Editorial note: I’m working on correcting spacing issues. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.
In 2015, when you “follow” people on Twitter
and you “friend” people on Facebook—
–what does that mean for followers of Jesus Christ
to be told, by way of today’s text in John,
that we are NOT servants of Jesus–but FRIENDS…?
I don’t think I’ve ever preached on this text before.
I couldn’t believe that—I’ve preached a lot of sermons
and this is a portion of a key text
in a prominent gospel…
…and I’ve never preached on it?
As one commentator has said:
“Perhaps it is avoided because its promise
is too magnificent and, therefore, too demanding.”
Some texts are like that.
Legendary preacher Fred Craddock recalls a time many years ago
when “a cancelled flight,
a motel near the airport,
a search for a church within walking distance,
since the next morning was Sunday,
a housekeeper at the motel pointing in the direction of one
six blocks away,
an arrival at a cinder block building in which
a few tired souls had already begun singing gospel songs…”
…brought Craddock to a sermon by a nervous preacher
he was preaching on these words in the Epistle of James (2:23)—
Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says,
“Abraham believed God,
and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,”
and he was called the friend of God.
…The opening words of the sermon were:
“Abraham was a friend of God.
I’m sure glad I am NOT a friend of God”
And the sermon was an explanation of why he was relieved
NOT to be a friend of God.
He recalled the story of Abraham, pilgrim and wanderer,
who, after years of homelessness—died…
…and was buried in a land not his own.
“Abraham was a friend of God,” the preacher said.
“I’m glad I’m NOT.”
He then spoke of OTHERS who had been called friends of God—
–faithful, in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword.
He concluded with a story of Teresa of Avila,
remembered as a friend of God.
The preacher recalled her begging in public to raise funds
for an orphanage.
After a series of setbacks—flood, storm, and fire
repeatedly destroying the orphanage—
–Teresa in her evening prayers said to God:
“So this is how you treat your friends;
no wonder you have so few.”
Fred Craddock recalls that sermon closed with the counsel:
“If you find yourself being drawn into the inner circle
of the friends of God, blessed are you.
But pray for the strength to bear the burden of it.”
Maybe this braces us to hear Jesus’ words from John’s gospel:
“I do not call you servants any longer…
…but I have called you friends.”
In a time when we “follow” people on Twitter
and we “friend” people on Facebook—this is different.
No longer servants but friends: it sounds like a PROMOTION.
Jesus had just spent time—that very night—
–modeling them the life of a SERVANT,
as he washed the disciples’ feet.
THEN, suddenly, Jesus bestows the title that no one among us
would be presumptuous to claim: FRIEND.
It feels like a title,
it seems like a promotion,
but in fact the word describes a relationship.
It implies mutuality and it implies…LOVE.
A servant works—works hard, even—
–but then punches out and goes home.
A servant doesn’t necessarily engage the “big picture.”
Being a FRIEND—changes everything.
Jesus goes further:
“I do not call you servants any longer,
because a servant does NOT know
what the master is doing…
…but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you
EVERYTHING I have heard from God.”
In other words, a FRIEND of Jesus
shares in the knowledge of God’s operation in the world,
what God is doing
and how God is doing it.
It’s true the servant does NOT know what the master is doing,
but that has its BRIGHT SIDE.
The servant does NOT take work home with them…
BUT…if the servant becomes the FRIEND…
then the master’s burdens become the servant’s own.
It seems that the friends of Jesus are NEVER completely free
of the duty to bear the fruit
and pay the price of LOVE.
“…Because” Jesus says, “I have made known to you everything
that I have heard from God…”
But really, who wants to know EVERYTHING??
Most of us carry within us large areas of deliberate ignorance.
…From childhood, we carry the inspiring image
of General George Washington with his troops
in the biting snow at Valley Forge.
…Who wants the picture spoiled by the information
that Washington himself was quartered
in a large and comfortable farmhouse nearby?
…Who still wants to be thinking about the child hustling
for a few coins on the curb
as you enter the restaurant with a menu
so bursting with extravagant choices.
…Comfort demands that we AVOID the rallies
where passionate and informed speakers lay out the facts:
+17 million children go to bed hungry each night.
+13 million children are AIDS orphans in South Africa;
+Each year, 500,000 children are illegally imported
into western Europe for the purpose of prostitution;
+If we spent one second each naming ALL the street children
in the world it would take 3 years to name them all;
…There is a lot of information that I would prefer not to know.
Is this what it means to be a friend of Jesus?
To be told uncomfortable truth that carries unavoidable duty?
…The duty to love as God loves,
to lay down one’s life if need be?
In that light, the life of a servant is looking better all the time…
…but then again:
this is NOT unprecedented for Jesus.
Jesus invites EVERYONE to be a friend.
Jesus invites EVERY PERSON to be in the inner circle.
Of course, that is NOT how the world sorts people,
but it IS what Jesus does…
It’s NOT a promotion—this being called a FRIEND with Jesus.
It certainly NOT exclusive—because everyone is invited to come along.
It can be hard duty.
But it is the very core of LOVE,
the very heart of HOPE.
In 2015, when you “follow” people on Twitter
and you “friend” people on Facebook—
–what does that mean for followers of Jesus Christ who are told,
by way of today’s text in John,
that we are now NOT servants of Jesus, but FRIENDS…?
