6 Easter Yr B

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends.

As it becomes clear in John’s gospel that Jesus is bringing something entirely new to Jews and Gentiles, there also is a parallel movement in the gospel from servant to friend. In the foot washing story which precedes this story, Jesus says to those gathered that he has set an example, and that his followers should do as he has done. Servants are not greater than their master. We read that story on Holy Thursday each year as an example of servanthood. The story that is before us today, and that follows narratively in this text, is this story that shows us transforming love. Servanthood becomes friendship. What’s the difference? The master and slave or servant relationship was one-way. Master to servant. The main feature of Jesus’ new commandment, love one another as I have loved you, is friendship. The disciples are to be attached to Jesus and to one another as friends, no longer servants. Jesus loves his disciples as friends, and expects the same of them toward each other. Jesus describes this new friendship; no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And then, you are my friends if you do what I command you. The “if” in this case is not strings attached to Jesus, the “if” points us out toward each other. The “if” is the command is to love one another as we have first been loved.

So what is this friendship that Jesus commends to us? Maybe we can get a picture from outside of Christianity. The Buddha defined a friend as one who "guards you when you are off your guard and does not forsake you in trouble; (one who) restrains you from doing wrong; and enjoins you to do right..." Aristotle laid out the need for friends when he wrote: "We need friends when we are young to keep us from error; when we get old to carry out those plans which we have not the strength to execute ourselves; and in the prime of life to help us in doing noble deeds." And Jesus told his followers: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this, (than) to lay down ones life for ones friends."

I think our understanding of friendship pales in comparison to what Jesus does for us, and commands us to do for one another. This begs the question, who is my friend? Jesus pushes our understanding of who our friends should be. The story shows us that included in this category is the Samaritan who cares for the man left by the side of the road to die, even though they were sworn enemies. Tax collectors, outcasts, sinners, children, single women, anyone on the margins are all included in the list of who Jesus called friend.

Another way of considering the question is not about who is eligible to be my friend, but how am I a friend? The example Jesus set of being a friend, of laying down his life for his friends may seem epic, unachievable by our lowly human accomplishments. And yet being a friend is what we are called to. I’m not so sure that I can name those things that make someone a friend, but I know a friend when I encounter one. A person who considers the feelings of the other, a person who sometimes puts his owns needs and wants aside, a person who is loyal, a person who tells the truth in love, a person who stands beside the other when the other has been wronged, or overlooked.

Bob Evans, the pastor at 1st Pres downtown, is in the pastors group that meets on Wednesday mornings. Bob is a retired Navy man and chaplain. Bob was able to tell us about those he knew who literally laid down their life for their friends by taking a grenade. That is not the chance you and I have in our daily lives. But we do have the chance to be the friend that Jesus calls us to be.

This kind of friendship is what our community’s of faith should look like. Jesus says you are friends, and I will put my life in your place so that you can live with the freedom of friendship, no longer a servant to anyone, you are friends. And we must always remember Jesus’ mission was to Jews and Gentiles alike. There are no insiders and outsiders; there is no one Jesus did not lay down his life for. Jesus says, You did not choose me but I chose you. There is no way we can claim exclusivity, there is no way we can claim that our way is the right way. Jesus laid down his live for his friends; we are all counted as his friends. Just like Peter, who denied him, Judas who betrayed him, Thomas who needed proof, we are counted as friends.

The vine and the branches metaphor that we heard last week, shows us what this early community believed about God in the flesh, Jesus. God dwells in the community, God is incarnated, in the flesh, God’s new home is with creation. God inaugurated new creation in the resurrection, and God continues to make us and all creation new.

Last week we learned that the word abide can be translated “to make our home.” God has made God’s home with us in Jesus, and we are to make our home in Jesus together as friends. This kind of love, this kind of friendship is powerful. It is a transforming love. Jesus’ love for us is transforming, our love for one another is to be transforming as well. Transforming love is not some kind of feel good love, just as this kind of friendship is not just about feeling good. Transforming love is the kind of love that Jesus has for us, it is the kind of love that changes people, changes communities.

The result of this amazing and abundant love is transformed lives. And the fruit of a transformed life is mercy and justice, generosity and forbearance, forgiveness and reconciliation. The fruit of a transformed life is life before death. Greg Laurie is in town this weekend preaching about life after death. Now I don’t dispute life after death, I just don’t think it’s the most important reason to accept Jesus Christ as Lord. I think the most important reason to accept Jesus Christ as Lord is living life fully alive, and making our home in God. It is being the kind of friend Jesus trusts us to be. It is laying down our live for our friends. Jesus lived, and loved, suffered, died and was raised to new life to show us the way. God begins something entirely new in Jesus. Jesus calls us friends, Jesus chooses us. We are to live today as if all that matters. We are to live fully alive, fully engaged, we are to be merciful, and generous, charitable, and forgiving, we are to live life before death.

Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

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