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'Jesus is a Friend of mine' A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

The sermon for the All Age Holy Communion service on the Sixth Sunday of Easter on the 5th of May 2024.

 Rachael Brind-Surch explores what being a friend of Jesus means for us and how loving each other means loving every other.

The readings she is reflecting on are:

Acts 10:44-end

John 15.9-17

The Sermon

What makes someone your friend?
I wonder if anyone would mind telling me exactly what it is you look for in a friend?

[Lots of running round with a microphone and suggestions from various people within the church, the children agreed that it is someone who is naughty]

I have a theory, I'm studying at theological college at the moment and we do love a model! 

My theory is that usually the reasons we are friends with someone

Can be broken down to the simple fact that we have something in common with them. Something the same as them.

Maybe it’s the same interest, like football or crafting

May it's the same shared experience- like both being new parents at the same time or attending the same music festival.

Perhaps you have a shared environment like your workplace or you went to the same school.

When we think about the person we most enjoy spending time with, we most often think about something which unites us with them.Maybe you don’t do anything the same but you have the same sense of humour,
the same passions, maybe even if you appear very different on the outside you have the same values which help direct you. You may have the same outlook in life which allows you to give each other great advice, or cheer each other up.

The thing in them which connects to something in us.

This shared thing might be obvious, or it might be a bit deeper,
but often if that shared thing isn’t there anymore we can lose those friendships,
or grow apart from that person.

Friends we were super close to in Uni may move away and become distant.

We may changed jobs or people retired and the in jokes and daily interactions and experiences which that relationship was anchored in can disappear.

This mutual experience or interest however shallow or deep often forms the building blocks on which our friendships are based. They are the glue that holds us together. 

If you take those Building blocks away the friendship can start to fall apart.

In our gospel reading today we are told that Jesus has a friendship with those who follow him.

He says rather than us acting as his servants, we are his friends.

But there is a condition on which this friendship is based. There is glue that holds it together.

The something in common he wants to have with us.

And it turns out that common concern, the something which unites us with Jesus, the thing in Jesus he wants to connect to something in us. 

Is each other.

Jesus says ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you’.

Which admittedly does sound more like a master and a servant relationship.

But let us look at exactly what that command is.

It is simply this.
‘To love each other as Jesus has loved us.’

The condition of our friendship with Jesus is entirely based on loving each other.

Our shared interest with Jesus, on which our relationship is built? Is an interest in each other.

Our shared past time on which our friendship is built? Spending time with each other, being there for each other.

Jesus is basically saying 'if you want to be my friend?

You gotta get with my other friends.'

And if you are thinking well gosh Rachael - that’s hard because there are followers of Jesus [gesticulates to the congregation] - and [grimacing] there are followers of Jesus.

Because there are followers of Jesus who will march with me at Pride under a rainbow flag,
And welcome queer people and other marginalised people,
And hold politics I am very happy to agree with,

And then there are followers of Jesus who frankly I feel much safer and happier loving from over here. 

But friends, I’m super sorry, but I’m pretty confident that when Jesus says love each other, he actually means love every other.

Jesus And Menas
An 8th Century Coptic Icon of Abbot Mena and Christ from the Louvre in Paris. The French call it “Christ and His friend”.

But take comfort! Because the task to love every other has tested Christians since the very beginning of the earliest of churches!

The passage we heard from Acts was pretty short so it's hard to understand exactly what is going on other than a lot of baptisms and a movement of the spirit.

But in this passage Peter is preaching to gentiles in the home of a Roman soldier.

Gentiles is basically a term for quite probably the majority of us sat here. A gentile is someone who is not a practising Jew, and whilst we don’t tend to think that the only people who can follow Jesus have to be from a specific cultural and religious heritage today, at the time when Peter was first starting to preach and the church was first being made, this was a huge deal. That’s why if you read on after the passage the Jewish followers of Jesus get really cross at Peter baptising gentile followers of Jesus, staying in their homes and welcoming them as friends.

But don’t get too impressed by Peter either by the way. If you flip back to the start of this chapter you will read that Peter has also only just undergone his change of heart following a particularly crazy dream involving food purity laws being thrown out by God and a well-timed invitation to stay with a Roman soldier called Cornelius. Cornelius a gentile, who welcomes Peter into his home. The very same home that Peter is preaching in. 

So yes welcoming unexpected people - particularly people we wouldn’t normally be caught dead with is challenging. 

It’s a challenge for Peter. Who by the way was at the table in the Gospel reading with Jesus being told directly to love each other, and even he did not realise then that loving each other meant loving every other for quite some time.

And so it’s not a surprise it’s a challenge for us.

But it’s a challenge our good friend is willing to show up and help us with.

Each of us is chosen by Jesus and at the risk of skipping ahead a couple of weeks to Pentecost each of us has been given God's spirit, just like those Gentiles who were baptised.

And if our politics aren’t held in common,

Or our welcome differs

Or our understanding or approach to scripture is not the same.

It’s important to remember the one thing, the most important thing we have in common.

And that is that Jesus has chosen us as his friend.

That we have the help of his advocate the Holy Spirit in us,
responding to and connecting to the Holy Spirit in them.

That she can stretch our hearts to love the people who Jesus has also chosen to be his friend.

For Peter the journey looked simple, he accepted hospitality from that person, I think for us being given a nice Airbnb and a good breakfast is a pretty easy way to begin to like someone right? But for Peter, that hospitality would have the potential to shatter his other existing friendships, it prompted some awkward questions – but look what came of it.

I believe that hospitality and time and accepting invitations really is the key.

I’m not now saying that everyone here needs to go and stay a week with someone they can’t stand. But what about a conversation? What about poking a hole in our own assumptions and trying to focus less on what pulls us apart?

Not in a way that colludes with injustice,

Or puts ourselves at risk or real harm.

But in small ways that start to show us small commonalities. That helps us to to not just love each other, but every other.

It may be as simple as responding to someone with the question why do you say that? Rather than walking away or shutting them down.

You may not agree- but frankly, if you have friends who only ever agree with you – I’m not sure that is healthy. And without some vulnerability making friends can be impossible.

It may be as small a step as simply taking some time this week to think of someone you strongly disagree with, the person who go out of your way to avoid bumping into or getting stuck chatting to over coffee. Sit and think about them and ask yourself what it is in them that causes you to react that way. Then perhaps ask Jesus to help you see them like he does. Because all the wonderful things that we read about how God and Jesus love us, is just as true for that person.

So that is your challenge. To try and start to see that every other friend of Jesus could be your friend too.

Who knows you may be pleasantly surprised.