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The Love and Friendship of Jesus.

Updated: May 7

If somebody asks me, what do I love, I might say, "I love flower festivals," or "I love walking," or "I love living here." But as everybody knows, I would be using the word "love" in quite a different way than if l said, "I love my wife," or "I love my family," or "I love God." But what is love? Does love have limits? And is Christian love different, or is it an aspect of what we all understand as "love"?

Most of us have been fortunate enough to know love in our childhood through our families and parents. This is a protective sort of love, one that makes decisions on behalf of the children. It's a fairly unequal love, at least to start with, because small babies need constant care and attention throughout the day and often throughout

the night too. And because adults are responsible for offering their children the best possible chance in life, it's the sort of love which uses sanctions if they disobey, in the best interest of the children. So, parent-child love generally has less equality than love between adults.

When young couples stand before the altar on their wedding day, they're always in love. It's a romantic love, intense and infatuating, and it usually wears rose-tinted spectacles. But as all those who have ever been "in love" know, this intense and overwhelming feeling doesn't last. Romantic love gradually matures into an adult love. We are no longer servants, but friends expected to love each other. Adult love, Christian love, the love of friendship, the love in a mature Christian marriage, is open and above board. This is a kind of love that is not based on dependency or sanctions or romantic idealism, but on equality. And this adult love, this love between equals, is Christian love.

God's Love

In the early days of the Old Testament, it seems God's love was based on sanctions. It was like the love of a parent for a child. As long as the people obeyed, God would take care of everything, and everything would be all right. But if they disobeyed, in some awful way, they would feel the strength of God's displeasure.

But in the Gospel passages from Saint John 15: 9-17, Jesus tells us it isn't like that anymore. We have grown up. We are no longer servants, but friends expected to love ·each other with an adult love. And if we fail to obey this commandment to love each other, there are no sanctions. God will not zap us, he won't destroy us, and we won't feel the strength of God's displeasure. In these passages Jesus says, "I have made known to you everything I have learned from my father." Children may be too young to understand, but adults can be told everything, even those things that hurt. What He is saying is that the disciples are adults and are ready to face reality.

It's very easy to hide things from those we claim to love, and to justify that action by professing to spare them pain. But we all have the right to our own pain, and that pain can often be a point of spiritual growth. Our gospel reading is taken from the low point in Jesus' ministry. Soon, he will go to Gethsemane and then on to the Cross. John does not portray Jesus' agony. Instead, John portrays the truth about Jesus. And the truth is that in his last hours Jesus came to see his disciples in a new way.

Before vanishing into the fog, Jesus wants us to know 'something'. He prays that we'll understand this. The disciple whom Jesus loved tells us this 'something'; he seems to "get it." That 'something' is this: the Maker of all things loves us and wants us. We need to know this fact and then act accordingly with the knowledge of God's love.

That Jesus and the Father are close, there can be no doubt. We get a sense of this throughout John's Gospel. It's a sense that Reynolds Price, a contemporary writer and scholar who's translated John from the original Greek, relates his own understanding of Jesus as one who "stood in a demonstrably but inexplicably intimate relation to the creator of our world."

Jesus is leaving. He tells us in Saint John 4:3, "And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will bring you to myself, that where I am you may be also." By the fifteenth chapter, John's gospel is heading toward its climax. In a little while Jesus will leave the room where he's broken bread, go out to the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron valley, to a garden called Gethsemane. There, as we say, things will really start to fall apart at the seams.

But before that, like John, the Beloved disciple, we are called to remain near Jesus our friend and listen to His parting words, his farewell discourse and prayers. "Now the Son of Man is glorified," Jesus says "and in him God is glorified ... Little children, yet a little while I am with you ... I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you". " Goodbye for now", Jesus seems to say. "I am going away and coming back to you." "If you keep my commandments," Jesus says in today's Good News, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." Jesus is going away, to be sure. But he is going more in the sense of a homecoming, of going off to a family reunion with his Father. They are so close-­ Jesus and Abba. In the Original language Abba means literally dad or papa. Jesus wants us to share His relationship with His Father. He is truly being a friend because friends share.

