A month or so ago
Bri and I received our invitation
to our 20th High School reunion this August.
My first thought was
“Has it really been that long?”
followed by a look in the mirror,
with a close examination of the gray in my beard
and a slightly exasperated, “Yup. It sure has.”

It is amazing, though,
how a little slip of paper
or a digital reminder like that
can send you on a trip down memory lane.

Thinking about all of the possibility
that had lain ahead of you
and looking down through the years to see
how those possibilities narrowed with time
and with each decision bringing you to where you are.

And that’s not a bad thing,
there is still plenty of possibility ahead for all of us,
but there was sure a whole lot more of it
when we were in high school.

As I was taking my trip down memory lane
my little brother posed a question on Facebook
that kept me spinning down that path.
Apparently, in his slightly less old age than me,
he got to thinking about the friendships
he had in high school.
All of the people who were, at one point,
so important to him, who now,
he has little or no contact with.
He wanted to know if those friendships
were real even though they didn’t last,
or were those people just using him
because he had a car and they didn’t.

I can honestly say
that my friends from high school and I
parted ways a long time ago.
The closest we get these days
is the occasional comment on social media.
The periodic triggering of a fond memory.

It is odd to think,
that in a world so connected,
so flush with technology built to help us stay in touch, that those relationships still fade.

I got to thinking about where and when and why
those relationships ended.
Some went out in blazes of glory
with strong words and hard fists.
Others, well, circumstance intervened
and you saw less and less of each other
until one day they are barely a whisper of a memory.

Now, I do have friends today,
that were IN my high school.
But back then, we were not
what anyone would have mistaken for friends.
The closest we ever were
was probably having the same gym class together
or lockers in the same hall.

I can promise you,
that when Bri and I get to our 20 year reunion
there will be people scratching their heads
when they see that Bri Peters,
class valedictorian,
is married to Mike Desotell,
whatever the slacker version of Valedictorian is.

But that is life.
Things change. Life happens. People grow.
Time marches on.

Who we were when we were young
is not who we are today.
As we change so do our relationships.
As we grow together with people
how we see each other changes.

This was no less true for Jesus and his disciples.

When Jesus started his public ministry
he was an obscure, nondescript rabbi from Galilee.

As he began to call his first disciples,
one of them – Nathaniel -disparaged Jesus’ hometown, saying “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
And as the disciples grew more comfortable,
indeed closer, to their rabbi,
they began to argue with each other
about who would be greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Eventually, they would be so close,
so committed to Jesus and to each other,
that when Jesus decides
to head to Jerusalem for Passover,
Thomas says, “Let’s go so we can die with him.”

In John this morning
we see one more shift in relationship taking place,
something that, I believe,
is far more intimate and personal
then last weeks description
of the vital connection
between the vine and the branches.

Jesus continues to build a bit
on the connectional imagery,
the idea of abiding in him,
staying connected to him saying:

“As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

Stay connected to the love of Jesus.

And because it is so important,
Jesus is not being vague.
He isn’t messing around
trusting that the disciples
will eventually suss out what he is talking about.

He tells them that in order to abide in his love,
in order to stay connected to the love of Christ,
one thing is necessary.
To keep his commandments.

This can set off a bit of an explosion in our minds
because Jesus said a lot of things.
Jesus commanded a lot of things.

Which commandments, exactly, are we talking about?
Go and sin no more.
If your right hand offends, you cut it off.
If your right eye offends you, pluck it out.
Take the plank out of your own eyes.
If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble,
it’ll be better for them
to tie a millstone around their necks
and be drowned in the depths of the see.

We could keep going
with some of Jesus’ greatest hits here,
but I think you get the picture.
To keep Jesus commandments seems an impossible task.

And Jesus follows that whole
“keep my commandments to abide in my love thing” up
with “I am telling you this
so that my joy may be in you
and your joy may be complete.”

Now I don’t know about you
but the prospect of trying to follow all those commands
does not exactly fill my heart with joy.
Cut off your hand?
Turn the other cheek?
Be perfect, as he is perfect?
Dread, sure. But joy? Not even close.

But Jesus isn’t done (he never is by the way).
Because as all of those commandments
run through the heads of the disciples and ours,
Jesus knows the question on our hearts.

Which one is the greatest?
Which one is really important?
Could you sum all of them up for us, Jesus?

So Jesus does just that.
Jesus sums it up for us.
The command Jesus wants us to follow,
the one that is necessary for us to abide in his love,
to remain connected to his love, is in verse 12.

“This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”

And for the briefest of moments,
we can catch our breath.
Love each other.
We can do that.
And it makes a lot of sense
that in order to abide in Jesus’ love
we must love as Jesus does.
There is some nice symmetry at work there.

And it seems pretty simple to follow.
But as we all should know by now,
love is seldom simple.
Love is never easy.
Love is always risky. And always has a cost.

Because love isn’t just about being nice to each other.
It is about loving the person
who you consider unlovable.
And I know you all have someone
that just popped into your mind.

