What a Friend

Passage: Gen. 9:8-17; Mark 1:21-28
Date: May 17, 2009
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

I have recently rediscovered some of my friends from high school because of Facebook.  For those of you who are not on Facebook, it’s a social networking tool that allows you to communicate with people in your life using your computer.  You collect a list of friends who are allowed to see the things you write and post, and you can also keep track of them.  But the thing is that you end up getting requests from people you hardly remember, to now be your friend.  So I have connections to people who I did not choose, but who chose me, and now call me friend…again.  One example: I recently received a birthday wish from someone I sort of knew in High School, but hadn’t thought if in literally decades.  

            So when, in the lectionary scripture reading for today, Jesus is reported to have said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…”, I can sort of relate!

            My roommate - once upon a time - was from the college which was rival to the one I attended.  We ended up living together for a year when we were in Seminary.  We became friends.  And we did NOT choose each other.  That was done by the housing office - - of the seminary.   /   Either - - they RANDOMLY put us together - - or some JOKER in the housing office KNEW - that we had attended RIVAL colleges.  Paul would ask me how the St. Olaf fight song went, from time to time.  It is sort of an odd song, and contains the words, ‘Um Ya Ya”.  So his attempt was to embarrass me.  But if you sing it loud enough, you overcome your embarrassment, and become simply annoying.  “Um Ya Ya, Um Ya Ya…”

            The point is - - we didn’t choose each other.

            I’ve heard it said - - you can’t choose your inlaws - or your family.

                        But what about your friends ?

            Of course - - to some extent - it makes a huge difference  - - who your friends are.   

They make us - - to a certain extent - - who we ARE.  Especially in junior high - and high school - Friends can make or break you. And you do choose them…

            So - - the choice is important.

            Choosing to be part of a church community - - is a way of choosing - - who you will be around - - and who will influence you - - and form your identity - - and to whom you will be accountable.     /

            But with all of that said - - the Gospel reading for this morning takes a DIFFERENT track.   /   There is a sense in the Gospel - - that it - is the opposite - - for Christians.    /    As Christians - - and as CHURCH - - - - our friends are chosen FOR us.

            In John’s Gospel we are told that - Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants - - but I - have called you friends. . . and. . . you did NOT choose ME - - but I choose YOU. . . “

            And, “This I command you - - to love one another”

            Which means - - all - - members of this community.

            And even more than that - - everyone.    /

            Everyone who loves God - - is a friend.

            Everyone who loves - - what is good - - is a friend.

            It doesn’t matter who they ARE.     /

            Because - - the ONLY division John describes - - in his Gospel - - is between - - good and evil. 

            And so - - - ANYONE - - - who says they love God - -

                        - - is called - - to love “one another”.

            THESE are your friends - - - says John.     /

            And when I hear that - - there’s no denying - - that it is a CALLING.   /   We are called - to be friends.    /    Friends with people - we might NOT choose.   /   Let’s be honest - - there are some people in this world - - who call themselves “Christian” - - who I would not CHOOSE - - as friends. 

            So - - what about this calling ?

            What about this command ?

            Well - - by definition - - there is an element of RESISTENCE - - involved in a calling.   /   Throughout the Bible - - time after time - - the greatest leaders and disciples - RESISTED - their calling.

            So - - it seems God is not concerned - - that we don’t LIKE it.

            Not as much as - - God seems concerned - - with the CONSEQUENCES for the CHURCH - - if we DON’T follow this command.

            And HEAR the command now - - it is NOT - - a calling to “LIKE” everyone.

            It is a calling - - to act - - as a FRIEND.

            Because there are BIGGER things at work - in this life - - than US - - and what we happen to LIKE.    /    There are more significant things in this life.

            The Gospel says, “Greater love has no one than this - - - than that he lay down his life - for his - - - - friends”.

            On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate another command, or “mandate” from Jesus, to wash one another’s feet.  Jesus said, that as he washed feet, so we are commanded to do as well.  It is a humbling - and intimate – and beautiful thing to do, as we discovered this year on Maundy Thursday.     

            Something bigger - is at work in our lives – than just us.

            There are people - who have laid down their lives.  And that is not something anyone I can think of would LIKE to do.   /   But it is something some people have DONE.  It is done, maybe, in response to this command in scripture today.  It is done because it is just what you do if you are a follower of Jesus.

            There is a story - - told by Will Willimon - - about a meeting between two men - - which brings this point:    “that there is more to life than what we like” - - - it brings this point home for me.   /

            “An old man approached me - - after a long day - - and I SIGHED as I watched.   /   I had a meeting to return to - - later that night - - and I was anxious to get home for just a little bit.   /

            I would meet him at the door - head him off - give him the cash I had  ($10) - - and then send him on his way. 

