Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Graduation Sunday Sermon

May 17, 2009
Graduation Sunday
John 15: 9-17

Graduates- if you haven’t already figured it out- this church is proud of you! We love you and we want all the best for you. We give thanks for what God has already done in your life, and for all that God has planned for you in the future. Congregation, if you didn’t already know this I wanted to point out to you something that will make most of us in this room feel old: these graduates were born in the 90’s. That’s right- these high school grads have only been on the planet with us since 1990 or 1991.

If you are a child of the 90’s then you have grown up with computers in your home and at your school. I have known you all since you were in 7th grade and many of you had a cell phone at that time or got one shortly thereafter. You watched Power Rangers on TV and collected Pokemon cards. You might have had a Giga Pet somewhere along the line, or collected a much sought after Beanie Baby. And what about the characters of your childhood like the Rugrats, or Keenan and Kel, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or maybe even the kids from Saved By the Bell? From these shows you learned about life, and humor, maybe a martial arts move or two, and probably you even learned a little about friendship.

Maybe you even learned about friendship from some of the classics like Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street who taught us that you can have very different personalities and still be best friends. Or maybe you even read about or watched on TV one of my favorite pairs of friends, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. In one scene the two friends are walking along together and Piglet hurries to catch up with Pooh. “Pooh?,” Piglet calls out. “Yes Piglet.” “Oh nothing,” Piglet says, “I just wanted to be sure of you.” It does feel good to be sure a friend is by your side, ready to help you take on whatever life might bring your way.

Friendship was so important to Jesus that he spends some time talking to the disciples about friendship in the Gospel of John. Jesus is speaking to his friends about abiding in his love, about being beloved by God, and about keeping the great commandment so that their joy might be complete.

These are the very same things this congregation wishes for you today, graduates. We hope that you will always abide in the love of Christ, knowing that you are a beloved child of God. We hope that you will always strive to keep Jesus’ commandment about loving God and loving neighbor. And we certainly wish for you that you would have joy, and that your joy would be complete. So how can you go about doing and having all these things? Jesus says its matter of being a friend. Being a good friend is one of the simplest ways that we can do what Jesus commands, which is to love one another. Friendship is the vehicle for great love. By being a good friend we are following what Jesus taught us about loving one another, and we are able to abide in his presence.

This week I watched a hilarious clip from the movie Thunderpants. The movie is the story of Patrick, a little boy with a big gas problem. As Patrick starts going to school, most of the children are repulsed by the sound and odor that frequently escapes from his trousers, but he meets a best friend, Allen, a young boy without a sense of smell. The friendship between the two boys is a match made in heaven. I wonder if that is all it takes to be a good friend- a compliment of gifts?
What does Jesus say about friendship? Friendship, according Jesus is about loving one another. In fact the word that is translated here as “friend” comes from the Greek verb, “to love.” So a friend is literally, “one who loves.” As the disciples listen to Jesus telling them about friendship they may already think that Jesus is a good friend; but they have no idea just how far his friendship will go for them.
Jesus goes on to say this about friendship, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones’ life for one’s friends.” Jesus was not the only person in the ancient world to talk about the concept of sacrificing one’s life for a friend. Both Plato and Aristotle talked about this kind of sacrificial love for friends. The big difference between Jesus and these other ancient writers is that Jesus actually practiced this ethic! Jesus quite literally laid down his life on behalf of the people he called friends. By being obedient to the will of God, and by being a good friend to the people of the world, particularly those considered to be, “the least of these,” Jesus threatened the powers that be and was killed. He laid down his life for his friends.

Few of us will ever have the opportunity to literally put our lives on the line for our friends. There are heroes among us who do on occasion lose a life protecting friends, or fellow troops, or protecting a child, but most of us will never act on Jesus’ words about laying down our lives in the physical sense. Deep, true friendship is still about laying down one’s life. Have you ever had to drop everything so you could go and stand beside a friend who needed you?
In the past few years of my life I have had some friends who needed me to drop everything and be by their side. I know the same is true of you, one day you get a phone call and on the other end there is an unimaginable diagnosis being shared with you, and so you literally drop everything in your life that is going on to go and be with your friend. A friend has a parent that dies, and you ask off work or school, you reschedule meetings you arrange a babysitter or dogsitter- you drop everything, you lay down your life to be a friend. Laying down your life for a friend may not be easy, but it is what we do for each other when we are needed. When that call comes in that a spouse is leaving, we drop everything to go and be with a friend who needs help, who needs our presence, who needs us to drop everything in our lives to be involved in hers. We are to love our friends, and to lay down our lives for them when necessary. Jesus calls us to love our friends deeply enough to be willing to sacrifice for them.

Jesus also tells the disciples about friendship with him. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” Jesus tells them. In this instruction I believe that Jesus is referring specifically to what Christians consider the “great commandment”- the one that Jesus says is most important of all the law and the writings of the prophets; to love God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. To be a friend to God, to be a friend of Christ, we must follow this one simple and yet all-important commandment.
Although it is our duty as a friend to carry out the great commandment, I hope that you won’t hear me saying that we have to earn Jesus’ friendship. That simply isn’t true, Jesus says to the disciples just as he says to us, “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.” We are friends of Christ, because he has held nothing back from us about God. We are friends of God because all has been revealed to us through Christ. We are no longer to be called servants, although we are certainly called to serve, but instead we are friends.

There is one other component of being a friend of Christ that is worth noting here. It is clear to me from reading the Gospel that being a friend of Jesus means not only loving and caring for our friends or loving Jesus himself. Being a true friend of Christ involves one other step. Being a friend of Jesus pushes us to take friendship one step further. To be a true friend of Christ, a deep friend, we must love the stranger and even the enemy. When Jesus asked us to love our neighbor as ourselves, I don’t think he was talking just about the person that lives next door to us. Neighbors are the strangers we interact with on a daily basis. The word “neighbors” includes the people we don’t get along with. Laying down our lives for a beloved friend is a task we might be able to get on board with- but what about laying down your life for a stranger? What about laying down your life for an enemy? This is the heart of the Gospel, and the most challenging part as far as I’m concerned. Jesus was willing to lay down his life for the sake of the world. This included thousands of people he never even met, and probably thousands he had offended or who hated him. For Jesus, “neighbor” and “friend” were not necessarily synonymous with “people who like me.”

How do we treat people who don’t like us, or whom we don’t like? How do we treat the strangers we encounter on a daily basis? These are the people we are called to love in addition to our friends and family. The measure of a true friend of Jesus is how we treat others around us. When we treat people with love and respect, we treat them as Jesus would.

Graduates, I know you’ve heard a lot of advice this weekend. As your church family gathers to celebrate you this day, please know we wish the best for you in all things. As you leave this place for awhile to go on to college, the military or other training we ask you to remember that we love you and we’ll always be a part of your life. We ask you to take a little of this love we have for you into the world with you as you go. And if we can throw in one piece of advice, it would be to be a good friend to the world. Love those close to you in deep and real ways. Drop everything for a friend who needs you. And if you can, do your best to love strangers and enemies as well. We’ll try to do the same to make you proud of us, and together we will all be worthy of being called a friend of Christ. Amen and Amen.

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