This is my commandment…That you love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you
Friendship is a wonderful thing, but it’s not always easy to define.
If you join the internet social network site Facebook, you can collect friends at the click of a mouse…People whom you knew at school, people you’ve worked with, people you met at a conference, on holiday, on the bus…. people whom you barely know at all.
Once you choose to connect with them, Facebook describes them all as “friends”.
In that strange world, my admittedly sociable daughter currently has over 600 friends, while her poor deprived mother has a mere 181…
It’s kind of sobering, isn’t it?
But there are so many different kinds of friendship – I wonder what it really means for us.
When I was a small child I had a slightly twee book called
“A friend is someone who likes you”…but Jesus would put this rather more strongly.
For him it’s all about love…
We are his friends if we obey his commandment to love.
No, not really
Jesus speaks heartfelt words to his disciples, encouraging them to band together as a strong community grounded in God's way of love,- and put like that, it does sound easy.
That’s what the church is all about.
We are a community of Christ’s followers, bound together by that fundamental law of love.
That should be our chief characteristic – the thing that marks each one of us out, and on a good day, I think that really is true for us.
On a good day, but maybe not all the time.
It’s quite easy to come together on a Sunday, find ourselves uplifted by worship, treasure our encounter with Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and feel warm and loving to all whom we encounter.
But if we’re asked to do something that challenges us, to move outside our comfort zone, to give up something we value to benefit another, - it’s disconcerting how quickly those feelings evaporate.
If love is a matter of feelings, as we tend to assume, then love seems to disappear the moment our emotions change.
But we know better than that, I’m sure.
We recognise that love is a decision, a mode of behaviour that has everything to do with deliberate choice and little to do with warm fuzzy feelings.
Our friends may sometimes irritate us, our children occasionally disappoint us, but we carry on loving them – and we try to carry on acting in ways that promote their best interests.
That, surely, is what love is all about.
Love is a doing word.
And so Jesus does not just tell us about love, - he shows us.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…
That sounds fabulous, because we’re almost certain it will never be demanded of us.
We can celebrate it with misty eyes, as we remember those who died in war…but we’re none of us too good at making it real when what we have to lay down is our own agenda, when we are asked to sacrifice something that matters to us…
Love is a doing word – and the doing won’t always be pleasant and easy.
But if we are serious about our relationship with God, we need to be open to this kind of loving.
Our gospel tells us that the initiative lies with Christ
“You did not choose me, but I chose you…”
That intiative demands a response.
Take a moment or two to consider.
What does it mean to you that Jesus calls you friend?
The theologian Henri Nouwen wrote a wonderful reflection on friendship which challenges us all with its deep understanding of a truth that is light years away from the easy-come, easy-go “friending” of Facebook.
Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly.
That’s the sort of friendship that Jesus offers to us…but friendship is a two way street.
Jesus calls you friend
What does your love for Him look like?
Take a moment to consider that.
Can it be detected in the life of our church?
Love in Christ binds and builds, heals and hallows, redeems and restores.
Love in Christ bears fruit that will last, fruit for the whole of creation.
As God’s power courses mystically through human actions, the world is changed.
It can be changed in the smallest of ways – by one friend keeping another company as she waits for important news.
By a man setting aside his plans for an afternoon in the garden, in order to drive his neighbour to hospital to visit her sister.
By friends connected across thousands of miles by the internet, praying for one another, remembering anniversaries, weeping with those who weep, rejocing with those who rejoice…
That is what Christian Aid week is all about…About ordinary people motivated by their love for God to follow in God’s way of love themselves.
God’s love visible in the thousands of people who have knocked on doors, bravely or reluctantly…
God’s love visible in all the quizzes and cake sales
God’s love visible as communities far far away realise that they have friends whom they will never meet, people who care, people who work as well as pray on their behalf.
God’s love visible in our actions…
Fruit that will last.
In our gospel today we receive both a direct command to love and a traveller’s guide to the nature of love itself. John makes up only 10 percent of the New Testament, yet it provides a full third of the references to love. “Love” appears in John more often as a verb than a noun….Feelings won’t suffice.
Love IS a doing word..
God choses to enter history and God chooses to love us.
God calls us friends.
In response, the initiative is ours.
We can make the choice to love, no matter what it costs us…knowing that as we seek to follow God’s way, God will bless our endeavours, for God has appointed us to go and bear fruit.
Fruit that will last.