Some of you may remember Barry Goldwater, a senator from Arizona. He ran for president against Lyndon Johnson in 1964. On one occasion while a controversial bill was being considered he was asked whether or not he was in favor of the bill being passed. He paused and then replied, “Some of my friends are opposed to this legislation; and some of my friends are in favor of this legislation. As for me, I stand with my friends.”
How do you define friendship? To me, a friend is someone who not only cares for you but he/she likes you too, right? A friend doesn’t simply put up with you, but a friend enjoys your company and conversation. A friend is one who hangs in there with you during hard times. Jesus said to his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Do you love any of your friends so much that you would die for them? Do any of your friends love you so much that they would die for you? We hear about men in the military jumping on top of a grenade to save their comrades. There are stories of mothers shielding their children at the cost of their own lives. There are stories of husbands dying to protect their wives and children. Jesus did this. He sacrificed his life for his friends fully willing and with full understanding. It wasn’t a split second decision. No, he knew about this event well ahead of time. It wasn’t as though he was suicidal, it was sacrificial.
There is the story of an Irish priest who was out walking and saw an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. He was very impressed; so the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought a moment, and then smiled and replied, “Yes, God is very fond of me.” Jesus calls his disciples his friends. These are the men for whom he would lay down his very life and so would prove his great love for them. Do you realize in fact how fond of you God really is? Can you begin to grasp how much God really loves you? There are people who feel as though they need to somehow appease God so that he will not be displeased with him or her. If we do such and such and give this or that then God will not be angry at us. But that is approaching our situation with God completely backwards. Our relationship with God does not begin with us trying to please him. It does not begin with us trying to prove how much we love God. No, actually the Scriptures tell us that we love God—why? Why do we love God; it is because he first loved us. You see, we are responding to his love for us. We do not give or obey or serve because in this way we will earn God’s favor—no, we obey and serve and give out of response to his great love for us.
In our gospel reading Jesus also tells his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Now what is Jesus saying here? All of us know people who if we do whatever they want, they like us very much, but as soon as they are crossed, as soon as they stop getting their way, well look out! Then all of the sudden they hate you and want nothing to do with you because you are not willing to do whatever they want you to do. Is this the kind of friendship Jesus is offering here? No, of course not, first, Jesus has just told them that he has kept the Father’s commandments and remained in his love. Jesus’s friendship is not a self-serving friendship. Obedience to God; obedience to Jesus are the parameters within which we live and exist. But on top of that, Jesus/God wants to have a friendship, a relationship with us! Let me give an example. A chauffeur in a limousine service opens the door for his passenger, why? Because that is part of what he is being paid to do. A private in the armed forces opens the door for his commanding officer, why, because the other person outranks him. A man opens the door for his wife or girlfriend why, because he loves her. The door gets opened in all three situations. Does the chauffeur love his passenger? Maybe but probably not. Does the private love his commanding officer? Maybe but probably not. Does the man love his wife or sweetheart? Yes he does and that is what he is showing by his actions.
The chauffeur and the private are opening a door but the one for whom they are opening typically doesn’t know them and doesn’t care about them. They open the door because it is their position right? That is what they are supposed to do. It is different with the husband and wife. A husband and wife have a different sort of relationship. God wants a different relationship with us as well. He doesn’t want us to be like the chauffeur or the private. He wants to have a loving relationship a friendship even.
Author and speaker Brennan Manning came up with a slogan. The slogan is, “I am the one Jesus loves.” It sounds a little arrogant doesn’t it? But he is actually quoting Scripture. The disciple named John is identified in the Gospels as “the one Jesus loved.” Manning said, “If John were to be asked, ‘What is your primary identity in life?’ he would not reply, ‘I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,’ but rather, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.'” And he is right! Diane, my wife, likes to tell people that she is one of God’s favorites. And it is true. She is one of God’s favorites. Do you want to know a secret? I am one of God’s favorites too! It is true; God loves me and likes me very much! He likes to hang out with me and He and talk. But guess what? God loves you too! That’s right; God loves you so much you will not ever be able to totally understand it. He, God, actually wants to have a friendship with you! Remember, a friend is someone who likes you and wants to hang out with you. God is willing to be a friend with you! He doesn’t want someone who like in the army is simply obeying orders. He doesn’t want someone like an employee who is either on the clock or not. There are some people who come to church because it is their duty and while at church they behave in a certain way but when they are at home or someplace else, well then, they may behave in an entirely different manner. But that isn’t how God wants our relationship with him to be. God does want us to love him and our love for him springs out of understanding how much he loves us. But, and here is the amazing point, it is not only our love and obedience God is looking for, no, God wants to have a friendship with us.
Almost everyone has friends. You have many friends or only a few. Obviously I do not know how many friends you have and I don’t know all of your friends either; but I do know one. And I know that he likes you. God Almighty through Jesus Christ is willing to be your friend. That is a friendship worth pursuing. Amen