Jesus calls us friends, but what is friendship with Jesus all about? When Jesus bent over to wash his disciples' feet, he started a personal and social revolution that would conquer the mighty Roman Empire. Those first disciples had planned to follow Jesus to the top of the heap and sit upon thrones in his kingdom. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the man on top got down on the bottom and began to wash the feet of his followers --incredible! What's this all about? It was unlike anything they could have imagined. The man they thought would be king was kneeling at their feet!

It would be a while before they would discover the answer. The next day their leader was gone, and they were dispersed. Their illusion shattered and there hopes dashed; they needed some light for their darkness. That's when it happened--Jesus, the one who had called them friend, was there to brighten up this darkest of nights. Over the centuries, many of us have had the same experience -- in the midst of the darkest night, we discover a needed friend.

In the early seventies, Carole King sang, "You've Got a Friend."

"When you're down and troubled, and you need some loving care.

And nothing, nothing is going right. Close your eyes and think of me.

And soon I will be there

to brighten up even your darkest night."

I believe that this is what Christian love is all about. It's about being there for others when they need some loving care.

Christian Love

Christian Love creates that kind of special Friendship. I'm not talking about superficial things like sharing tastes in food or sports. Friendship with Jesus means that our own happiness is bound up with the fulfillment of His deepest desires, that we all share in a personal relationship with God through both Jesus Himself and with each other, in times of joy and pain.

Jesus developed this sort of openness and took it to its logical conclusion. He said that we shouldn't hide ourselves, our own inner being, from other people. "A person can have no greater love," he said "than to lay down his life for his friends." So Christian love also needs to be deeply honest. It's not a manipulative kind of love, but a love which is prepared to openly and honestly discuss difficulties and problems, even though it may be easier and more comfortable to sweep disagreements under the carpet.

Christian love may not physically lay down its life for its friends, but it does face pain and hurt without running away and without revenge. But this sort of love isn't easy. However, Jesus told us how it can be accomplished, "Abide in my love," he said, "just as I abide in the Father's love."

Friends who love one another hold each other accountable. Some people think that a loving God cannot be a judging God, but real friends expect a lot of each other. What your friend does matters to you. It is important that we spend time developing our friendship with Jesus. We cannot just assume that Jesus will go the extra mile and take care of our relationship, Jesus is not co-dependent. We are all responsible for our own lives.

We can only live in his love if we can personally relate to him, and we can only personally relate to him through His Spirit. His Spirit, the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Jesus is the God within each human being. It's a Holy Spirit full of love that you can find if you're prepared to enter into a new time and space to seek out your inner self. When we do this, we will find that Jesus is not really gone, but with us. The result of discovering the God within, the Holy Spirit, as Jesus tells us in our gospel reading, is that whatever happens in life, our joy is complete in the knowledge of eternal life.

And Finally, Friends need each other. In Jesus, God chose to cast his lot with us, so what we do matters to him. Jesus needed his disciples to carry on his work, and he needs us today. Of course, he'll carry on without us, but the loss of a friendship is deeply painful to Jesus.

So Christian love also needs to be honest in its expression of neediness. Jesus implores us to stick with Him and endure with Him. Jesus says better yet, stick with each other and endure with each other. This is friendship with Jesus. He became like us, that we might become like him. Jesus has called us his friends. As Jesus' friends, we want to be like him, we want to listen and respond to him. We want to walk with him in the cool of the evening, friend with friend, to sit and rest a while, to love and be with one another, to know a peace and silence in the company of God.

I pray for all of us, that someday, we will come to know our greatest source of Love, that being, our Friend Jesus Christ.

For Morning Prayer on the Sixth Sunday after Easter Published on May 28th, 2000 {Revised on November 23rd, 2022}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2022

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