It means a deep, deep relationship—
–deeper, perhaps, than we can imagine;
–broader than our own HOPE alone can carry us.
And Jesus invites EVERYONE into this friendship…
Craig Barnes tells the story of growing up with his two grandmothers:
his City Grandmother,
and his Country Grandma.
Both women were products of the Great Depression,
and both were convinced that it could return anytime.
But the ways in which they coped with that fear
were remarkably different.
His City Grandmother tried to RISE ABOVE her fear.
She was an elegant lady,
and even though she had very little money,
she insisted on teaching her grandsons
about STYLE and GRACE and MANNERS.
The difference between the two grandmothers
was most obvious at the dinner table.
o City Grandmother always had a lace tablecloth, very elegant.
o The grandchildren always needed to be cleaned up and ready
when they came to this very nice, very pretty table.
o And, the kids would always notice was that there were
TOO MANY FORKS—forks everywhere…
Why all the forks?
City Grandmother took a lot of pride in teaching
her grandsons which forks to use…at what time.
And not just forks—you had to remember other rules too:
o Like you always stand up when a lady arrives.
o You always keep your napkin on your lap.
o You always keep your voice at a certain level, never too loud.
And the LAST thing you wanted to do was spill your drink
on that pristine, lace tablecloth.
He loved his grandmother.
He was enchanted to be in her circle.
And…it was A LOT OF WORK
for a little boy to eat at City Grandmother’s table.
When Barnes and his brother would go down south,
to the FARM, to Country Grandma’s house,
things were different.
They always ate in the kitchen,
on a red and white checkered vinyl cloth—
and this tablecloth took spills just fine.
You only had ONE FORK at Country Grandma’s table.
If it fell on the floor, you just picked it up and used it again…
…only you HAD TO BE QUICK,
because there was always a dog nearby,
keeping vigilant lookout for spills.
The grandchildren had NO IDEA WHO
would be in Country Grandma’s kitchen on any given day.
Sometimes it was family,
and sometimes friends were there,
and sometimes complete strangers were there.
People right off the road—
–they would come,
and they were always welcome
in Country Grandma’s kitchen.
They were treated like family–and they ALL ate.
The food was plentiful,
and even though Country Grandma also had very little money,
there was always LAUGHTER at her table.
She was a BIG WOMAN.
She loved to tell jokes,
and whenever she laughed at her own jokes,
she would slap the table THREE TIMES…slap, slap, slap—
–in this very Trinitarian sort of way.
Barnes says that even though he was MUCH MORE comfortable
at Country Grandma’s table,
he was grateful that BOTH TABLES were a part of his life.
Because city Grandmother taught him things about—
and hard work—
–lessons he has never forgotten.
And besides, Barnes always knew
that he was welcome at BOTH TABLES.
I wonder if…Jesus’ invitation to be called a FRIEND…
…is like those two tables?
When Jesus invites you to be a friend—
–sometimes that is a call to duty
(duty FAR beyond remembering which fork to use)—
–HARD, but NOBLE duty…
–sometimes it is a call to sit at a table of laughter
and bring in everybody you can find
to equally share the exact SAME thing;
–sometimes…YOU are the one on the outside, looking in—
–and Jesus calls you a friend,
startling you—and everybody around you
with that audacious claim—
–and we are brought in,
FRIENDS of Jesus…
…take chances with their faith,
…they make friends with the forgotten,
…they work for justice in quiet and humble ways.
They ALSO know that Jesus calling them friends
is NOT dependent on how well they climb
some ladder to get in Jesus’ good graces.
But there are ALSO people who show up at a different table…
…at Country Grandma’s table.
They are the strangers,
Sometimes, the person at Country Grandma’s table is you.
And guess what?
Jesus calls them all….FRIEND!
…nothing but friendship…on Jesus’ terms.
We seem to be in a season, in our land and in our culture,
where there is a premium placed on SORTING people:
you know, those who are friends, and those who are not friends; those who have the right to be in,
and those who need to stay on the curb;
those who we will call family,
and those we will shun.
Some even use the Bible,
some even use Jesus—as self-declared proof that this sorting
is the DUTY of those who call Jesus a friend.
Thinking of the two grandmother’s tables,
are there those who we can say
don’t belong at EITHER TABLE?
“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…”
Are there those who Jesus just cannot call friend—
–with all the duty and hope
that goes with being Jesus’ friend?
I scoured all four Gospels to find an answer to that.
I searched for all the examples I could find of Jesus
deciding he could NOT call them friend.
I looked for some time when Jesus
turned someone away from the table.
I searched and searched for the time when Jesus says to someone,
“I don’t want to eat with you…at any table.”
“I will not, I cannot call you friend.”
So I searched, and I searched.
And you know what I came up with,
when I searched for the time
when Jesus turned someone away from God’s table?
When Jesus refused to call someone FRIEND
under this commandment of LOVE?
…Your silence is exactly right.
I found not one example.
I found nothing.
 From “Being a Friend of Jesus” by Fred Craddock, included in The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, Kentucky. 2011) p189-193. This story, but also the overall interpretation of this text used in this sermon, draws heavily from Craddock’s work here.
 The Rev. Craig Barnes, shared with the Mid-Winter Lectures at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2012.
 Suggested to be my the work of the Rev. Mark Ramsey, who cited this approach as indebted to the Rev. Ben Dorr on a sermon on Predestination at Northridge Presbyterian Church, May 6, 2012