My friend Jenny serves as youth and family minister at the congregation my family attended at seminary– Christ Lutheran Church in Bexley, OH. One of the first things Jenny did after starting there was to move the church into the social media age by setting up a congregation Facebook account.
Once she had set up the account, she sent “friend requests” to everyone she knew who would be interested in what was going on at Christ Lutheran.[i] So one morning I checked my Facebook and saw this message:
“Jenny is friends with “Christ” and thinks you may know “Christ” too.”
Of course, I did know Christ – both the Savior and the church - so I clicked on the box to click on to send a friend request.
Who knew it was so simple to be Christ’s friend?
Wait – there was more to it than just a click. The next message to pop up said:
“Christ will have to accept your friend request.”
I was a little worried - would Christ accept me as friend? Wait - wasn’t I already Christ’s friend? I certainly thought he was my friend. What if Christ didn’t accept my friend request?
Curious to what the next message would say, I checked my email several times over the weekend.
Christ never accepted my friend request.
Jenny had realized that Facebook thought the church was a person whose first name was “Christ.” The reason “Christ” never accepted my friend request – Jenny closed the account and re-entered all the information on a ‘page’ – which is the correct way to set up a Facebook presence for an organization.
End of confusing messages about my friendship status with Christ!
It’s so easy to be friends on Facebook. Just a click and as long as the other person accepts your request, you’ve got a friend. As of yesterday, I have 236 friends on Facebook. Most of whom are either family, friend in real-life, people I’ve worked with, gone to school or college or seminary with, parents of my children’s friends and a couple of my children’s friends. There are a very few people I’ve never met in real life, mostly other clergy whom I’ve corresponded with online.
In Facebook language, all these people
– from my niece and nephew,
and my best friend of 25 years
all the way down to a couple of people from high school
who I haven’t talked to in person since I graduated
– are my “friends.”
No matter how close my relationship is with them, Facebook calls them “friends.”
Facebook has changed how we look at friendships. It’s changed how we talk about friendship. It’s changed “friend” from a noun to a verb: we “friend” someone on Facebook, and sometimes we “unfriend” them.
“You are my friends.”
The friendship Jesus was calling them into was deeply intimate, seriously sacred -
and a bit frightening and overwhelming.
Friendship in the ancient world was not taken lightly. To call someone “friend” was to give them the status of kinship, of equality. There were mutual obligations to friendship – a give and take of responsibilities:
“To be a friend meant to look out for the welfare of the other, to put the other's needs on an equal footing with one's own. Friendship implied reciprocity as well -- to consider someone a friend meant counting on that person to return that level of concern and care. When Jesus calls the disciples "friends" he is investing them with this concern. He has shared with them what the Father has revealed to him, and he has given them the task of going out and sharing this revelation with the world.”[ii]
Remember, these are his students. Then, as now, there were boundaries between students and teachers. The teacher has a position of power over the student. A teacher may care very much for her students, but a teacher is not a friend. Not a friend in the way Jesus means here.
In effect, Jesus has just promoted them – from servant and student to friend and equal. It’s graduation time for the disciples. Time to put what they have learned into practice.
In this passage, we hear Jesus talking a lot about keeping his commandments and loving one another. Jesus is telling them it’s time for them to practice what he has preached – to follow his commandments.
But Jesus never specifically tells them what commandments he means. For us, reading this passage 2000-some years later, we have to think a bit – what commandments are Jesus talking about?
We think and remember –
· the Great Commandment:
o “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
· the Golden Rule:
o “Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.”
The disciples may have remembered those teachings too. But they are still in the Upper Room when Jesus calls them friends and tells them to keep his commandments. The commandment uppermost in their mind at that moment is a towel-wrapped Jesus, kneeling and washing their feet, saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you.”
“You should do as I have done to you.”
“You should serve others in love as I have served you in love, even to the point of laying down my life for you, my friends.”
The disciples discover what that friendship IS a verb.
Friendship is an action – not clicking on a button,
· but listening to another,
· sharing another’s joys,
· carrying another’s burdens,
· caring for another,
It’s hard work being a friend. It takes time, and effort, and intimacy, and patience.
Jesus knows this, so he tells his disciples,“I have given you these commandments – most recently given you the example of serving one another when I washed your feet – so that you may love one another.”
Jesus’ commandments enable us to love one another, to live in community together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and as friends.
That’s what happens when we abide in the vine like the passage from last week talks about.[iii] Jesus is the vine and we as the branches get our nourishment from him. We are strengthened to grow and enabled to bear fruit because we are part of Jesus and Jesus is part of God. That relationship Jesus has with the Father flows through Jesus to us! God’s love flows through Jesus the Vine into the branches that make up our church and the stems on the branches that are each one of us, and that love flows out of us as fruit to a love-starved world.
[i] This happened a few years ago (2009?), and the ‘script’ Facebook uses has changed since then.
[iii] Our reading this week is a continuation of last week’s reading (John 15:1-8).