Think about that person.
And all the things they say and do that annoy you.
That make you mad.
That cause you to avoid them.

You are supposed to love them.
And sometimes that means being nice
when you don’t really feel like it.
It means praying for their blessing,
not just for them to stub their toe
on the dresser in the morning.
Sometimes loving one another
as Jesus loved us
means speaking a hard truth into someone’s life.
That perhaps a behavior
is more destructive than they realize.
Perhaps they are in a toxic relationship
and cannot see what it is doing to them.
Maybe they are harboring hatred
and un-forgiveness in their hearts.
Those are hard conversations to have,
but they are all a part of loving one another
as Christ loved us.

And then, of course, we get to the big one.

“No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

In these two verses, the “greater love verse”,
and the “you are my friends
if you do what I command verse”,
a couple of interesting things are happening.

First Jesus is foreshadowing.
You are my friends
and I am about to lay down my life for you.
This is important to remember.
As the events unfold, as the days pass,
the disciples will be scared.
They will feel guilty for scattering
and not standing with Jesus.
And Jesus is telling them that it’s ok.
That he is doing this willingly, for them, and for us.

Jesus is changing the relationship dynamic
with his disciples once again.
From obscure, nondescript, Nazarene, rabbi.
To disciples. To friends.

What I find utterly beautiful about this friendship with Jesus, our friendship with the creator of the universe, is that it is not contingent upon our loving him, but rather on our loving each other.

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

And there are two defining characteristics of friends
that Jesus has laid out in this passage.

First, friends love each other.
And second, that love is manifest
in seeking to make one another’s joy complete.

Think about the greatest friendships of your life.
The people who have lifted you up,
the people who have helped to carry you
through your most difficult journeys.
The people who have brought joy into your life.
Those people,
are not the friends from high school who fade away.

Those are the friends who stick around.
The friends who stay by your side
through thick and thin.
The friends who are willing to lay down their lives
in order to make your joy complete.

If you have someone you call a friend,
and they suck the joy out of your soul,
out of your life, they are not your friend.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be theirs.

Most days I get to pick Michaela up after school.
It is short drive home
but I still like to take those few quiet moments
when it is just us to hear about her day.

There was a season
during the early part of the school year
where it seemed nearly every day
Michaela told me a story about her friend,
who we will call, “Susie”.

All of the stories started out the same “My friend Susie…”
But what came after the words
“my friend Susie”
were not stories that I would consider friendly.

They were stories of Susie yelling at Michaela
or making fun of her
for her love of all things Harry Potter.
Stories of Susie calling her names
or causing disruptions in art class.
It wasn’t long before I had to stop and ask Michaela
“Why do you call Susie your friend?
She doesn’t seem very friendly.”

To which Michaela replied,
with wisdom like Solomon,
“Susie doesn’t have any friends,
and she gets in trouble a lot.
I thought if I was her friend
she wouldn’t feel alone and get in trouble so much.”

The other important thing Jesus points out
in this particular passage is that we didn’t choose Jesus. Jesus chose us.
Just like Susie didn’t choose to be Michaela’s friend. Michaela chose to be Susie’s.

As I think about that experience with Michaela
in light of Jesus calling us friends
and commanding us to love one another as he loved us

I can’t help but think
perhaps my brother was asking the wrong question. Maybe the question we need to be asking
isn’t who has been a friend to us,
but who we have been a friend to?
Who did we choose?
Who did we choose to pour life into?
Who did we choose to walk with
down their difficult road?
Who did we choose to bring into our circle
even if they didn’t necessarily fit in?
Who did we choose?

More importantly,
because the past is the past after all,
who are we choosing NOW?

Are we choosing to spend our time
only with those who make us feel good?
Are we choosing to spend time
with those who we know
can love us back in equal measure?
Are we choosing to spend time
only with those who look like,
and live like, and act like us?

If we are, it is little wonder
that the Western Church has seen 40 years
of steady decline.
And so many churches are shutting their doors.

When Jesus chose his disciples,
he didn’t choose the academics.
He didn’t choose the well educated or the rich.

Jesus chose the poor fisherman.
He chose the tax collector.
He chose those who would not be able
to pour a whole lot of life into him
but rather those who needed life poured into them.

In a few minutes
we are going to celebrate the same meal
the original disciples did with Jesus.
The same meal,
that after the bread and cup were shared,
Jesus transformed his relationship
with his servants from disciples to friends.

To those whose joy he would make complete.
To those whom he would lay down his life for.
To those whom he would ask
to pour out their lives for others in love.

That our joy, here today, may be full,
and that we may have the opportunity
to pour out our lives into others,
into the next generation of disciples,
into the next generation of Jesus friends.

So as you partake of the bread and cup
remember that Jesus no longer calls you servants,
but friends,
that your joy may be complete
as you love one another as Jesus loves you.
Amen? Amen.

John 15:9-15


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