Sermon for Easter 6 2018

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends.” Jesus says this to the apostles on the night before he was given over to suffering and death. He had washed their feet and shared supper with them, and finally, in the midst of his last discourse with them, he surprises them yet again with this wonderful affirmation of their relationship. But what did it mean for the disciples, and what does it mean to us?

In all honesty, this used to make me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve got plenty of friends. I don’t need another friend, I thought. I need a master, a Lord.

The problem here, though, was not that Jesus was turning a profound relationship into something frivolous. It was, rather, that I was minimizing the profundity of friendship. Friendship isn’t a bagatelle. Christian friendship is a very weighty thing. It goes beyond “being buddies”. It is, at its heart, a serious commitment like all Christian relationships. Let’s look at a couple of those relationships as a means of understanding how Christian friendship is similar in intent and effect.

In prebaptismal and premarital counseling I always try to make it a point to say that the relationships which are realized in these sacraments are essentially reflections. They are reflections of God’s perfect love for all humanity and of the perfect love held within the Godhead through the mystery of the Holy Trinity. So, a marriage and its concurrent obligations as made explicit in the nuptial vows is a reflection of God’s love for us and of the love which defines God’s internal relationship (if you remember my Trinity Sunday sermon from a couple of years ago, this is the perichoresis- the way we understand the Trinity not as a division of labor but as a relationship of mutual love held between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Thus marriage is, ideally, a mirror off of which God’s love is broadcast to the world, or perhaps a window, into which we can peer and see God’s love.

Likewise, Baptism is not only about the objective regeneration and adoption of the child, whereby he is forgiven and made a child of God. It is also (at least in the case of infant Baptism) a means by which parents and godparents commit themselves to a relationship with the child which reflects God’s love. A parent’s chief responsibility is to establish a relationship with the child in which God’s perfect love can be seen. It goes beyond the tangible support a parent gives her child – meeting basic needs – to include the intangible: spiritual and emotional support, a moral example, a home full of prayer and Christian education (which is, after all, primarily the responsibility of the family, not of the institutional church, which can only do so much to support them in it).

So, how is this like friendship? Well, it’s not if friendship is merely sharing common interests and indulging in leisure together. These are important aspects of a friendship, but they are not the defining qualities of a Christian friendship. Rather, it is openness and love and a willingness to sacrifice one’s own well-being for another. That’s how Jesus defines friendship in this morning’s Gospel anyway:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you… This I command you, to love one another… Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus embodies Christian friendship- he reveals his Father’s will, he deeply loves those whom he calls friends, and he quite literally lays down his life for them.

Our responsibility, then, is to do the same. We do the same for Christ, our friend, and we do the same for our brothers and sisters whom God has given us to be our friends. We open our hearts and our intentions to God, neither do we hide them from our friends. We love God by serving him, and we love our friends by doing the same. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves – our petty desires, our comfort, even perhaps literally our lives – for God and for those whom he has given us to love.

Are our friendships reflections of God’s love? For that matter are our relationships with spouses and children a reflection of God’s love? Are we open in those relationships? Do we behave lovingly? Are we prepared to sacrifice ourselves for those other people? These are questions we must prayerfully and dutifully ask ourselves all the time.

And so, I leave you this week not with answers but with questions, which can be rather disappointing, but at least in this case potentially more profitable. May God give you the will to ask them and the grace, strength, and courage to commit yourselves again to those relationships, knowing that the hardest but most important thing we can do is to be mirrors for God’s love.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.