Friends, Not Servants

Sometimes I think walking is the most inexpensive form of therapy out there.

I needed to clear my head this afternoon, so I grabbed my phone and spent two hours listening to music, talking to old friends and finding my sanity.

Here is this morning’s sermon.  What a great Sunday!  We brought in new members and my heart is just full of hope for the future.  Something really special is going on right now at RCC.  I can’t explain it – but there is a spirit in the air.  And I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us.

Psalm 98
John 15:9-17

Friends, Not Servants

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

I have to be honest – I had a tough time with this sermon.  I had something of a trying week and the last thing that I wanted to do was preach about love.

I was in my office at 7:30 on Thursday morning contemplating this text.  I thought about going online and googling the phrase “funny jokes about love” so that I could at least have an entertaining starting point for y’all this morning.  But then I realized that I would not be allowing myself to be true to where I was – and I would likely be missing out on a wonderful opportunity to let God speak through my heart.  So I left the sermon unfinished, tried not to think about it for two days and wrote it last night.

I was in Connecticut this weekend.  I got up and drove to Norwalk on Friday morning for a meeting, spent the night with my sister in Kent and then she and I met a friend of ours in New Britain for the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative’s annual Race in the Park.  My friend Amanda and I were going to run the 5K together and then we were all going to walk together in the last event of the morning.  All of the money raised yesterday is going back in breast cancer research that is taking place in the state of Connecticut.  Like many races for a cause, people are invited to put together teams in honor or memory of someone and during that final walk, the teams come together.

This is the first time I have ever run in a race for a cause.  And it was really, really neat.  The park looked like a pink cloud had literally exploded all over it; there were teams in matching shirts; and breast cancer survivors were easily identified by their pink survivor shirts.  There was a spirit in the air.  A spirit of sadness for those who we have lost; a spirit of joy for those who are still with us; a spirit of hope for the research we were funding; and a spirit of determination that if we come together, we can find a cure.

There was a spirit of love in the air.

And I could not get over the fact that I had left an unfinished sermon in Rehoboth on John 15 – where Jesus commands us to love one another – on Friday morning and then found myself completely surrounded by a literal, outward and overwhelming expression of love on Saturday.  Thousands and thousands of people came together – survivors, families, friends, police officers, EMTs, volunteers, dogs – to show love to one another and to create hope for the future.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  If there was ever a time for me to pull the “You’ve heard the scripture – think about it” card, that time is now.  It doesn’t get any more straight-forward than that.

My friend Amanda and I ran together, but we both had headphones in.  At about the one-mile mark, my iPhone – which, I have said before, has something of a funny sense of humor – shuffled to the song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”  I was a little bewildered – and I couldn’t help but think that God was trying to tell me something.

Okay, okay.  So “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” is NOT a good “pump you up to run fast” song.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  But – WOW!  What great timing.  For the rest of the race, all I could think about was the scripture that I was preaching on this morning – and about what it truly means to love one another.  Because I was witnessing it all around me.

I as ran (and then later walked) with such a large group of people yesterday, the third verse of this song really resonated with me:

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

That verse perfectly describes what it means to be a part of a Christian community – imperfect human beings, walking together, spreading the good news and joined together in love.

When Aaron and I were doing extended worship planning back in January, I wrote this scripture down for this week and in parentheses wrote, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  It seemed pretty straight forward at the time – after all, it is a verse of scripture that everyone knows.  But as I got closer and closer to this week, I kept gravitating to something later in the passage.  Jesus said in verse 15, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

“I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends.”

Jesus did not call us servants.  Jesus called us friends.

Here is the thing.  Jesus never pulled rank on his disciples.  They were not his servants.  Jesus truly believed that his disciples were his friends.  And Jesus prayed that the generations that were still to come would be his friends as well.  When Jesus said “I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends” he was also talking to us.

You know, we spend a lot of time in our country – and in our world, for that matter – arguing about whose interpretation of the Gospel is accurate, whose religious structure is the best and who knows the right or wrong way to lead.  But at the core of who we are as Christians is a group of human beings called to be friends with Christ – and with one another as well.  We are called to love another as Christ loved us.  We are called to be friends – not servants.

We are welcoming 10 new members into our community this morning – 18 if you count their children.  12 confirmands will affirm their baptismal vows and join this church during the Rite of Confirmation next week.  What kind of congregation are they joining?  Who are the individuals that make up the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ?  What is the mission of this church?  Do we see ourselves as servants – or friends?

Let me tell you what I think.

I think these people are a joining a thriving Christian congregation.  I think that they are joining a church that is in a very exciting growth pattern.  I think they want to be part of the intergenerational energy within this church.  I think they are entering into covenant with all of us because they have spent time with this community and feel welcome here.  I think they want to be a friend to Jesus and a friend to us.  I think they want to be affirmed in their callings and know that this church community prides itself on lifting people up in the ministry they feel called to.

I think they are officially joining our church today because of the love that we have for one another.

We are friends.  And not just to Jesus, but also to one another.  We are called to love one another.

I have one final note.  I am not naïve in thinking that I can get up here, tell everyone to love one another and sit down thinking that in some miraculous turn of events, love will suddenly come easy.  Loving one another is not easy.  I know that.  But this particular scripture wraps up as Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Jesus chose us.  He chose us to follow him.  He chose us to be ministers to all of the nations.  He chose us to be in relationship with God, our creator and teacher.  He chose us to love one another.  He chose us – and he called us friends.

So let us make a ‘joyful noise’ in celebration – celebration of our love, our friendship and of our community that continues to grow.

Thanks be to God!

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