S. Easter 6.15 “Friends” John 15:9-17
My mom always stressed that I should choose my friends carefully (perhaps you had a similar experience?). She also seemed to think that I did not always do this very well: “I see Brad Gregg’s name pops up a quite a bit with yours in the school discipline reports. Maybe you should choose your friends more wisely? Maybe you’d spend less time in detention?” “Maybe. But you meet interesting people in detention. I think that’s where Butch Cassidy met the Sundance Kid, and they turned out fine.” “No! They didn’t!” “Didn’t they? They looked cool, at the end of the movie: ‘who are these guys?’ I like that movie.” “Your taste in movies is also questionable…”
You could imagine Jesus having a similar conversation with His Father, based on our Gospel reading this morning. Except that Jesus is perfect and so is His Father (because they are God!) and they are perfectly agreed on all the Son is and does and the kind of friends He makes. Except for that—the divine perfection thing—I think they’d have this little talk about choosing your friends more carefully, that the kind who get you in trouble may be fun and interesting, but dangerous! in the long run and best quietly dropped, along the way… In fact, one way to sum up the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He makes friends with all the worst types and it gets Him in a bunch of trouble, so that He leads an exciting, but difficult Life!
Bogie and Louie discover a beautiful friendship at the end of Casablanca and you know that, together, they are going to make a whole heap of trouble for those Nazi thugs, and that it is going to be unspeakably cool when they do. Han and Luke end up as the most unlikely of chums and that turned out pretty well for that galaxy, a long time ago, far, far, away, right? And Indiana re-connects with his dad, Henry Jones, Sr. in the third Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, finding they really are so much alike, peas in a pod—and that almost makes you forgive them for the unspeakable “Temple of Doom” fiasco, right? Almost!
If you were lucky enough, when you were young, to have made friends with Butch, or Bogie, or Han, or Indy, or Someone very like them: someone dangerous, difficult, different, someone with eyes on a whole other kind of life than that most aspire to… well, it stays with you and it defines you and it makes your life extraordinary. May you all be lucky enough to have the kind of friends mom warned us against! Hey, it was friendship that brought me here and got me mixed up with you all and look how well that’s turned out, right?
There is no more dangerous, difficult, and different friend than Jesus. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!” I learned this week someone has written a hymn about this, but when I looked at it, it disappointed me, honestly. The hymn made Jesus sound like the kind of friend mom wanted you to have—safe, conformist, conventional. Someone who more gets you out of trouble than gets you into IT by following Him (I’m not sure on the tune, either!). But the Jesus I know is trouble; and following Him makes more trouble, not less. He’s reckless. He makes friends with all the racy, wrong sort. He ticks off the teachers and authorities. We meet Him in detention (oh, that’s promising, mom says) yet, He seems to relish the friendships He makes in these questionable places, like with that thief He dies next to, on the cross, and promises a place in Paradise! He makes friends with people like Peter, people like you, people like me—the kind of people that make your guardian angel bury her head in her hands and go “Oh, my. Not again!”
He basically promised us last week that if we make friends with Him, if we run with Him in His circles, we’ll get in trouble. The world will hate us (mom too, sometimes!). The authorities will hate us (and try, and often succeed in killing us!). We’ll be in detention often and all kinds of trouble will ensue for being Jesus’ friends. It is not peace as the world gives, not by any stretch of the imagination would you call it that. But it’s fun. It’s cool. And apart from Him we can do nothing fun or cool. Butch and Sundance, Bogie and Louie, Han and Luke, Henry Jr. and Sr. lead boring lives by comparison with Jesus and His friends!
Take Peter, please! Simon Peter was not the friend Mom would have encouraged Jesus to make. He was not college educated, not respectable, not careful, wise, or considerate. Peter was impulsive, reckless, and flighty. He tries walking on water in the middle of a storm on the sea! Not smart! In a pinch, he lets Jesus down, badly. “A friend like that will drag you down!”—you can hear mom’s voice ringing in your ears! And Peter does drag Jesus down. Jesus has to lay down His life to make right all that Peter has gotten wrong. And yet, and yet… Jesus does precisely this. Happily, willingly, Jesus goes and lays down His life on the cross to make right all that Peter (and you and I and Jesus’ other questionable friends) have made wrong.
If Jesus only made friends with Pharisees and other safe, conventional sorts, we’d never have gotten to know Him. It is precisely because His taste in friends is so highly questionable, because He considers detention the most promising place of all for forging life-long bonds of friendship (truly, the most beautiful friendship!) that we know Him. It’s no good trait of ours that draws Him. But the worst in us brings out the best in Him…
Which is why Peter loves Him so much! Jesus turns over all the tables of law and morality (and profit)—literally!—in the temple, when He turns over the money-changers’ and priests’ tables. He calls sick sinners to come to Him and find rest. He goes around, forgiving, healing, and befriending the last and the least, the bad sheep, not the good. And following Him, He certainly rubs off on all His friends. So a life of forgiveness, mercy, radical trust in the mercy of God the Father, comes to define Jesus’ friends. See how Peter goes off making friends with this Roman solider in our first reading?—the very sort the synagogues shun for not being Jewish, Peter goes and befriends and shares the Feast of the Lord’s Body with, becoming one body with the centurion’s household and upending the apple cart of Israel and creating a controversy that stills swirls!
They are troublemakers, Jesus and His Friends! We are the ones who turned the world upside down, as He did by favoring reckless, divine joy over ethics. Jesus says whoever loses their life, carelessly, by the cross, for Christ’s sake, will save it. Whoever comes to Him will find not work but rest! The whole Protestant Work Ethic, destroyed! Oh, Jesus is trouble. Faith, not works (He says) is the only Way to have it work out in the End, for us! Imagine a world like that!
Jesus can. Jesus has. And it is a world He beckons you to enter right now, by faith alone, through his Word and Sacraments by which He comes to you again, today, to make friends. You did not choose Him (so you can tell mom, it was not your idea!). But He chose you. He lured you in with the promise of adventure (better than Butch and Sundance!). He’s not safe, but He’s fun, even cornered by corrupt, Bolivian cops, His Kingdom remains “easy, ripe, and luscious.” “Who are these guys?” His command is simply to trust in Him alone, by faith to become His friend, to know… Peace surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.