The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859.
Order of Worship | Easter 6
We acknowledge we are gathering on land where Miami, Osage, Shawnee, and other Indigenous peoples have lived and labored, fought, and loved. We continue to work and pray for justice and conciliation.
Call to Worship
VT 30 | Jesus Calls Us | Phil Hart, vocals and guitar; Shakita Kabicek, cello
Offertory | VT 426 | Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth | Phil Hart, vocals and guitar
Scripture | John 15:9-17 from The Message
Sermon | “I have called you friends” [Manuscript below]
VT 628 | What a Friend We Have in Jesus | Fred and Marlene Suter, Julie and Phil Hart, vocals
Mission Moment | BREAD
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Extinguishing the Peace Candle
Christian Education | 11:00 am
Thanks to everyone who helped lead today’s service
Sermon: Joel Miller
Worship Leader: Julie Hart
Music coordination: Phil Hart
Children’s Time: Lavonne van der Zwaag
Mission Moment: Jon Lucas
Peace Candle: Nina Graber-Nofziger
Scripture Reading: Ivan Graber-Nofziger
Zoom Host: Mike Ryan-Simkins
One Sunday, way back when I was pastoring Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, I was meeting with the youth for Sunday school. As they were gathering their things to leave after class finished, I overheard one say to another: “You know, if it weren’t for church, we wouldn’t even be friends.” She meant it in a kind way. Like our youth at CMC, these youth lived all over the metro area, going to different schools. They had some things in common, but wouldn’t necessarily be in the same social circles even if they did go to the same school. If it weren’t for church, they likely wouldn’t know each other, let alone have a chance to develop a friendship. The other young person agreed.
Struck by the theological significance of what they had agreed on, I decided to interject some pastoral wisdom into the conversation. “That’s one of the things about church,” I said. “It brings people into friendship who otherwise wouldn’t have much of a reason to be together.” Or something like that. Whether this drove home the point, or was a brief disruption in their friendly banter, I’ll never know.
In John chapter 15 Jesus has friendship on his mind. This is part of a larger section of the gospel known as the farewell discourse. In those red-letter Bibles where Jesus’ words are printed in that unique color, this section has a whole lot of red. It’s mostly a monologue. Jesus will soon be with them no more, and he has a lot to say before he’s gone. And in this section of the farewell discourse, he’s talking about friendship:
This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. 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. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
We’re used to thinking of Jesus’ companions, and, in turn, ourselves, as disciples, followers, servants, students, perhaps imitators of Jesus. But the idea of friends doesn’t get as much airtime. Unless of course you’re a Quaker, officially known as the Society of Friends. I checked in this past week with a couple friends who are Friends and they confirmed they draw their name and community identity from this passage in John.
There’s a whole sermon here, or 10, about the rise of Facebook and social media and its impact on what it means to be a friend and have friends. This is not that sermon. Suffice it to say that what immediately comes to mind for us when we hear the word friend is not necessarily the same thing that came to mind for those in the ancient Mediterranean world.
And yet, human nature has stayed pretty constant for a very long time.
The classic piece on friendship goes back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, written about 350 years before Jesus was born. And it still makes a lot of sense after all these years. Aristotle had a high view of friendship. Toward the beginning of the essay he writes: “For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” He believed friendship took on different qualities at different stages in life, that friendship was displayed in the human and animals worlds, that friendship could occur between parents and children. So, on this Mother’s Day we might consider if and how our mother also became our friend.
Aristotle is most often cited as naming three types of friendship.
The first type is what he called friendships of utility. These are friendships formed because of what the other person can do for us, people befriending us because of what we can do for them. This isn’t a bad thing. But it is a kind of friendship that doesn’t last after its usefulness has expired. These could be friendships of colleagues who need to work together to accomplish a goal. Business friendships where each person benefits from the services of the other. These are important friendships. When Aristotle wrote: “Friendship seems too to hold states together,” he was surely including these friendships of utility.
The second kind of friendships are those of pleasure. These are people we enjoy being around. People with whom we share a common interest. These could be golfing buddies, a cooking or book group. These are real friendships that bring us enjoyment, but like friendships of utility, we engage in these friendships for a particular reason, and they can end when that reason no longer exists. If we give up golf, run out of spare time for the book group, or just don’t find a person quite as pleasant as we once did, friendships of pleasure run their course.
The highest form of friendship which Aristotle praised was what he called friendships of the good, or virtuous friendships. These friendships can be useful and pleasurable, but ultimately what one loves in the relationship is not the usefulness or pleasure one gets, but the person themselves. In a friendship of the good, one is drawn to the character of the other, and one wishes the other well for their own sake, and is glad to help them be well. Aristotle speaks of this type of love between friends as “an equal return of goodwill.” The classic ideal included what Jesus also mentions – a willingness to give one’s life for one’s friend.
These types of friendships are rare. Both because people of genuine good character are rare, as Aristotle writes, and because friendships of the good require care and attention and time, a limited resource.
If we think about our lives we can likely put faces to these friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good – and friends who blur the lines between these categories.
Much more recently, as if we needed a study to prove it, the value of friendship was confirmed by one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies ever. This Harvard sponsored study followed a group of people – all men in this case – from childhood through end of life. In a 2015 TED talk that has been viewed 38 million times, the current director of this study, Robert Waldinger, makes this unambiguous statement: “The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
That’s a perhaps obvious, but nonetheless remarkable statement
I suppose this passage in John represents the end of the longitudinal arc of Jesus’ life. We won’t know who all was in the room for his farewell discourse, but I’d like to imagine it was more than just 12 guys. Among that larger circle I’d like to imagine it included that group of mostly unnamed women that the other gospels are sure to tell us traveled with Jesus wherever he went and provided for the others out of their own resources.
It was a group of highly varied personalities and stations in life who had been drawn to the same fierce, unpredictable love Jesus demonstrated time and again. And over the course of time, they had all become something more than fellow seekers.
Jesus looks out affectionately over this odd collection of people and says:
This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made know to you everything that I have heard from my Abba.
Because Christian tradition has so closely identified Jesus with the Divine, these words take on an added layer beyond Aristotle’s philosophy of friendship. Along with affirming the highest ideals of the friendship of the good, these words invite us to reimagine altogether the role of religion and our relationship with the Divine. To reimagine them as friendship.
The commandment, a very old commandment made new, made plain as day through the life of Jesus, is to love. That’s what has been made known to the friends, and the fact that they have been shown this is what makes them friends, all on the same footing with one another and Jesus.
As their spiritual descendants, we are asked to accept the possibility of being on the inside of everything that matters most, which is the love commandment, which is what makes authentic friendship possible in the first place. To love another because of who they are, not just what they can do for us or how they make us feel.
There are no big secrets that only a special class of priests, or just one religion, has access to. There are no sacred hierarchies which order who is above and who is below. We are not merely servants, but friends, to one another. Friends even of God.
The point is not to form a new closed circle of who is in and who is out, but to recognize that a new kind of human community is possible.
The church, at its best, gives us a picture of that new humanity. We can call one another friends not just because of what we can do for each other - friendships of utility. And not because we have all the same interests or even because we think each other are always super pleasant to be around – friendships of pleasure. Not because we live in the same neighborhood or go to same school, a bond that neither our youth nor adults share.
We are not a hierarchy of masters and servants. We are not divided into those who know and those who don’t know. Because everything that matters most has been made known to all of us. We can practice friendship with one another because we have heard and dared to believe the love commandment – to love one another as Christ has loved us.
God has welcomed all of creation as insiders, and called us friends.