John 15: 9-17
Acts 10: 44-48
One of the things I enjoy in life is switching on the radio when I get into the car to go somewhere & just happening across really interesting programmes. So this week I ended up hearing ‘Start the week’ on Radio 4. It was a conversation between 4 people who try to work out what inventions and ideas are going to be used in the future.
The 4 guests explained how they do this in different ways: through a magazine which combines science-fiction and scientific developments; through exploring new inventions and asking how they can be used; through looking at successful companies who market new devices; and through examining how people react to new inventions.
One of those being interviewed said that to help people understand the future they need to actually see the physical objects they are going to use, even if the science behind them hasn’t yet been fully developed – people need to handle physical objects rather than just being told about ideas.
What will a hand-held computer look like, what will you be able to do with it, when might it be available? – these are all questions people ask, rather than wanting to understand the ideas behind it. I could see the point – on the few occasions when I’ve been looking at buying a new phone I want to know what it looks like & feels like, and be assured that it will work well. I’m not really interested in any of the facts and figures of the technology behind it.
I felt there was a link between all that thinking about technology and the Gospel reading today: you might wonder quite what it is!
Jesus is teaching his disciples ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another’.
And in case any of them haven’t yet ‘got’ what that love might look like, Jesus adds ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.’
Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. He is all of God’s love in a single human life. And if we still haven’t worked out how to love for ourselves, Jesus uses one word to show his followers what he means: friend.
‘I have called you friends’, says Jesus.
So we are called to be friends of Jesus.
And Jesus is keen that we don’t just think this means we think we are OK, that we are somehow ‘in’ with God and have no responsibility to share God’s love. Jesus also tells us that we are ‘appointed to bear fruit’. We who are the friends of Jesus are called to share that love with other people.
In case ‘friends’ sounds a bit cosy and not very challenging, let’s remind ourselves of the sorts of people Jesus made friends with.
Jesus was often criticised by the religious leaders of his day because they said he was a ‘friend of tax-collectors and sinners’. He spent time with people who were considered unclean, because they were sick, or troubled, or did the wrong sort of work. He made friends with all sorts of strange people – and he calls us friends and appoints us to take his love to all the strangest people of our day.
Suddenly ‘friend of Jesus’ starts to sound like less of an honour and more of a liability, doesn’t it?
We shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves if we have been slow to remember that Jesus said ‘I have not come to call (or befriend) righteous people, but sinners’.
Jesus came for the outsiders in life, and sometimes we make the gospel a message for those who are already on the inside. But as I say, we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves if we have got it wrong. Jesus’ first disciples, the very ones to whom he said ‘I have called you friends’, the very ones he sent out into the world, those disciples were a bit slow to understand that Jesus’ message of love was for the whole world.
Take the story we had from Acts. Peter and the ‘circumcised believers’ – the people who were born Jewish - were astounded that the Holy Spirit came ‘even to the Gentiles’.
Shock news! God’s love is for the whole world, even the foreigners who are not Jewish, the people they thought were unclean, strange, not part of God’s people…
When Jesus says ‘I call you friends’ he is speaking to the whole of humanity – to the forgotten, the rejected, the despised, the foreigner, the outsider, the sick, the tormented…even us, even them.
We come to share this meal of bread and wine because Jesus calls us friends and invites us to his feast. But through us he continues to call, to call the whole world, to call everyone. It is our task to bear the fruit of his love – to share his love with everyone around us – to invite absolutely everyone to this table, so that all may know what it is to hear Jesus call them ‘friend’.
In the name of Jesus – friend of sinners.