Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age, “Friends”

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Friends”
A Message on John 15:12-17

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 19, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

John 15:12-17 (NRSV)


“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.


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Raise your hand if you have friends. Go on, don’t be shy. Raise them up there.


Now leave them up of you have really good friends. I’m talking true, true friends, the kind that you know would do anything for you.


Now if you have a spouse hopefully there is a friendship there but it’s a special kind, and not the kind we want to explore today. Today I want us to look at friends, true friends, those that will hold your hair back if your are sick and throwing up, those that know things about you that you don’t share with anyone, those who will tell you if you have something stuck in your teeth or if you’re wearing an outfit that doesn’t match or if your breath stinks. Those kind of friends.


A guy named Josh Charles once said, “My dad said to me growing up: ‘When all is said and done, if you can count all your true friends on one hand, you’re a lucky man.’” [hold up hand with fingers out].


I am blessed. Let me tell you about some of those friends..


In 2004 I quit my job, moved our family to Carthage, Tx, and then began seminary at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.


Because of the distance (3 hours one way) driving back and forth daily wasn’t an option. Instead, I paid to stay in what was called the “commuter dorm.” This was a dorm room on campus right next to the seminary. It was a two, one bath dorm room, and four of us “commuters” stayed in it.


That’s when I met Tommy Earl Burton, Wade Lindstrom, and Dylan Cole. We were assigned to the dorm room by the university. I can look back now and see the hand of God at work in putting me with those three. (And I’m pretty sure there were times when the university officials regretted it.)


None of us knew the others until we began classes that August in 2004. We became good friends, though. Not Facebook friends (Facebook didn’t even exist then), but good friends.


In early January of 2005, before the semester began, my appendix burst early one morning and Pam drove me to the hospital in Longview where I had emergency surgery, followed by postoperative infections. I was in pretty bad shape and spent 10 days in the hospital. Dylan was in Oklahoma, but Tommy Earl and Wade drove to Longview to see me. There they prayed for me and just spent time with me.


One of the things the nurses said I could do to help my condition was to walk. I would get my IV pole, put on another hospital gown backwards over the one I already had on to keep me from mooning people, and then would walk around that floor of the hospital. Tommy Earl and Wade would go with me on my walks.


Being good friends, though, they did more than that. One time, right after we had passed the nurses station, Wade said in a loud voice (so the nurses could hear it), “No, Doug, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to get on the elevator and leave. You’re still pretty sick.” The nurses raised their heads from their paperwork and watched just to see if I was going to make a run for the elevator. And trust me, the shape I was in I wasn’t going to be making a run anywhere.


A couple of years later Tommy Earl and I were walking down the hall at the seminary when we saw the Dean of the seminary approaching us in the hallway. Just when he came within hearing distance Tommy Earl said in a voice loud enough for the Dean to hear, “No, Doug, I disagree with you. I think Dean Lawrence is doing a great job!” Ahhhh, such good friends.


Seriously, though, the laughter with those friends is what got me through seminary. I often wonder if I would have made it through if I had been put with some of the dry, humorless people I knew from my classes. I’m not sure I would have.


They were good friends. And they still are. We are all in different parts of the state (Dylan’s still in Oklahoma) and aren’t close geographically, but we’re still friends. Good friends.


In Facebook there are “friends” that you have. Most of the time not just anyone can post things to your page or see things posted to your page. They have to send you a friend request (or they send you one) and then you either accept or decline that request (or they accept or decline your request). If they (or you) accept, then you are “friends.”


It used to be a big deal years ago to see how many friends you had on Facebook. It used to list the number of friends (I don’t think it does anymore) and people would brag about it. “I have over 500 friends!” I always wanted to tell them, “Well, first of all, the term “over” is a preposition that indicates spatial relationships so the term you should have used is “more than” which indicates numerical value. And second, how many are those ‘friends’ are people that you don’t know and that you have never met? Just because someone accepts your friend request on Facebook doesn’t mean that you are truly friends.” That’s what a true friend would have told them. But I usually just kept my mouth shut.


Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age” by looking at the topic of “friends.”


I saw a saying that said, “True friendship is walking into a person’s house and our wifi connects automatically.” While humorous, that is a rather limiting definition of friendship.


Friends, true friends, are almost a spiritual relationship, aren’t they? True friends laugh together, cry together, share struggles, and have connections that are difficult to explain.


In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John, we find Jesus talking to his disciples. He is teaching them things that will be important once he is gone, kind of a final words of encouragement. Jesus knows that he will be arrested and crucified and he is trying to prepare the disciples for what is going to happen.


One of the things he tells them is that he considers them to be his friends. Theologically speaking, this is profound. This is big time.


