Saturday, April 23, 2016

Please Won't You Be My Friend? Reflections on John 13.31-35 & 15.12-17 (RCL Easter 5C, 24 April 2016)

N.B.  In accordance with the principles of the Revised Common Lectionary, I have chosen to expand the Gospel reading for today to include John 15.12-17.

Will You Be My Friend?
Reflections on John 13.31-35 and 15.12-17

RCL Easter 5C
24 April 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         If you had been taking a walk in South Denver in 1974 or 1975 and decided to stick your head into the fraternity house located at 2001 South York, then you might have been surprised by what you would have seen and heard.  You would have entered into a spacious entry way.  To your left would have been the stairs to the student rooms.  To your right would have been a large commons room and dining space.

         If your visit were to take place during the early afternoon, then you would have likely heard the sounds of the television in the loft area overlooking the commons room.  More likely than not, you would have heard the voices of young men singing along with the star of their favourite programme,

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

Won't you please,
Won't you please,
Please won't you be my neighbor?  [1]

         I was one of those young men who discovered Mr Rogers during my college years.  Along with my fraternity brothers we joined him as he visited all sorts of interesting places such as a crayon factory or as he spoke with real working people such as a bulldozer operator.  In all of these encounters we experienced a man with curiosity, humility and a genuine interest in other people, no matter who they were or what they did.  And every afternoon, at the end of his programme, we all wanted to be his neighbour.  And I knew, that Mr Rogers hoped, that we would all strive to be good neighbours to others.

         I have always found it remarkable that the Gospel according to John which is full of powerful images of a transcendent God and an all-knowing, all-seeing Christ ends with a simple request from Jesus:  ‘Will you be my friend?’  Christian theologians have pondered and debated who Jesus was and what his relationship with God was, but all Jesus wants to know is ‘Will you be my friend?’  Christians have persecuted one another and those who believed in other faiths, we have condemned one another and we have even put our religious opponents to death, but all Jesus wants to know is ‘Please, won't you be my friend?’

         Perhaps we avoid answering this question because we intuitively know what friendship with Jesus might entail.  In the first place, friendship with Jesus means an attitude towards our neighbours and others based in the Law of Moses revealed to the people of Israel during their time in the desert which we heard in today’s first reading.  Friendship with Jesus means
  • ensuring that every person, regardless of their status, has food
  • living with integrity and self-control
  • refusing to claim divine sanction for whatever we think or do
  • acting justly and compassionate to every human being
  • guaranteeing that justice is done to rich and poor
  • and loving one’s neighbour as oneself

These are difficult enough and all of us struggle to show that we are friends of Jesus by acting in these ways.  But Jesus asks us to take one step further:  to be willing to lay down our lives for our friends.

         I confess to you that rarely a day goes by that I do not find myself asking what this means for me.  I have come to believe that ‘laying down one’s life’ is a code for all that I am, body, soul and spirit, and for all that I am called to be in the vocation God has given me as a pastor, priest and teacher, as a husband, father, uncle and son.  I think that it means being constantly aware of how I live my life gives shape to the good news of God in Christ.

         I can also tell you what ‘laying down one’s life’ does not mean.  I don’t think it means ignoring my physical, spiritual and emotional needs.  If I am not at my best, physically, spiritually and emotionally, then I cannot really lay down my life for you or for anyone else.  Just as Jesus frequently found places of quiet to pray or the homes of friends to visit, so should you and I tend to ourselves.  After all, we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves.

         But how can we become a friend of Jesus?  Well, we talk with one another, just as friends do.  In our tradition we call such conversations ‘prayer’.  Friendship with Jesus means the willingness to talk with him as one would a friend.  It doesn’t require special knowledge or special vocabulary; it simply means talking to Jesus, every day, just as we would talk to any other friend about our hopes and fears, our needs and concerns.

         Friends also learn each other’s stories.  In the case of Jesus it means reading the gospels, the only documents we have that tell us about him.  But it also means reading what we call the ‘Hebrew Bible’, those texts which shaped Jesus’ own world and self-understanding.  Gregory Dix, one of the earliest Anglican liturgists, was asked in the early twentieth century, ‘What is the most important things liturgists have learned about Jesus?’  ‘We’ve learned that Jesus was a Jew,’ he replied.  If we want to be friends of Jesus, then we need to know the Scriptures that were and are central to the life of the Jewish people.

         Friends also widen the circle of friendship to include friends of our friend.  For Christians this means two things.  The first is that we read and listen to the wisdom of Christian teachers throughout the centuries.  They have sought, as we seek, to be friends of Jesus and they offer us insights into how to be a better friend.  But we also read and listen to and talk to Christians who are alive in the present moment.  They speak our language; they know our world; they offer us insights that enable us to share our friendship with Jesus with those who have yet to discover him.

         I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to hear Jesus singing a song so very much like Mr Roger’s.

It’s a beautiful world our God has created here,
a beautiful day to become my friend,
would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a friend just like you,
I've always wanted to live with friend just like you.

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
since we're together, we might as well say,
would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my friend?

Won't you please,
won't you please,
Please won't you be my friend?

So, what do you think?  Shall we become Jesus’ friends?


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