Alex led and preached at our Parish Communion at St Mary’s, Easton this morning. The link to the video of it is below.
This is the audio recording, unfortunately the first couple of minutes were not recorded.
This is the transcript:
‘You are my friends ….if you do what I command you’.
These are some of the precious final words (according to John) that Jesus speaks
at the last supper to his disciples on the night before He is crucified: ‘You are my friends
if you do what I command you’…..
What does this mean?
Doesn’t it seem a bit odd for someone to say ‘if you do what I tell you, then you are my friend’?
and by implication if you do not do what I tell you, you are not my friend?
In the downstairs loo at home I have hanging a certificate dated March 1977. It says:
‘Elizabeth the Second by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith to our trusty and well beloved Alexander Michael Pease Greeting…’
It’s the Queen’s Commission for an Army Officer, which I was once upon a time.
It goes on to say
‘We do hereby command you to observe and follow such Orders and Directions as from time to time you shall receive from Us or any your superior officer in pursuance of the trust hereby reposed in you’
So, if I follow that command does it make me the Queen’s friend?
Of course not!
I am, we are, Her subjects….
How then can Jesus say that if we follow His commands, we are his friends?
To solve this conundrum we first need to ask what do we mean by ‘friendship’?
CS Lewis in his book ‘The Four Loves’ describes the different sorts of love that we can have for each other:
Firstly, there is affection or in Ancient Greek, the language of the gospels ‘Storge’. This is the affection that a parent has for a child or a child for a parent.
Then there is ‘Eros’ which is sexual attraction, the phenomenon of ‘being in love’.
There is also the highest love of all ‘Agape’ which is self sacrificial love, the sort of love which Jesus showed for us all by dying on the cross for us.
But Lewis also talks of ‘Philia’ – friendship which is the Greek word that John uses to describe what Jesus said in this passage.
The picture that Lewis gives of Philia, of Friendship, is of a non-sexual relationship. He contrasts Eros (where the lovers are face to face absorbed in each other, always talking about their love) with Philia – friendship, where the friends hardly ever talk about their friendship.
Friends are pictured as side by side absorbed in some common interest or a common experience, but it does require a common interest or experience something external something outside of themselves which they do together or they can enjoy. It’s difficult to get beyond mere acquaintance with others with whom we do not share a common interest or a common experience.
I would add that a feature of this common interest or common experience is that friends do not have the power to change it. It’s something they observe, they take part in according to the rules, it is external to them both. They watch or play football within the rules, they don’t set the rules. They have an interest in stamp collecting…they don’t design and print the stamps themselves.
As opposed to Eros, which is necessarily limited (one would hope) to two, Lewis says that Philia, friendship, can and should be extended to more and more people. Friendship is, according to Lewis, more than mere companionship but arises when companions on some kind of journey together, ‘Discover that they have some common insight or interest or even taste which perhaps the others do not share’.
I go to a gym in Kingsworthy once a week. The personal trainer who runs the club is an avid football fan. He often goes to watch Portsmouth – Pompey. When he is with other Pompey fans they have enormous fun together speaking about the club’s matches, prospects…and the manager….even if they have nothing else in common at all, they are friends…
But there would be less connection if his interest, all he wanted to talk about, were only football and the other’s interest were only, say, cricket…or even if the other supported Saints…instead of Pompey.
So how do we reconcile these two ideas of being both Jesus’ subjects, who follow his commands and being his friends who share a common interest?
Because it is He who is the common interest that we share together as friends.
But does that solve the problem?
If Jesus were just another person seeking to encourage groups of people who have a common interest in him or her, like a pop star might want to encourage her fans, it would be difficult for the pop star also to be friends with the fans without being a narcissist….
The pop star might say: “You are all friends because you are very interested in me and that’s great because I am very interested in me also”. It doesn’t work…..the relationship is unequal and for the pop star not about something external to herself. She can change what she is like as she chooses….
But Jesus manages to be both friend and Lord without diminishing what it is to be a friend or undermining what it is to be Lord, because of what He shares with us, because of what is the common interest that we have as friends together and with him:
He is and he shares with us:
Unchanging Truth, and
Shows us and encourages us to show self sacrificial Love
Jesus manages to be both friend and Lord, because what he gives to us, (and what he commands us to give to others), is precisely the opposite of capricious narcissism which changes like the wind, because it is unchanging truth. He is that truth, He is the word the logos (as we hear in John 1) at the centre of the universe which is unchangeable and secondly because that unchanging truth is love. It is, He is, and he shows us self-sacrificial love. His project, His identity, His interest is love and his commands to us (Matthew 22:37-39) are to love God with our whole hearts and to love our neighbour as ourselves, because this behaviour, these commands, are consistent with (because they reflect) the unchanging truth at the centre of the universe the unchanging nature of God.
