Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 9, 2021)

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends”

Glad to be here this morning with you all and very thankful to my friend Deacon Jeannie Randall for supplying here last week.

Jeannie and I have known one another over 30 years. We got to know one another through church, going to same parish and there we raised our kids, did bible study classes, we helped one another through trying times in our lives, encouraged one another to fulfill our calling, we played, ate, went on mission trips, laughed and cried—sometimes simultaneously. There are lots of stories, some I’m willing to tell and some I’m not. 

So I knew Jeannie would stand in for me, and give generously of herself.

With wonders of tech, Rob and I listened in, driving back from NC, and heard Jeannie preach a wonderful sermon playing with the metaphor Jesus uses to describe himself and God, the vine and the vine grower—
her sermon gave me lots to think about this past week, her Kudzu Theology….

How Kudzu overtakes a forest, adapting to the shape of the bushes, stumps, trees, power poles, and even encasing whole houses—the kingdom of Heaven cannot be harnessed.

How Kudzu, thickly covers everything taking sunlight from other plants and how it is hard/impossible to get rid of—the kingdom of God is powerful, all consuming once planted and taken root

And inevitably, how God prunes his vines to make it bear more fruit.

This week, the gospel lesson picks up right where we left off. Last week we read,“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” This week we continue with the very next verse….one of my favorite verses in all of John’s gospel: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

As Jesus explains what he means by this…he says something astonishing. Jesus calls his followers, friends.
“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…”

Jesus continues the agrarian metaphor—but then add, I chose you, friend, I appoint you to bear fruit, fruit that will last. You are a friend of God.

Honestly, “friend” seems too trifling a word to use in describing a relationship with God; or a bit pretentious, exceedingly informal—this is the word we use on the elementary playground when someone is nice to us. Yet, this is the word Jesus chooses to call his followers: Friend.

There are very few other places in scripture where a person is named as God’s friend. The most famous, of course, is Abraham. As God is assuring Israel that they will receive help against their enemies he tells them, “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.”

The people hearing Isaiah speak God’s word must have been awful glad that their ancestor was Abraham—as Isaiah goes on to tell of the fate of those who wage war against Israel—”they  shall be disgraced, and counted as nothing at all!”

Moses has sort of a claim as friend of God. The narrator in Exodus sums up the stories of Moses’ many trips up Mount Sinai to receive the law by saying, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
But that Abraham was actually a friend of God, the disciples would know this by heart. For them, Abraham’s friendship with God was unquestionable: Abraham had courage to leave his home at God’s call, with all his possessions, to settle in Canaan, at God’s request.

Abraham had the strength to argue with God, to save the people of a city from God’s wrath.

Abraham had foresight, as he begged the honor to host three strangers at the entrance to his own tent, and found he was hosting God, the Trinity.

And without question, Abraham had faith as he took his own son Isaac up the mountain ready to make a sacrifice.

Hearing Jesus use the word friend, certainly astonished the disciples. They were to be counted in the company of Abraham? Friend of God?

Sure, they had left their homes to follow Jesus, but they also knew of their own doubts and fears. They knew of Abraham’s wisdom in debating God, while their own arguments sounded to them more like petty bickering among themselves. They knew, unlike Abraham, their own foresight was frequently off target—
like the time they shooed the children away, when Jesus sought to gather them. They made brash decisions and often misunderstood Jesus. 

In being called friend, the disciples could not help thinking about their own failings; yet, Jesus assured them…
You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Like the disciples, you and I may wonder about being friends of God; on one hand, it sounds as if it carries too much responsibility. We are pretty judicious after all with our friendships —we know to choose our friends wisely: some folks are just too needy or clingy, others overwhelm us with gifts or worse, the gift of gab.
As friend of God, there is obligation: we are called to love more generously, to bring others into our lives as friends, more openly. It may not be easy, but in this we will find love.

I’m rereading The Book of Joy, where Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are together in delightful conversation and Bishop Tutu says this is one of the greatest challenges that humanity faces– removing the barrier between who we see as “us” and who we see as “other.” Who are we to befriend in this life? If we are a friend of God, we shall find the uncomfortable and unChristian line between us and them erased. 

If in one way, this calling to be friend of God sounds as if it carries too much responsibility, in another way, it may sound as if we are trivializing our relationship with God. This could not be farther from the truth.

Our relationships with friends, mirror our relationship with God.

In building friendships,

we learn selflessness— instead of just our own joys, we find joy in celebrating another person’s accomplishments;

we learn graciousness— to accept apologies, thanks, help, and overbaked cookies;

in friendship, we discover that comforting someone in their sadness or disappointment doesn’t just make us feel better about ourselves, it actually lessens another’s suffering.

Friends teach us the ever-important lesson of how not to take offense, by calling us out when we say something stupid;

Friends show us, that the language of love comes in many forms.

When Jesus calls his followers into friendship, he uses the word ABIDE. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” This loving, life assuring language evokes in us the feeling of an embrace; a mutual caring/holding that we can truly sense.

To abide is to be present with another. Literally, in the original Greek, to abide is to set up a tent to make a home with others. Abide in me, Jesus says, together as friends; it is a perfect word to describe God’s desire
for our love, our loyalty and our trust.

Friendship is the fundamental relationship of our lives. As friends, we share our secrets and trust our truest dreams will be held gently.

Followers, Jesus says, you are friends, like Abraham. As friend of God, we will push one another to be stronger, more courageous to speak out. As friends, we will have foresight well beyond our desires, our own small world, in fact, you will have vision for making this world a better place.

As friends, he says, I will pitch my tent in your hearts, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Thanks be to God.