May 6, 2018, Easter 6
Toy Story is one of those quintessential Disney stories that brings to light what it means to be a friend. Spanning three movies, soon to be a fourth, it shows the friendship between Andy and his toys, as well as the friendship that is built among the toys. I recall taking a group of high school youth to see Toy Story 3 when I was a counselor. The discussion leaving the theater was around the heartstrings that the movie tugged and whether or not we cried watching the movie.
Why do these movies tug at our hearts in so many powerful ways? Perhaps it is something that we long for ourselves. A longing that has not been filled because, as the U2 lyrics say, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” I can count my really close friends on just one hand. I will admit that I am not always the best to stay in touch with people. The friends I have had in the past have went in different directions and thus I failed to stay connected. The degree of my introverted personality has also limited the number of friends I choose to have. However, there is always a longing. That is one of the reasons I am called to the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. With my brothers and sisters in the order, we have many things in common and there is a great friendship and love that is welled up for one another.
Jesus calls his disciples into a friendship that is truly one of the greatest loves of all. It is in this friendship that we are embraced today and are invited to abide in Christ.
We know very little about the disciples before they came to follow Jesus. We know that many of them were fishermen, there was a tax collector among them, and a Zealot. What did their personal lives look like before Jesus told them to drop everything they were doing and follow him? Did they have many friends, or were they solitary and stayed close to their family?
Two types of friendships can be seen in the first century. Those friends that you made for political reasonings, and those friends that you make with family and neighbors. The Empire could care less about the second one. The only other time John chooses to use the word “friend” in his gospel is when Jesus is on trial. The Jews are trying to convince Pilate to put Jesus to death, and they tell him, “If you release Jesus, you are no friend of the Emperor.” They are persuading to Pilate’s own personal desires to be a leader and to remain friends, in the political sense, with the Emperor.
We know that the disciples struggled for the three years that they followed Jesus. They struggled with his teachings as they attempted to discern what they meant for their lives. They struggled with the crowds that seemed to close in on them wherever they found themselves. They struggled as Jesus told them of his impending death.
When they first started following him and listening to his teachings, they viewed themselves as servants. From the day that they were called, Jesus commanded them. He commanded them to drop their nets and follow him. He commanded them to go out and proclaim the message he was sharing. He commanded them to heal others. It appears that Jesus was setting out a clear hierarchy. A hierarchy that mirrored the organization of the empire. Jesus was not about that. Jesus was about turning everything upside down and disturbing the status quo.
We are very familiar with the hierarchy model in our modern world. It is throughout the government and corporations alike. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The hierarchy that we see in the government is one that is supposed to bring law and order to our society. Fortunately, in a democratic nation, we can elect our leaders. We have a say as to who fits into the hierarchy. As we know, corporations are not like this, and as long as it is within the rule of law, they can do about anything that they wish.
However, leaders of the government and corporations can take their authority to extremes where the best choices are not made at times and there is a disregard for the people that decisions may affect. This is witnessed throughout the centuries.
In our modern world, the servant mentality seems to be what is expected. If we are not the ones in authority, then we should follow the commands of those that are. The Roman Empire in the time of Jesus was very similar in this regard. The leaders in the Roman Empire did not want to make friends with those that they were ruling over. Instead, they would rather command the people to do as they were told.
This is why the gospel message of Jesus Christ is so radical! Jesus enters this world and turns everything upside down. And how does he begin? He begins by calling the disciples that will follow him for the next three years so that they can carry the good news forward after his death.
Over the next three years, they would walk with Jesus and listen to his words and witness the many signs he would perform. It is in this relationship that they would be built up to continue on in the gospel that Jesus was laying out before them. A gospel that is full of love and grace. A gospel that is counter to the Roman Empire at the time. A gospel that brings the kingdom of God to the forefront. As they grow into their relationship with one another, their faith grows deeper and deeper and they realize that God has empowered them to continue in Jesus words and actions.
The disciples are not the ones that chose Jesus. Jesus chose them. From the very beginning! It is in this last discourse of Jesus, before he is arrested that they truly begin to understand the power of his words. In Jesus choosing them, they are empowered themselves. Jesus has blessed them and will continue to do so. Jesus can now truly call them friends because they have come to know fully what is to take place.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, highlights friendship as one of the four loves. In regard to friendship, he says,
“Christ, who said to the disciples ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ This Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”
The love that Jesus shares with his disciples, is a love that is poured out for all of humanity. A love that know no barriers. A love that binds us to Christ. A love that chooses us first and always. It is the deep love for one another in friendship that pulls us together as a community. This is the love that Jesus abides in us and that we are called to abide in one another.
This is all Jesus’ choosing. Just when we think that we have everything figured out, Jesus tells us otherwise. Jesus chooses us to follow him and be his friend. This is not just a feel-good type of friendship. This is a friendship that calls us to live into relation with one another and to fill the needs of our neighbors because of the love and grace that Jesus freely shares with us.
There is a line in Randy Newman’s song, You’ve Got a Friend in Me, that says, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.” We experience this in Jesus’ death on the cross. Through his death, we are shown God’s love for all of humanity. The cross is a sign of God’s never-ending love. In this, we are welcomed into the friendship of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray. All loving God, we give thanks for the love that is shown to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. May we begin to emulate this love in even just the smallest way as we reach out to our neighbors and love them as you loved us. Amen.