Unfortunately our language has watered-down the word “friend” so that it doesn’t carry as much meaning as it should. We think of Jesus being our friend in this way. [Show Jesus action figure giving a thumbs up sign and a wink.] This figure is from the film “Dogma” in which the figure of Jesus on the cross is considered to “depressing” and so the church comes up with “Buddy Christ” which is more uplifting and positive.


Now there are a lot of people who prefer “Buddy Christ” over the real Jesus Christ. “Buddy Christ” isn’t judgmental, looks the other way with regard to sin, and pretty much lets you do whatever you want without having to feel guilty about it. He’s your friend, your buddy. He just wants you to be happy.


But is that really who Jesus is? Is that a Biblical truth of who Jesus is?


No. Jesus isn’t talking about that kind of friend in the scripture we ready today. Here’s The Message paraphrase of John 15:14-15: “You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”


Did you catch that first sentence? “You are my friends when you do the things I command you.”  It’s not, “You are my friends because I think you’re funny.” It’s not “You are my friends because I like you.” It’s not “You are my friends because I like hanging out with you.” It’s not “You are my friends regardless of what you do.”


No. “You are my friends when you do the things I command you.”


The great commandment Jesus gives is to love. In the first verse we read today Jesus “commands” the disciples to love each other the way Jesus loved them. In the Great Commandment he tells them to love God with all that you are, and love others with all that you are. You are my friends when you love.


We are friends with Jesus when we follow God’s will. We are friends with Jesus when we love, truly unconditionally love.


Here are some other words of wisdom from the Bible on the topic of friends:


“Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24)


“A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)


“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” (Proverbs 27:17)


“Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6)


“Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14)


“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)


There is a contemporary Christian song that has been around a few years titled “Friend of God.” It was written by Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor and performed by Israel Houghton and even Phillips, Craig and Dean.


I remember when I first heard it I thought it was way off theologically. After all, I don’t want God or Jesus to be my friend. I want God to be my savior, my creator, the divine entity that is omniscient, omnipotent, powerful enough to create miracles or smite down those who get too far out of line.


But then I started listening to the lyrics.


Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me it’s amazing

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

God Almighty, Lord of Glory
You have called me friend


Now notice something about these lyrics. They don’t say, “God is my friend.” No, they say “I am a friend of God.”


That was the part that I missed that caused me not to like the song.


Jesus tells the disciples that when they love one another they are no longer servants, but friends. There is no longer a master/servant hierarchy, but a more intimate one.


There is a saying that refers to a method of growing the kingdom of God, of bringing to Christ those who currently don’t have a relationship with Jesus. You will see it used in the Walk to Emmaus community. The saying is this:


Make a friend.

Be a friend.

Bring a friend to Christ.


Let’s look at that closer.


First, make a friend. When I was young I was shy. It’s true. I would get extremely anxious about calling someone on the telephone that I didn’t know. The thing that helped me out of that shyness was becoming a newspaper reporter. That forced me to start conversations with people I didn’t know. It was brutal for me for a while, but eventually I got over being shy. Now I have no problem walking up and talking to people I have never met.


The best way to make friends is to talk to people you have never met. And when I say “talk” I really mean “listen.” Talk some, but mainly listen. Truly listen to the person, try to remember their name, what they tell you about themselves. Make it be more about them than yourself.


Now if you just sit back and passively wait for people to make friends with you instead of you taking the initiative of making friends of others, eventually you might make some friends. But not nearly as many as you would if you are the one initiating it.


Make a friend. And not just with people who look like you, who are in your social strata, who are your age. Leave your comfort zone and explore for friends. Walk up to a complete stranger and start a conversation. It really isn’t that difficult.


Second, be a friend. Be there for others. Care, truly care, about them. Check on them. Help them when they need it. Love them the way Christ loves us, the way Jesus tells us to love.


And then third, bring a friend to Christ. Notice that it doesn’t say “let them come to Christ on their own.” It says “bring” a friend to Christ. Statistics show that most people visit a church for the first time because they were invited by a friend. Be that friend. Bring a friend to Christ.


So that’s my challenge for you this week: Make a friend, be a friend, then bring a friend to Christ. Jesus tells his disciples that when they love others as he loved them that they are no longer servants but his friends. The same is true for us. When we love others as Jesus loves us, we are his friends. We can sing, “I am a friend of God.”


Now it won’t be easy, and it may be more difficult for some of us than others. But following Christ isn’t about being comfortable, it’s about being faithful and loving God with all that we have and loving others.


Take that step of faith and make a friend this week. Then be a friend to that person, a true friend, not a Facebook friend. And then, when the time is right, bring that friend to Christ.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


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