Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Living as God's friends"

Message preached May 25, 2003
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  John 15:9-17

Order of Worship

            Friendship is one of the most precious commodities in this world. Perhaps thatís because we often find it hard to come by. Most everybody longs to have real friends, donít they? Do you remember that old television program, "Cheers?" The show revolved around a bar, where (as the theme song went): "people know people are all the same, and theyíre always glad you came, and everybody knows your name"... Most everyone longs to have real friends. Of course, what passes for friendship in this world is more often a shadow of what true friendship is all about...

            "No one has greater love than this, to lay down oneís life for oneís friends" (John 15:13). Real friendship involves a depth of love which willingly sets aside oneís own self, oneís own life for another. Such friendship is a rare commodity.

            I once went to see a crazy play, entitled: "THE NERD," written by Larry Shue. The plot of this comedy revolves around a fellow who was wounded in Vietnam in 1971 - his very first day there - and was carried to safety by another wounded soldier, in spite of heavy enemy fire. This man never really met his rescuer, for he was unconscious the whole time. He did manage, however, to get this other G.I.ís address, and wrote him after the war with a promise that this "friend" who saved him would always be welcome in his home, and that he would help this "friend" out if ever he had need.

            Well, several years later, that rescuer shows up unexpectedly. And the rest of the play is a hilarious discovery of how much a "nerd" this other fellow really is. What is a "nerd," but someone who doesnít really fit in, who clashes obnoxiously with the people around him. Thatís how it is with this playís nerd. And he comes to stay for good, taking literally the promise of the man he saved several years before. The play itself is a humorous study in the limits of friendship, how a man is increasingly weighed down by the burden of his obligation to another man who is constantly straining the boundaries of it through rude, obnoxious, and socially ridiculous behavior.

            "No one has greater love than this, to lay down oneís life for oneís friends" Loving a friend, laying down your life for another, is not easy - whether it be on some battlefield, or back at home. It sometimes seems as if it is the nature of friendship to test its boundaries. We long for friends willing to stand by us in thick and thin, and not just when itís socially acceptable. Isnít that who a true friend really is? Someone who loves you as you are, even when you seem most unlovable. Friendship, real friendship is hard to come by in this world. People long to have true friends.

            Back when I was in High School, Carol King wrote a timeless song about real friendship, popularized by James Taylor. Let me share it with you (sing with guitar) - "You've got a friend" (hear midi).....

            "No one has greater love than this, to lay down oneís life for oneís friends" Real friendship involves a depth of love which willingly sets aside oneís own self, oneís own life for another. Such friendship is a rare commodity. Still, people long to have real friends. Donít you? However, friendship doesnít come easily, at least not the deep, lasting kind. Often times, itís nearly impossible to be everything that friendship calls us to be. Friendship can become a weighty obligation.

            However, there is good news for those who long for real friendship, who desire to receive and to give it. The good news is: This is Godís desire as well. Isnít that what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about? Isnít that the focus of the Bible? God desires our friendship. No, not a surface type of friendship, but a deep, lasting relationship. The kind that is willing to let go of oneís own life in the process - for another. God desires our friendship. God longs for us to live as His friends.

            "God so loved us," the Bible says, "that he gave his only Son" - he laid down his own life. When Jesus said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down oneís life for oneís friends," he wasnít just speaking about somebody else. He was speaking first and foremost about God, and about the cross which lay on the path of real friendshihands signing the phrase "Jesus is my friend" p. God so loved us, God so desires our relationship that he gave his only son, "that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

            Now, to believe in Jesus is not just some intellectual exercise. Those whom you consider your best friends, do you not believe in them? I donít mean "believe that they exist," but rather "rely upon your relationship with them." You trust them with the darker part of yourself, that they will still accept you. You trust that when you most need them, they will be there for you. You believe in them. But believing in a friend does not just involve trusting in what they can do for you.

            For instance, the best friend of an athlete is someone who believes in him, who believes that she can accomplish her goal. The same is true for Jesus Christ. To believe in Him is not just some intellectual exercise. It is to be his friend, to trust in his friendship, to believe in his ability. When we sing, "What a friend we have in Jesus," we are speaking of a two-way relationship, a friendship desired by Him and us. God desires our friendship. And we find in Jesus Christ the truest friend of all, One willing to lay down his life for his friends.

"Aint it good to know that youíve got a friend when people can be so cold; theyíll hurt you, and desert you, and take your soul if you let them, O, but donít you let them. You just call out my name," he says, "and you know wherever I am Iíll come running to see you again. ...Iíll be there, yes, I will. Youíve got a Friend."

1989 theme logo - Church of the Brethren Annual Conference            What is also good news for us is that the ability to be a real friend - something which can be so hard for us - well, because of our friendship with God, because we believe in the ability of our friend Jesus; strangely enough, we find that very ability in us. Because God first loved us, because we are empowered to live as Godís friends, we can become real friends to people around us who long for friendship. And that is really the first step in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ - evangelism. First and foremost, evangelism means becoming a true friend to someone who needs a true friend. Then, somewhere in the process of being a friend, we share personally about our friendship with God in Jesus Christ.

            One Christian song I really like says this, "Donít tell me Iíve got a friend in Jesus, if you donít show me that Iíve got a friend in you." Yes, real honest-to-goodness friendship does not come easy. It involves a willingness to step outside yourself, to place yourself in something other-than Ďfirst position,í to willingly lay down your life for a friend. Yes, real honest-to-goodness friendship does not come easy. But because of Godís friendship, we can live as God's friends, and thus become true friends to those around us.

            Let me end with a true story of friendship, one you may have heard before, but in an exaggerated form. The year was 1976. It happened at a track and field event of the Spokane, Washington Special Olympics. Several mentally handicapped young people were lined up at a starting line for a race to the finish. When the gun sounded they took off. Somewhere around the track, however, one of the runners stumbled and fell. This is where the pop version of the story takes off, claiming that all the other runners heard the cry of their fallen comrade and stopped right where they were and returned to the spot where he lay, wiping away his tears.

            Well, the truth itself is remarkable in its own right. These, after all, were young people as competitive as anyone else, each desiring to do their best toward possibly winning that race. Most of the other contestants went right on running. However, there was one (maybe two - the record is unclear) who did stop and turn back to that special olympian who had fallen. Helping him to his feet, they ran the rest of the race together, crossing the finish line as one. They were all champions. [see the Urban Legends page on this story and its exaggerations]

            Was that an example of real friendship? When we long to have or to be a true friend, isnít that part of what we picture - someone who is willing to set aside their own victory in order to share it with another? Is that what the friendship, the fellowship, the church of Jesus Christ should be like? The world is dying for real friendship. Isnít it about time we really started living as Godís friends?

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see John.

©2003 (1989, 1991) Peter L. Haynes

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