Saturday, 24 March 2012

"This is my friend..." Lent 5

Friendship with God Jeremiah 31: 31-34; John 12: 20-33
What does it mean to speak of God as a friend? What sense does it make to talk of friendship with God?

I hope we all have friends, so we know something of friendship. A friend is someone you can turn to, someone you know well and who knows you, someone you share your life with.

So does God offer us this kind of relationship, this kind of friendship? I’m not a great one for disembodied bible verses, but I do like 2 Cor 5: 19 ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’. I think that Paul is talking about God extending to us and to all people the offer of friendship. This friendship is seen in Christ and it is a friendship which about sharing our life and even our death so that we can turn to God as someone who knows our human condition all too well.

And if ‘God’s friendship’ doesn’t sound very revolutionary or even sounds a bit hum-drum, I don’t think we’re using the concept of ‘friendship’ in its fullest sense. We can use the term ‘just good friends’ to dismiss something as ‘only friendship’, but surely the concept of being a friend and loving another person are intertwined. I’m fascinated when people celebrating, say, a Golden wedding anniversary are asked the secret of their partnership to hear, time and again words about talking to each other, spending time together, being a friend to the other. The precious gift of God’s love, God’s friendship is given in Christ – God comes to us in Christ to show us what the love of true friendship is about – so what do we see?

The Greeks who come to Philip ask ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus’. Were you struck by the very strange answer Jesus gives when this request is passed on to him? ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… I shall draw everyone to myself when I am lifted up from the earth.’

The Greeks have been drawn to Jesus by what they have seen and heard of his teaching and healing ministry – they want to meet the great healer, the great rabbi, Jesus. And Jesus says, in effect ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet’. We might think we have seen Jesus’ love in action in the way he treats people and speaks to the outcast and heals the sick – but the most dramatic display of the extremity of God’s love has yet to be seen.

It is fascinating that it is right now, at this stage of Jesus’ life, that John tells us a voice from heaven speaks to confirm Jesus’ work as glorifying the Father. In the other 3 gospels there is a confirming voice at Jesus’ baptism, at the start of Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching – but for John this voice comes now as if to signify that this is where Jesus’ real work begins, with his act of willing sacrifice on the cross. For John, Jesus is not the healer/rabbi, he is the Messiah who has come to save the world by laying down his own life in love. Jesus himself calls this an act of friendship when he says ‘greater love has no-one than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend’.

Jesus shows us God in human form and the goes to the extreme of death to display the friendship God offers.
This friendship is what Jeremiah calls the new covenant, when
‘I will become their God and they will become my people’. Jeremiah promises a time when God will form an unbreakable bond with people, when God’s love will be so deep within them that it will change their hearts.

So what does it mean for us to be people who are friends of God, people who accept what God has done for them, people who look at Jesus hanging on the cross and say ‘this is how much God loves us’?

Well of course all good friendships are two-way relationships – friends don’t tend to last too long if one does all the giving and the other all the taking in the friendship. If God loves us, we should love God and we are taught that it is nonsense to love God without loving the people he has made, the others he calls friends.

And what might it mean for the church to be a community of friends of God?
Jesus teaches ‘unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it bears no fruit’.
What might need to die in us as God’s friends?
Perhaps the seed of self-righteousness, the seed of arrogance, the seed of self-doubt, the seed of suspicion that there might not actually be enough of God’s love to go round…
If those seed fall to the ground we might bear much fruit.

And then when people say ‘we would see Jesus’ we can say come and see his friends, come and see his body, the church, taste and see that the Lord is good.

So may we die to all that separates us from God’s friendship and be fruitful in God’s service.
In the name of Christ.
Amen.

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