            “What can I do for you”, I asked him - flatly.     /

            “I wondered if you could help a fella - - on the way south - - I was headed to - - meet someone who - -

            “Yea, yea - - look - I’m in a bit of a hurry - - so here’s all I have”

            I handed him the money.      

            He took the money.   /   He looked at it.   /   Put it in his pocket.   /   Headed down the street - without a word.   /   Then turned - - and said,

            “I guess you think I’m supposed to thank you - and be grateful”

            “Well - - “, I said, “Now that you mention it - - “

            “You know WHY I’m NOT going to thank you ?” he sneered.

            “Because you’re a Christian - - - and you don’t help me because you WANT to.   /   You help me because - - - God  (point up in air) - - - TOLD you to help me”.

            And he left.

            And - I stood there - angry.

            The nerve !

            But - what hit me on the way home was - - - he was RIGHT !

            The challenge in the story - - is - - that in this case it feels to me - - a little joyLESS - - and a little - - like a confrontation.   /   And maybe we NEED to be confronted - - some.

            But - - - JOY - - is a HUGE theme - - in these Scripture readings - this morning.    /    The JOY of living in Christ.   /   The JOY of responding to this calling - - to this command.

            Have you seen that bumper sticker :   “Commit random acts of kindness - - and sensless beauty” ?     /     I don’t think people who display that - all do it out of a somber sense of DUTY.    /    There is a sense of JOY in it - as I hear it.

            It is that sense of JOY - - that former President Jimmy Carter captures - - in a piece he has written - - about his brother Billy - - - a piece titled, “Laughing Jesus” - - - named after a painting - some of you may know - in which Jesus is laughing out loud.

            Carter writes - - “I never knew anyone who had more FRIENDS - - than my brother, Billy.   /   He probably had 10 - for every ONE I have.   /   He had a great sense of humor - - which sometimes got him into trouble.   /   During the summer of 1976 - after I had been nominated as the Democratic candidate for president - - our hometown of Plains - was filled with reporters.   /   Many of them spent a lot of time around Billy’s service station.

            They enjoyed - and wrote down - the idle - - and sometimes ribald statements they heard - - and unfortunately later used them to make Billy look foolish.

            Earlier that year - before our family members were well known - - a reporter asked Billy if he didn’t agree - that he was somewhat peculiar.   /   He replied, “My mother went into the Peace Corps when she was 68 years old - - my youngest sister is a holy-roly preacher - - my OTHER sister is 8 years older than I and spends half of her time on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle - - and my BROTHER thinks he’s going to be President of the United States !”

            “I’m the only one in the family who’s normal !”

            When asked by a reporter, “Miss Lillian, aren’t you proud of your son ?”

            She replied, “Which one ?”

            Love one another - - - is the command.

            Not - -  which one - - we should love - - but - - -

                        - - - love one another.

            And if that seems like a difficult thing - - to you - - - which it DOES to me - - well then - - we are given some help by a theologian from the 5th century - - a man named Augustine.   /   St. Augustine - - from North Africa.

            He wrote along these lines:    We are thinking about love in the WRONG WAY - - if we are thinking about love as if - - it were - - something that you and I did - on our OWN.   /   Something we did - - in order to GET something out of it.   / 

            Because THEN - you wind up worrying about whether you have obtained that you wanted.   /   You measure your success by whether you have ACHIEVED - - what you love.   /   People love money - - and ask - - have I achieved - money ?    /   But money does not love you back.   /

            On the other hand - - love grounded in faith - - is no burden.

            When we love God - - we get God.   / /

                         Hear it again: When we love God - - we get God.

            As to whether WE love - or God loves - - ask God to enlarge your heart, Augustine says.   He goes on: it is not for ME to enlarge your heart - - to love others.   /   No one - - not even the church - - is demanding that we love selflessly.   /   It is a matter of - -

                        - - asking God to do it for you.

            Love others.   /   God help me.

            Not because they are already brothers and sisters.

            But because it will make them so.

            God does it for us.

            So says Augustine - - you are not alone in it - - God will help.  And MORE than that, in so doing we encounter God.  When we love one another as friends, we GET God!  We participate in who God IS.

            I’ll leave you this morning - - with an image from a hundred year old poem by Leigh Hunt:

            A man named Ben - awakened in the night - - to see an ANGEL - - writing in a BOOK.   /   He asked, “What are you writing ?”

            “The names of those who love the Lord”.

            “And is mine one ?”, asked Ben.

            “Nay - - not so”  -  the angel replied.

            And Ben spoke more low.

            “I pray thee - then - - write me as one that loves fellow men”

            The angel wrote - - and vanished.

            The next night - - it came again - - with a great wakening light.

            And showed me the names of those who - - the love of God had blessed.

            And lo - - my name was there - - with all the rest.

                                                                        Amen.