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Jesus as a Friend?

Do you have any friends in high places? Are you on speaking terms with anyone who is a well-known figure, somebody with a media profile? I don’t think I do other than some people whose names are familiar in church circles. Often, we can be a bit dismissive of people who name drop, but sometimes, a contact with a person of influence or power can prove useful. In Denbigh, a special person called Sparrow Harrison has a small Charity called the Cai Dai Trust (http://50smuseum.uk/cdtrust.html) which provides support for people recovering from alcohol misuse and other problems. Any publicity for the charity proudly proclaims the patrons which include a princess, a duchess, no less than three honourable ladies, Julian Lord Fellows, creator of Downton Abbey and Virginia Ironside, columnist for the Independent newspaper and contributor to Radio 4. Going off the point for a moment, the charity also runs an interesting museum of life in the 1950’s so if you’re stuck for something to do on the bank holiday tomorrow, you could do worse than pay it a visit. However, my reason for mentioning the Cai Dai Trust is the imaginative way in which makes the best of its contacts to win friends, influence and most importantly cash for the work which it seeks to do. It is an example of how it is good to have people of power and means on your side.
The gospel reading for today follows directly on from last week when Jesus was speaking to his disciples about how he is the vine and they are the branches. The simple message for them and for us is that it is only by remaining at one with Jesus, just as the branches of the vine are one with the plant, can there be any hope of bearing fruit. In today’s passage, Jesus explores what that means. He delves into the kind of relationship which is developing between himself and the disciples…but also how they can relate to his father God. It is not about having the ear of the highest and most public people in the land, but the name above all names, the Lord himself.
How do you see your relationship with God? Is it distant, reverential, bounded about with fear? Is it a very occasional relationship? Perhaps along the lines of this little anonymous ditty written about churchgoing:
So when I’ve nothing else to do,
I think I’ll pay a visit,
So when at last I’m carried in,
The Lord won’t say, ‘Who is it?’
Is your relationship with God one which needs someone else around as a kind of mediator? The word ‘vicar’ comes from ‘vicarious’ meaning on behalf of others. Perhaps that’s why people will often ask me to: ‘say one for them’ and assume that I have a hot line to the boss which they don’t. But how does all that compare with the kind of things Jesus is saying is teaching his disciples in the passage today?
Jesus says: ‘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.’ (John 15.15) Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be his friends, his mates, his buddies and in that way to be close to his father. He seeks to take away any fear or undue deference. Their relationship with him should be that of people who spend time together and know each other well, not people who have lost touch with one another. It was a friendship which bridged the divide between earth and heaven, between God and humanity.
In preparing for a funeral last week of a lady in her nineties, her family told me about how she knew her place in society. Born in Bolton, Lancashire, she had left school at fourteen to work in the cotton mills before she married a man from Wrexham. She was truly working class but proud of it. In more recent times, one of her daughters had taken her on a cruise and booked a place for them both to eat at the captain’s table. It was to be a surprize. Having got her mother suitably dressed they made their way to the special reception for the captain’s table. When her mother saw all the ladies dressed in their posh frocks and the gentlemen in dinner jackets, she said ‘Oh no, this is not for us. We know our place.’ Dressed as they were, she insisted they ate in the canteen at the other end of the boat where she felt much more comfortable. Does some of that same diffidence infect our own relationship with God? Do we sometimes think that the disciples were in some way special because they are enshrined in stained glass windows and have their own days in the year? Yes, they may have a special place in history but at the time of this recollected conversation, they were ordinary working people, fishermen, tax collectors and the like. They lived in a society which was at least as deferential as nineteen thirties Britain. But Jesus invites them to the captain’s table, to his father’s house. He calls them friends not servants. He draws them into his father’s love, they will learn from Jesus all that his father has made know to him and if they ask for anything in his name, his father will give it to them.
This is the deal that Jesus makes with his followers, his disciples. Not just the twelve, but the sheep of another fold, (John 10.16) those who will be made disciples through the teaching and baptising work that Jesus leaves with his disciples at the great commission. (Matthew 28.19-20) Surely that is you and me, those who have responded to the invitation and call that Jesus still issues down the generations.
You have no doubt heard people speaking of ‘knowing Jesus as your personal saviour.’ You may have heard me say it before. You might associate more with Christians of a non-Anglican persuasion, Baptists, Pentecostals, Gospel Hall, those men who sing old Sankey songs in town on a Monday. There can be a tendency to think that such language does not belong in church, that it is the preserve of a happy-clappy born again people. Ultimately, the language we use, and the style of worship is immaterial, but I hope you see from the passage from John that Jesus does call us to an intimate and close relationship with him. It is in Jesus that God makes himself personal to us all as human beings whom he has made for relationship with himself. It is not our status or lack of it that separates us from him. It is our sin. But Jesus is the ‘propitiation’ for our sin (1 John 2.2) the one who makes atoning sacrifice so that we know him as our saviour who is also our friend.
You may wonder if you know anyone in high places? Well, all that matters is that we know Jesus, Jesus as a friend, the one whom God has highly exalted and given a name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow…and every tongue confess him King of glory now. (Philippians 2.9-11)
Finally, I would like to flag up for you the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative. Backed by all the Archbishops of the UK, this encourages us all to pray for five people whom we know that they will know Jesus as their friend. We are asked to focus our prayers on the ten days between Ascension Day, which is Thursday of this week and Pentecost or Whitsunday, which is a week on Sunday; ten days from the 10th to the 20th of this month. Available is a book mark with some guidelines and a credit card sized card to record the names of those for whom we wish to pray. You might also carry a cord or piece of string with five knots to remind you to pray. This initiative is not without it’s critics, those who say that God’s kingdom is much bigger than individuals or question the idea of people being intentionally converted. Against that, I do commend it to you because I believe the gospel calls every human being to explore the special relationship they can have with God through friendship with Christ. People prayed for that for us, parents God parents others. One mother in the fourth century AD had a particularly wayward son who fell for all the pleasures of the flesh, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity. She was faithful in her prayer for him and eventually he came to know Jesus and his life was transformed. His name was Augustine, Saint Augustine. Jesus says to his friends: ‘…whatever you ask in my name, the Father will give you.’ (John 15.16) So ask for the greatest thing possible for those we love that we may all share a friendship with Jesus.
Easter 6 06.05.2018

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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