May 10, 2015 – Family and Friends

Easter 6   May 10, 2015 (Psalm 98, Acts 10:44-48)

1 John 4:19-5:5, John 15:12-17   Family and Friends

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As a teenager I remember once saying to my mother “Friends are more important than family – because we don’t have any choice about family – and we get to choose our friends… ”

I really don’t remember why I said this – other than that I was a teenager, and didn’t know any better. Maybe I didn’t even realize saying this would be hurtful to my mother… I may have even actually imagined I was simply stating the facts, like ‘this is how it is, in the real world, mom. Family’s ok – but friends are what really matters.’

And my mother, God bless her, didn’t act offended. She heard me out patiently… as if to say, ‘Well, dear, that’s an interesting thought…’

And maybe on some level she agreed with me…Thinking… “Well, yes – sometimes friends are more helpful than family – especially when one’s eldest son is being a rather difficult teenager…”

Happy Mother’s Day, and Happy Sixth Sunday in the season of Eastertide. By happy synchronicity, our bible readings today focus on family and friends…

Our reading from First John tells us we are the family of God, as soon as we believe in Jesus. And all God’s family – all who love God – must love their brothers and sisters in Christ also. Love the parent. Love the child. Love our siblings. No matter what.

And if we prefer the ideal of friends to the concept of the family – not to worry, Jesus has that base covered too. Jesus says “I don’t call you servants any longer – servants don’t know what their boss is doing… I’m calling you friends now, because I’ve let you in on all I’ve heard from my Father.”

As a teenager I was perhaps half-right. Being friends with Jesus ranks right up there with being his family. Of course I was also at least half-wrong – in that Jesus makes his friends part of his family. And his family nearly always seems to end up as his friends also. And unlike my teenage concept of free choice in friends, Jesus says we don’t choose him – he’s the one who chooses us.

And Jesus says “No one has greater love than this – to lay down their life for their friends… You’re my friends if you keep my commandments…”

Even when I was a clueless teenager who didn’t know Jesus yet, I would probably have agreed – there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… Not that I was at all eager to do this myself.

And then there’s the part about – “you’re my friends if you do what I command you.” Which perhaps raises questions, like, if we’re friends, really good friends, shouldn’t that mean friends forever, through all kinds of weather, even if the sky should fall?

But then again we remember Jesus also said – “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” And the way he has loved us surely does look to be… in all seasons and all kinds of weather… Through it all… And now that I have become a believer and a want-to-be-friend of Jesus, now I’m trying to let Jesus enlarge my heart and re-focus my mind… to keep me learning to better understand what it takes, what it means to be his family… And his friend…

Still, no matter how we slice and dice the word, we keep coming back to the reality that Jesus does set the bar high for his friends and family alike.

And well, probably that’s entirely necessary. We come from many different kinds of families, and we have many different kinds of friends… We have many kinds of different life experiences…But always life imitates the bible, and the bible’s most family-intensive book is Genesis… and the stories therein seldom remind us of Ozzie and Harriet… Many of the bible’s family stories remind me more often of the Johnny Cash ballads collection titled – God, Love (and) Murder.

And the bible’s references to ‘friends’ distressingly often refer to false and fair-weather kinds of friends. And Jesus raises the bar for good reason.

Of course we also find examples of blessed families and friends in Scripture. Abraham and Moses are named as friends of God who speak with God friend-to- friend. In the Song of Songs we glimpse an excellent marriage… In psalms and proverbs we find illustrations of healthy families and good friends. In gospel stories like the prodigal son we see family life both as it is, and as it’s supposed to be… And finally in Joseph and Mary and most of all Jesus… we see family… as God intends…

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Speaking of Jesus and mothers – I’ve noticed… How in some branches of the church Jesus’ mother is right up there with her son.

I’m remembering an ancient story in which the artist Michelangelo is painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel… It’s been a long day, and the artist takes a break – and he looks down… and sees a woman kneeling in prayer far below. Thinking he’ll have just a little fun with her, he leans over his scaffolding and says in a loud voice, “Hello! This is Jesus. What can I do for you, my daughter?” The woman doesn’t even look up. She just keeps praying… Michelangelo says again, a little louder, “Helloooo! This is Jesus – What can I do for you?” Still no reply… Still the woman prays in silence… This time the artist shouts, “Hey! Can’t you hear me? This is Jesus!” Now the woman says, “Will you please be quiet! I’m talking with your mother!”

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Sometimes we need a mother’s love more than anything… The mother of Jesus is obviously one of the very most important members of the gospel family. Though she has relatively few spoken lines, what she says is always of great importance. In Luke’s gospel she talks with the angel Gabriel face-to-face, and sings her magnificent Magnificat psalm of prayer and praise and promise. In John’s gospel, in the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs, his mother tells Jesus “they have no wine” when the fruit of the vine runs out at a wedding. Jesus says, “what’s that got to do with me?” But then he does exactly what she seems to be asking – as he turns rather large quantity of water into wine… (Happy Mother’s Day, Mom… Love, Jesus…)

And from the cross, as he sees his mother standing beside the one John’s gospel calls “the disciple Jesus loved”, Jesus says to his mother, “here is your son”, and to the disciple says “here is your mother.” From that hour, the disciple takes Jesus’ mother into his home to be a son for her…and for her to be a mother for him…

In this way Jesus re-creates the meaning of both family and friendship – inclusively and expansively. From now on Jesus says, if we’re his followers we’re also his family and his friends.

And from now on, all barriers between believers of all tribes and nations have been overcome in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as we hear in our reading from Acts. Now all Christians everywhere are all family, all friends of Jesus together, all the time in Christ. (Though looking around the planetary and local neighborhoods – we’re not all the way there yet… in terms of implementation….)

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So how do we get there from here?

How do we become together truly the family of God and the friends of Jesus?

How do we help each other as we go forth this week… and every week… to walk the walk and talk the talk… Jesus and his word are teaching us?

We know the commandment is love. We know love in practice is usually a lot more difficult than love in the movies…

We know God has given us love commandments before… Way back in Deuteronomy and Leviticus we hear God say to Moses on Mt Zion, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength….” And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now Jesus says “I give you a new commandment – that you love one another as I have loved you…(John 13)…

And in all John’s gospel and letters there’s really only one commandment from Jesus – and the commandment is always love. The commandment is one, though it’s said many ways. And the commandment is new – because Jesus says “love one another as I have loved you…” Jesus keeps saying it to us, again and again and again, in every season and situation of life…

Which reminds me again of my mother… Patiently telling us also, again and again, in countless conversations over all the years… After each unfortunate episode of childhood… Each crisis of the teenage years… Every disappointment in myself as an adult… No matter how awful it was or is…(and no matter what else she might also say or do…) The bottom line has always been love… And love as I have loved you…

Sisters and brothers in Christ, love is still the only way forward there is… There never has been and never will be any other way to the blessed assurance of peace and happiness and joy and grace… other than love…

There’s no short cut for me… There’s no shortcut for the church… No shortcut for the world… No matter how big a mess we’re in… No matter how God-awful things get sometimes…

Still the only way forward… and the one commandment for us from Jesus… Is love one another…

As I have loved you….

Lay down our lives for Jesus and one another… Take them up again for Jesus and each other… Repeat as often as necessary….. Most of all remembering, how Jesus says, “love another… just as I have loved you…”

Remembering also that he tells us…

We’ll be his friends and family all the way…

Good news for all the world to hear.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

1John 4:19-5:5

We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

John 15:12-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”