The Gospel reading is from John 15:9-17. At the Last Supper Jesus is talking with the Disciples, saying:
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
10When you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends when you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
The thing about friendship, when viewed through the eyes of Jesus [in this Gospel reading at least], suggests a connection with others that transforms the nature of those qualities we share in common. What I mean by this is that friendship with Jesus moves us beyond the things that first attract us about each other and encourages us to continually deepen and broaden those relationships through the values shared within them.
Over the last 30 years or so of watching children grow up, I’ve been fascinated by the BFF phenomenon. You remember BFF (Best Friend Forever) … I’m not sure it’s quite as popular today, but certainly in the 80’s and 90’s there seemed to be a fascination especially with young teens to find that one other person with whom an exclusive friendship was formed. And even though it promised intimacy and permanence (Best Friend Forever), those BFF relationships often came crashing down to earth after some petty infraction by one of the BFF’s shattered the relationship, leaving parents and siblings to pick up the pieces. I remember one year at a summer church camp back in Alberta when the craze was to claim Jesus as our BFF. And what I recall is that my cynical side was thinking, I wonder how long that friendship will last? And who will upset whom first?
John’s memory of Jesus’ invitation to friendship is a unique and powerful image in the gospels. It proposes that whatever claims Jesus might have on those who follow him, as our teacher and Lord, as our saviour and master, as our messiah and (even as our incarnate) God, Jesus transforms what might be considered a hierarchical relationship into one where we all live and love side by side. No more secrets, no pre-ordered conditions, no imposed obligations of servitude to a master any longer … and in its place a friendship in which the only command (if you could even call it that) is to love others as God loves us.
I have a BFF back in Alberta; not my only BFF (I’m not exclusive in that way), but with Murray I could sit for hours and imagine ways of framing Jesus’ message for the next generations. We used to tease each other that in a generation averse to being told what to do, the 10 Commandments should probably be called the 10 Pretty Good Ideas. And that the Great Commandment Jesus referred to in gospels, “to love God and your neighbour as yourself,” might really be better named the Great Invitation; because, after all, it really has no bearing on our lives until we actually say yes … God makes no demand, but instead invites us to say yes. We’d laugh and wonder what our professors back in seminary would think about that. But over the decades, I find myself claiming Jesus’ Great Invitation more and more. “This is my invitation,” Jesus whispers, “that you love one another as I love you.”
I’m grateful for Jesus’ wisdom shared in these gospel readings. I appreciate his offer to abide, to live, to thrive in love … and that somehow God’s love, that he experienced deeply, is exactly the way he tries to love us … and that this holy love is how we can love each other. I’m inspired that for Jesus, this is the way genuine joy will be experienced in life, when love is live in good time and even in difficult times; a joy that’s grounded in the simple expression of a sacred love shared from the heart with no strings attached. “This is my invitation to you,” Jesus whispers, “try loving each other the way you experience God’s love.”
And then he offers an example. “Laying down one’s life for a friend is the greatest expression of love that there is.” Now, as followers of Jesus who know the Easter story, we hear this and immediately remember how and why Jesus himself died. And the only problem with that is if we assume that’s the only reason Jesus said it. What if his illustration has broader and deeper application, suggesting that loving sacrificially is not only what’s at the heart of God’s love for us, but also it becomes the foundation of Christ’s understanding of loving friendship with others. A love that is able to stretch us beyond our comfortable, easy ways of sharing is a love that can transform servants (or strangers) into friends. And the fruit of that love, the tangible expressions of loving without hesitation and with no strings attached, the fruit of that kind of love not only tastes delicious when we partake, but also bears the seed for each succeeding generation.
It’s been over a month since Easter, but Project Easter Butterfly lives on. Our little experiment of inviting friends to accept a $20 bill and to use it to spread God’s goodness in any way they choose as an expression of how Easter love is shared, continues to bear fruit. There are over 40 stories of what families and friends have accomplished in God’s love. One of the first stories that appeared on Facebook was from Karina, who left worship that morning and went straight to the Market to buy lunch for a stranger named Remi … no longer a stranger but a friend. And from Hailey and her mom who doubled their $20 and invited other church families to go with them to the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard to help our kids appreciate the loving and respectful way volunteers care for people who need to come there for food. And 19 year old Noah who, with his family, donated their Easter butterfly money to help with funeral expenses of the family whose 20 year old son was murdered in Orleans. We’ve had notes from Sudbury and Scarborough when Easter morning visitors here returned home to spread God’s goodness in their communities. And stories from families who helped protect the winter habitat of the monarch butterfly in Mexico, or who bought “shoes that grow” for young children around the world, or who supported projects helping earthquake victims in Nepal. And in every one of these Easter butterfly gestures people responded to this invitation of Jesus: Receive the love of God graciously and search for ways to spread God’s goodness as far as you can. Stretch beyond what may be comfortable. And live as friends in the way Jesus sees it … friends with God and friends with others in the Spirit.
Orleans United Church