This past Holy Week, a friend needed a favor. He wanted me to go with him to Home Depot and load up materials to build a deck. I was more than willing to help. We just needed to find a time that worked. After all, it was Holy Week. As we were trying to find a good time, it came up that I was going to church on Thursday and Friday. “Why are you doing that?” he asked. “I thought you went to church on Sunday?” My friend, you see, is not yet a Christian and it seemed strange to him that I would go to church more than once a week.
This conversation was a familiar one. We have had it about one thing or another for years. It usually begins with the question “why?” “Why are you doing that?” “Why are you reading the Bible? Haven’t you read it all by now?” “Why are you going to church during the week? Don’t you get enough on Sunday?” “Why are you talking about religion? Don’t you know that people are free to believe what they want to believe?”
For all the times he has asked me that question, and for all the answers I have given, I have never once responded to his question of “Why?” by saying, “Because Jesus is my friend.” Usually, I launch into some explanation about what it means to be a Christian and try to teach him what we believe. Yet, perhaps I have forgotten to talk about something even more important. I have not shared with him that, “Jesus is my friend.”
Why do I not think in those terms? Even writing it out seems strange. I am comfortable and confident talking about Jesus as my Savior, my Redeemer, my Lord, my King, my Shepherd, my Resurrection, and my Life, but “My friend?” It just seems odd.
Yet, in our reading today, Jesus calls us to meditate on that word.
Jesus is with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed. He is conversing with them, preparing them for His death. They will watch as their church turns ugly, their dreams of peace are shattered, and their Passover celebration is marked by death. In the midst of this, however, Jesus tells them what is really happening. He speaks to them of the greatest love, a love that saves.
He speaks to them of the greatest love, a love that saves.
In this conversation, our Lord reminds His disciples that He has called them, chosen them, taught them, appointed them, commanded them, promised things to them, but most importantly, He has loved them. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (13). “Friends.” There, you have it. Jesus calls His disciples friends. Φίλοι. Beloved. Of all the things He said and did, this is the greatest mystery. Jesus will suffer, die, and rise again for them. By this love, they are forgiven. By this love, they are made His friends: Friends of God.
Jesus then helps them meditate on what this means by contrasting the life of a friend with the life of a servant. “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus says, “for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father, I have made known to you” (15). Jesus distinguishes between servants and friends. A servant does not know the mind of his master. He simply follows orders. If his master says, “Go,” he goes. If his master says, “Come,” he comes. If his master says, “Stay,” he stays. The servant is obedient and does what he is told. He does not question. He does not reason. He just does.
A friend, however, is different. A friend knows more than a servant and, therefore, a friend does things differently. Although the outward action may be the same, the friend does it because he is beloved. He knows the heart of the one he is serving and his service flows from such love.
A friend knows more than a servant and, therefore, a friend does things differently.
The ways of Christianity are strange to our world. Living as a Christian can raise questions. How do we respond? So often, we respond to questions about Christianity as if we were servants and not friends. That is, we do things because we are told to do them or we simply say, “That’s just the way it is.” What would our conversations sound like if we were to say we do things because we are friends of Jesus?
Praying before a meal, reading Scripture, attending church, speaking of faith... these are all activities which flow from being a friend of Jesus. Jesus chose to make us friends. He suffered and died and rose for you. We do not know all God is doing. His ways are beyond our understanding. But we do know one thing about Jesus, He died and rose to make us friends. Since Jesus has risen from the dead, His love never ends. He is always at work, extending His grace, so those who do not know Him, those who have questions about Him, those who are enemies of Him might be forgiven and become friends.
As our world slowly changes, as the values and ways of life stray so far from our Christian calling, people will have questions. “Why do you do that?” One answer is that this is what the Church teaches. We are told to do these things and we obey. That is one way to answer, and, in some sense, it is right. But I wonder if it goes far enough.
Another answer, an answer Jesus gives us, is that He is our friend. “Why do you do that?” the world asks, and our answer is, “Because I am a friend of Jesus.” Beginning there, we start at the heart: The heart of our relationship with Jesus and the heart of what Jesus desires for all people.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 15:9-17.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 15:9-17.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 15:9-17.