Sixth Sunday of Easter
John 15: 9-17
'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘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.'
The central words of this passage are those in which Jesus says that his disciples have not chosen him, but he has chosen them. It was not we who chose God, but God who, in his grace, approached us with a call and an offer made out of his love for us.
Out of this passage we can compile a list of things for which we are chosen and to which we are called.
First of all we are chosen for joy. However hard the Christian way of life sometimes feels, it is nevertheless both in the travelling and in the goal, the way of joy. There is always a joy, a feeling of well-being, in doing the right thing. The Christian should be the man/woman of joy; for a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection with black clothes and long faces, rules and regulations that make people feel restricted and sad. It is true that the Christian is a sinner, but we are redeemed sinners; and that is where our joy comes from. (Or should) How can anyone fail to be full of joy when they walk the path of life with Jesus?
Then we are chosen for love. We are sent out into the world to love one another. Sometimes we live as if we were sent into the world to compete with one another, or to dispute with one another, or even to quarrel with one another. But as Christians we are called to live in such a way that we show what it means by loving others. We are not called to like one anther; for if we are honest, there are some folks that we meet that we just cannot seem to get on with. Yet we are called, by God in Jesus, to love them. A wise friend of mine told me long ago, that it is not possible to keep praying for someone you find difficult for any length of time without beginning to love them. As we hold people in the love of God it rubs off on us.
It is here that Jesus makes another of his great claims. If we were to ask him: “What right have you to demand that we love one another? That is just too hard, Jesus.” His answer is always the same. “No man can show greater love than to lay down his life for his friends—and I did that." Jesus gave men a commandment, which he had himself first fulfilled. We are chosen for love. There’s that wonderful and disturbing phrase that Jesus said in verse 13, “No one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
I read this story of the soldier in the First world war, who asked his officer if he could go out into the “No Man’s Land” between the trenches to bring in one of his friends who lay seriously wounded.
“You can go,” said the officer, “but it’s not worth it. Your friend has probably died, and you will throw your own life away.” But the man went. Somehow, he managed to get to his friend, lift him on to his shoulder, and bring him back to his own trench. The two of them tumbled together and lay in the bottom of the trench.
The officer looked very sympathetically on the would-be rescuer, and then he said, “I told you it wouldn’t be worth it. Your friend is dead, and you are mortally wounded.” ” It was worth it, though, sir,” he said. “How do you mean, ‘worth it?’ I tell you your friend is dead.” “Yes, sir,” the soldier answered, “but it was worth it, because when I got to him, he was still alive, and he said to me, ‘Jim, I knew you’d come.’”
There have of course been numerous examples of men and women down through the ages that have given their lives for others. Those who stepped in the line going to the gas chambers in order to save another, and countless other examples that emerge from centuries of persecution, up to the present day in Communist and Islamic states. We will never know until Jesus returns how many Christians have given up their lives for others. But Jesus was different, he is God's Son, he was innocent of any sin; of any crime; He laid down his life not for a principle, not for a cause, not because he was that kind of man, but because he loved each and every one of us. His was a sacrifice made once and there would never need to be another.
We are chosen to be a friend of Jesus. Let that sink in - Jesus calls us to be his friends. He tells the disciples that he does not call them servants any more; he calls them friends. The impact of that statement on the disciples would have been immense. The Greek word Doulos, means the slave or servant. The servant of God was not a title of shame; it was a title of the highest honour. Moses was the doulos of God so was Joshua and David. It is a title which Paul counted it an honour to use. Titus and James, both started their letters with the announcement:
‘I Titus, I James the doulos/servant of God. These great men in the past had been proud to be called the douloi, the servants of God. Then Jesus almost tops this honour by saying ‘I do not call you servants any longer you are my friends.’ Jesus offers an intimacy with God, not only to his closest disciples but to us. Jesus is offering us friendship. For so many the Pandemic and life in general is lonely, but we never need to be lonely, Jesus is a constant friend. I am sure we have all sung the hymn ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ countless times but it will remain just sentiment unless we embrace the truth of the words that we sing.
The idea of being the friend of God has also a background in the Old Testament. If you recall, Abraham was the friend of God. This phrase is set alight when we understand the customs of the time. At courts there was a very select group of men called the friends of the king, or the friends of the Emperor. At all times they had access to the king: they had even the right to come to his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him.
Jesus called us to be his friends and the friends of God. That is a tremendous offer. It means that no longer do we need to gaze longingly at God from afar off; we are not like servants who have no right whatever to enter into the presence of the master; we are not like a crowd whose only glimpse of the king is in the passing of the carriage at some state occasion. Jesus gave us this entry to intimacy with God, so that he is no longer a distant stranger to us.
Finally Jesus chose us to be ambassadors. "I have chosen you ‘to send you out.’ He did not choose us to live a life retired from the world, but to represent him in the world. Jesus chose us, first to come to him, and then to go out to the world. And that must be the daily pattern and rhythm of our lives. In to His presence – out to the world , in out – in out sounds like a party song..
There is so much more to being a friend of Jesus, he chose us to be advertisements for love, to bear fruit to be privileged members of the household of God - I could go on but time has beaten us.
If you remember nothing of this address this morning say to yourself I am chosen, I am chosen, God has chosen me, and let that sink in to your very soul and then you will know what joy is all about. Amen