So Jesus himself is both truth and love and in a trinitarian relationship with the Father and the Spirit who are also equally truth and love and are the nature of God, so in his nature Jesus is that truth and love and in an intimate dance with the Father and the Spirit which has always been and will last for ever and he invites us into that common interest, that eternal dance with him the Father and the Spirit…as his friends.
But what is love and how do we get to know it?
Is it what we feel….?
Is it what the world calls love?
Love is defined by Jesus and what he did for us and what He calls us to do for others.
Look, we are all naturally selfish, we are not naturally loving, we are not naturally self sacrificial.
But the Lord is like the apex of a triangle, the sides of the triangle, each of us coming up from each of our own selfish perspectives. As we draw closer to Him, as we get to know Him better, as we seek to be less selfish and more focused on loving Him, we draw closer to each other and become more able to know what love is and to love each other. We become friends who love each other because of our common interest in loving Him, (and through him the Father) and in that truth at the centre of the universe.
Jesus also shows us, in myriad ways in his teaching and in his life what ‘love’ means, in practice and what it means: is to follow his commands, is to seek to imitate Him.
Jesus defines love
Jesus is love, self-sacrificial love.
Ultimately, he acted literally on His words in verse 13, that verse so popular on Remembrance Sunday ‘No-one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’.
Between followers of Christ, there is no end of conversation about our common interest in what that love means in practice, and about what the Lord is doing in our lives. In other words, about how the Lord is loving us, how we are loving him. Followers of Christ, friends of Christ, study what Jesus said and did, as it is uniquely revealed in the Bible, to get to know Him to get to know what that love means. They don’t make it up, as they go along
Followers of Christ see and speak of this love in their testimonies, in their stories about how they first came to know him. They discuss the struggles that they have with following his commands….because self sacrifice is always difficult.
Discovering that commonality that common interest in Christian friendship, glimpsing if you like into the nature of the Trinity is the greatest of fun…..particularly when we discover it in people who are new to us and even from a different culture.
Some years ago, we were taking Marina’s stuff up to St Andrew’s University. It was just after Claudia’s 21st Birthday Party and Marina had flown up the day before. So a long eight and half hours journey by road to take Marina’s stuff to the room that she was to share in college with a complete stranger.
We had been praying quite a bit about this room mate that she might get on well with Marina. We were particularly concerned that the friend was someone who would be at least sympathetic to her Christian faith and the way that she was committed to live her life.
Anyway we arrived and met her room-mate Madeleine’s parents, Jim and Kimberly, who were from California. Much to my surprise, with the delightful openness that Americans often have, they explained that they were Christians. I said (what possessed me?) I think I was tired from the combined experience of Claudia’s party and the long journey, I said (crassly), “Lots of people say that they are Christians”….
I am still embarrassed to think about it….
Jim replied, looking slightly puzzled, but clearly ready to respond to any challenge made an eccentric Englishman, he said ‘Yes, but we really are Christians!’. And they invited us out to dinner.
It was the most extraordinary evening I think I have ever had. As we told them our story how we had come to faith, Kimberly kept saying “Oh my goodness!”, as we exchanged one story after another. Their church which meets on the beach in South Bay Los Angeles had been praying for Madeleine’s ‘roomie’ for six months!
We found that in every area, we had common stories to tell, we had common experiences, we had complete agreement on so many issues and wonderful and exciting evidence of God’s grace in our lives.
The friendship has blossomed with us staying with them, numerous times in the United States and them staying with us here and enjoying what I can only describe as ‘Mountain top experiences’ whenever we are with them. They have been with us at almost every important event in our families lives ever since. And Marina and Madeleine remain good friends as well.
Now some of you will be thinking, ’That all sounds a bit intense…It wouldn’t suit me’. But, in our British way, I think we are moving towards (and we should move closer towards) true Christian friendship in Itchen Valley, despite the cultural differences between us…..which I think is the best way to describe the traditionalist and modernist approaches to worship.
As we refuse to allow unimportant differences to damage our relationship with each other and are determined self-sacrificially to be in unity for the future, to be friends; as we get to know Jesus more and more: by studying the Bible daily, by praying for wisdom from the Holy Spirit, by attending courses such as Alpha, The Bible Course and The Prayer Course; by joining together in home groups to pray and support each other and noticing together the marvellous outworking of the Holy Spirit in our and each other’s lives, by trusting God with our problems, we become Jesus’ and each others friends…..closer and closer; we glimpse the nature of the trinity, that truth at the centre of the universe. We are no longer just His subjects, because we are involved in what He is doing in the world, we share an interest, we share an understanding with each other and with Him.
As Jesus said (verse 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 the Father”. He has revealed that truth to his friends…and we have been “appointed (verse16) to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name”.
We can see the fruit in those getting baptised and confirmed, such as Tania and Phoebe a few Sundays ago and in people joining our church from all over…
As we go deeper and deeper into this friendship bearing fruit and receiving from the Father whatever we ask him in Jesus name, this little parish will become a place which I believe will have an impact far and wide and the world will be transformed.