like we are being spiritual at the breakfast table at 7.30,  but its really all about the good news, about Jesus, and its really only Jesus who knows the truth. 

I don’t want anyone in this church to ever feel like I did, I don’t want anyone to ever feel they are not good enough. I want you to leave today having heard the good news,  because  the good news is that if  we follow Jesus, if we want to have a relationship with him if we want him to come into our lives we don’t need to worry about words we just need to allow the spirit to breathe into our lives, just as the old hymn says;
Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
 and do what thou wouldst do.
I believe that it’s a simple as that, so breathe in the breath of God, let him fill you with the spirit each and every moment of the day so that you can enjoy an abundant and joyous life, accept the gift, accept the blessing and accept the love so that you can love those He loves and serve those he calls us to serve.

As I wrote these word a ping came from my phone and I received this message from a friend who had found me on Face book and who I haven’t seen since I came to faith.  This is what he said; Helen!!  It was so nice to see you scrolling by on Facebook.  I stalked your profile and it was quite amazing to see the journey you've been on.   My in-laws live in Harrogate so I have driven past your church numerous times in the past few months.  In fact filled up with petrol at the Sainsburys across the roundabout last Friday.  Yesterday at a prayer for Bradford event someone I sat next to was discussing LEPs and your church came up as a unique partnership.  Small world.
I remember very well the day you stopped me on the way into school and said "Your friend is now my friend!"  To my shame it took me ages to get what you were on about... Somewhere I have a video of us singing "Spirit in the Sky" at a Year 11 leaving assembly.  It now seems it was prophetic – you calling out "Gotta have a friend in Jesus".......  

I know I gotta have a friend in Jesus, He is my breath, he is my life and I know that when I am breathless, dispirited or when I have been winded by a painful blow God will breathe new life into me.  When I am low he will replenish me so I can keep on giving, keep on serving so I can do what he wouldst have me do.

In John 3 verse 8 it says the wind blows where it wishes, we cant see it but we can see the effects as it blows the trees, lifts things off the floor, twirls them about in the sky - the wind or breath of God will do the same in us, it will lift and carry us with great power.  When we breath in the spirit of God we have his strength for our weakness, his sight for our blindness his supply for our need.
Take a deep breath how does it feel? It’s the feeling of life, the holy spirit is the breath of life it is our gift and our blessing.  Don’t be afraid or mystified by biblical terms, just breathe in God and then breath him out into the lives of those you encounter. This is your gift and your blessing – take it and live it and be blessed by it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

I choose you

The Vine and the Branches  John 15 
“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.