A sermon preached by Bob Keller on May 17th, 2009 based on John 15: 9 – 17
The Gospel lesson that David just read for us is part of what is often referred to as Jesus’ “farewell address” to his disciples. Last week we learned about “connectedness” as Jesus used the metaphor of a grapevine and its branches. Being tended by the gardener, God, we are pruned and cared for so that we can bear much fruit.
Today, Jesus talks about love and the complete joy that results from that love. Love can be a tricky word in the English language. For example, I can say, “I love a good plate of lasagna,” or, “I love living in Parsippany,” but that word doesn’t have the same meaning as the word does when I say, “I love you,” to my wife or to my boys.
Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. ….. My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.”
We need to love others the way He loves us.
But how does God love us?
He loves us by seeing us more than just skin deep. Therefore, if I’m going to have God as my role model, I need to see others underneath their skins.
In 1 Samuel we read, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In order to start loving people like God loves them I’m going to have to start seeing people like God sees them!
Fred Coleman sent me an email the other day called “Clay Balls.” Maybe he sent it to you, too.
A man was exploring caves by the Seashore. In one of the caves he found a canvas bag with a bunch of hardened clay balls. It was like someone had rolled clay balls and left them out in the sun to bake. They didn’t look like much, but they intrigued the man, so he took the bag out of the cave with him. As he strolled along the beach, he would throw the clay balls one at a time out into the ocean as far as he could.
He thought little about it, until he dropped one of the clay balls and it cracked open on a rock. Inside was a beautiful, precious stone!
Excited, the man started breaking open the remaining clay balls. Each contained a similar treasure. He found thousands of dollars worth of jewels in the 20 or so clay balls he had left.
Then it struck him. He had been on the beach a long time. He had thrown maybe 50 or 60 of the clay balls with their hidden treasure into the ocean waves. Instead of thousands of dollars in treasure, he could have taken home tens of thousands, but he had just thrown it away!
It’s like that with people. We look at someone, maybe even ourselves, and we see the external clay vessel. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. It isn’t always beautiful or sparkling, so we discount it.
We see that person as less important than someone more beautiful or stylish or well known or wealthy. But we have not taken the time to find the treasure hidden inside that person.
There is a treasure in each and every one of us. If we take the time to get to know that person, and if we ask God to show us that person the way He sees them, then the clay begins to peel away and the brilliant gem begins to shine forth.
God is calling us to be like Him, to love others in spite of their outward flaws of appearance and personality quirks and bad habits and aggravating attitudes. We need to love them in spite of our differences. ###
Then we need to be willing to give. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” Does this mean that we throw ourselves in front of the bus for someone else? Peter must have thought so. Remember when they were still at the table at the Last Supper when Peter said, “I will lay down my life for you.”? Well, we know how that turned out. Peter, at that time, couldn’t even live for Jesus let alone give his life for him. Jesus’ statement doesn’t mean to give unless it’s inconvenient, troublesome, or there’s some personal risk involved. It means to always give.
Putting our lives on the line for others is compassionate. It’s sharing. It’s giving of your abilities or talents, or maybe it’s just giving of your time.
Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois did something several years ago that is simply an amazing example of giving. They reported in the summer 2003 edition of the Christian magazine “Leadership” that they had called the homeless shelters and asked what they really needed. They said shoes. So one Sunday at the close of the worship gathering they ended with a challenge to use that day as a marker if they were really serious about having a Christ-centered heart about helping the poor. “We invited them to come forward,” Pastor Bill Carroll reported, “take communion, remove their shoes and leave them on the stage, and return to their cars barefoot. Besides 1,600 pairs of shoes, people also left coats, hats, and gloves.”
George Bernard Shaw puts it: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Leo Tolstoy said, “Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.”
Paul lists joy second in the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians saying,: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Nothing is more indicative of Christian love than giving and the joy that comes from giving.
In verse 14, Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Our human nature could react negatively to these words. We could say, “So, I can only be Jesus’ friend if I jump through His hoops? No thanks! I don’t want a friend that keeps a checklist on what I am and am not doing.”
Who is being hurt if we ignore Jesus’ commands? Think for a moment of a family dispute. Someone has done something wrong. The fellowship of that family member may be severed for a while, but the relationship never dies. The fellowship ,ay be interrupted, but the relationship never dies.
We’re the ones who impair our own chances at fulfilling relationships by disregarding Christ’s commands – commands and instructions that He gives us for our own good. He wants our joy to be “complete.” He wants our relationships with Him and with one another, to be satisfying.
Then Jesus says one of the most astounding comments in all the Scriptures, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Christ said He isn’t interested in us just being His servants. He wants us to be His friends.
A lot of people have a terrible misconception about what following Christ is all about. They think its just about following this long list of rules. Keep the checklist handy – do this, don’t do that, check, check! Well, if we were just servants then that would be the case. But Jesus clearly says here that He wants us as more than servants. He wants us as friends!
Following Christ is not just about rules – it’s more about relationships!
Earlier I mentioned that the word “love” is a tough one in the English language. Well, “friend” isn’t much easier. A friend is a lover, literally. The relationship between the Latin am?cus “friend” and am? “I love” is clear, as is the relationship between the Greek philos “friend” and phile? “I love.”
Jesus is saying, “I want you as my friend. I want to be your friend!”
We need Jesus as our friend. Without that friendship with Him we are just servants following, and most likely failing, the checklist.
It’s been said that a friend is someone you can call at 4 AM to come bail you out of jail. However, a true friend will be sitting next to you in jail saying, “Dude! That was a blast! When can we do it again?’
Now I’m not suggesting doing anything illegal in the name of friendship. And maybe that’s not the best example to use in a sermon. But I hope you get the idea. A friend is someone we can share with: our ups and downs, our hopes and our failures, our smiles and our tears. We choose our friends carefully, don’t we? While working on this sermon, I got to thinking of the number of friends I’ve had over the years. Some I still have. Some I only have occasional contact with. Others have completely faded into the mist of my life’s journey. My solace, as I sat and thought about whatever happened to…..was that maybe they were at some point in their life saying the same thing about me. And these were people that knew, at the time, my deepest secrets. They saw me unmasked and I saw them. But having Jesus as a friend is everlasting, eternal. Yes, we may interrupt the fellowship, but the relationship is always there.
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you….” Jesus called the disciples just as He calls us. I can’t think of a single disciple that ran after Jesus calling, “Hey! Hey, Jesus. Can I join your club?”
In Revelation, Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…”
I asked Barb if she would mind changing our closing hymn today. It will be #526 – What A Friend We Have In Jesus.
More than a century ago, on the streets of Port Hope, Ontario, a man could be seen walking along carrying a saw and a sawhorse. One day a rich man from across the street saw him and said to a friend, “He looks like a sober man. I think I’ll hire him to cut wood for me.” “That’s Joseph Scriven,” the friend replied. “He wouldn’t cut wood for you. He only cuts wood for those who don’t have enough to pay.” And that sums up the philosophy of Joseph Medlicott Scriven.
Scriven was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1819. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada.
His faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.
In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem that he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn’t have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it “Pray Without Ceasing.”
When the friend inquired about the poem’s origins, Scriven reportedly answered, “The Lord and I did it between us.”
Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It has since become one of our greatest hymns.
Scriven died in 1886. In his memory, the town of Port Hope erected a monument with this inscription from Scriven’s famous song: In His arms He’ll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.
As you sing this hymn, please listen to the words with your heart. Know that Jesus is God, but, more importantly, He is your friend.
Please pray with me:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the words of your son, Jesus, that we heard today. Please help us to love as Jesus loved us and to accept His offer of friendship as our own. Amen.