Friends of Jesus (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

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Every once in a while, I get a “friend request” on Facebook.  And as many of you know, on Facebook, a “friend” can be anybody you officially agree to be connected to.  But often, I look at the “friend request” and think, “that person is already my ‘friend’ on Facebook”.  And if so, then the new “friend request” is a fake by somebody claiming to be that person.

And since you do need to be careful with online stuff like this, I always check my list of Facebook “friends” before I accept.  I don’t usually check that list very often or very carefully, but when I do, I find that I now have over 380 “friends” on Facebook.

Now 380 “friends” on Facebook is a tiny number compared to the number that some of my Facebook friends have.  But even so, looking at that number always makes me wonder, “who are all these people and what does it mean that they’re my friends”?

And indeed, some of my Facebook “friends”:

  • Really are some of my oldest and closest friends; they’re people I know very well, care deeply about and trust completely;
  • People I know and like, even if I haven’t seen them in a while – they’re old classmates, acquaintances and colleagues, or folks I interact with occasionally;
  • People I’ve never met!  They’re folks who are related to people I’m related to, or colleagues of colleagues, or maybe people I may have met once at professional event.

“Friend” can mean many different things on Facebook.  But even before Facebook, people used the word “friend” in a variety of ways.  Besides being one of your closest buddies, “friend” could mean someone you hung out with socially, a neighbor you barely knew or even just someone you were trying to kiss up to (as politicians do when they call us “friends”!)

But what does it mean to really call someone a friend.  What does true friendship really mean? And what does it mean when Jesus tells his disciples – and by extension all of us – that God’s goal is friendship with us?

There are probably lots of good definitions of friendship, but when I think of my real friends – the people I would always call friends even if they aren’t on my Facebook list – I think of a friend as somebody who:

  • Likes me and accepts me even when they know everything about me that’s not likable … I don’t worry about my friends knowing what I’m like in the morning without coffee, or driving on the beltway or what I really think about any issue out there.  My friends may disagree with me or tell me when I’m wrong, but they won’t walk away from me…
  • I trust always to have my back – my real friends are my allies who always look out for me (especially when that means telling me I’m wrong), because they care about me and not because there’s something in it for them…
  • I look forward to helping, because I want to help and care for them – not because there’s anything in it for me, but because I actually care about my friends …

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus calls his disciples friends.  He promises to be a friend to them, and he asks them to live as his friends.  And therefore, living as friends of God is supposed to be what our spiritual life is really all about. It’s really what the new life of Resurrection is about right now – living in friendship with God.

So do we take that seriously?  And does it condition how we think and feel and act?

In some ways, it’s often more pious to think of Jesus as our “good shepherd” or our “king” or our “savior”.  All of those things are true, but it’s easy to distance ourselves and our real lives from God when God is more distant and aloof from us.

But if in Jesus, God is my friend, it means that I live each day:

  • With the confidence that God accepts me and actually likes me even when I’m being my worst self…!  It’s not because I’ve put on a good act, or because God is in heaven and I don’t let God see me before I’ve had my morning coffee …
  • Knowing God has my back, and I can trust God to be there for me … which is different from the image (often promulgated by Christians) that God is watching for you to mess up so he can send you to hell … If God is my friend, that’s not what God’s about…
  • Doing what God asks me to do, not to earn God’s friendship, but because God is already my friend – you do stuff for your friends that you’d probably never do for anybody else; and sometimes, it’s a pain, but you do it willingly because you care about your friends.  You don’t do it because you have to, you do it because you want to…

In the end, Jesus says the greatest friend is willing to lay down his life for his friends.  And then Jesus showed his disciples that he is that friend.  In that sense, the death and resurrection of Jesus isn’t just about paying a price for sin, but demonstrating the depth of God’s love – and showing us that God really is our friend.

And so what Jesus asked his first disciples to do – and what he asks us to do – is to live as God’s friends through our words and deeds and attitudes.  And if we really believe God is our friend, then we can leave behind the fear and the guilt and the judgment that has so often characterized how Christians talk about faith and God.

Instead, Jesus calls us to live as God’s friends by projecting confidence in God’s love for us and for others in our world.  Jesus calls us to live as God’s friends by relying on God’s presence and help even and especially when things are really bad.  And Jesus calls us to live as God’s friends by actively doing what God asks us to do, because that’s what friends do for each other.