Thursday, May 14, 2015

You've Got a Friend

Sermon preached  May 10, 2015

Texts: John 15:9-17

            It is probably no surprise to any of you that I use music in teaching confirmation.  For Sannah, Elise, Shelby, Nakiah and Josie, they won’t have to listen to this anymore, except with the rest of you on Sunday morning!
            So let’s go out with a bang.  Here is a little medley, and your final test.  What theme can be found in these songs? The Beatles, “With a Little Help From My Friends” James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend” Queen, “You’re My Best Friend” Dionne Warwick, et. al. “That’s What Friends Are For” Clarence Clemons and Jackson Browne, “You’re a Friend of Mine” The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There For You”
            These songs are about friendship.  In the Scripture reading, we also read about friendship.  Jesus says to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you….  You are my friends if you do what I command you.…  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.”
            Today is Confirmation Sunday and one way to think about it is in terms of friendship.  It is not that everyone who completes confirmation are the best of friends, though I hope you have connected with each other more deeply over these past two years, building on earlier connections you may have had.  It is about friendship with Jesus in a couple of ways, and about being friends with the friends of Jesus.  Let me say a little bit more about each of these while also saying a little bit more about this remarkable group of young women who are this year’s confirmation class.
            Confirmation is about finding a friend in Jesus.  It is about confirming the faith that was proclaimed at baptism, a faith in the God known in Jesus the Christ.  It is to say “yes” to God in Jesus again, and commit ourselves to keeping on saying “yes” to God in Jesus.  We don’t say “yes” just one time, but again and again, day by day.
            Jesus told his disciples that they were his friends.  We have a friend in Jesus.  In thinking about friendship and Jesus for today, I recalled a powerful poem the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote when he was imprisoned by the German government.  In prison, Bonhoeffer reflected deeply on what it meant to be a Christian in the modern world.  Part of what it meant for Bonhoeffer was to stand in opposition to Adolph Hitler and the Nazi government.  For his opposition, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and eventually executed.
            Even in such extreme circumstances, Bonhoeffer knew that he had a friend in Jesus, a source of comfort and strength in the God of Jesus.  Here are a few lines from a prison poem, written in 1944 (“Christians and Heathens” Letters and Papers From Prison, p. 460 or July 1944.)
People go to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, pray for blessing and bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
So do they all, all of them, Christians and heathens.

God goes to all people in their need,
fills body and soul with God’s own bread.

            To find a friend in Jesus is to trust that in Jesus, in the God of Jesus, there is food for our souls, love for our hearts, courage for living.  To find a friend in Jesus is to find joy in faith, hope and love.  Today you being confirmed will affirm that in Jesus you are finding life, and a way of life.
            But we are not friends with Jesus alone.  Today is also about knowing that when we find a friend in Jesus, we also find friends in the other friends of Jesus.  “Faith is a journey best taken with others” according to the morning prayer, and it is true.  When Paul writes all of his letters to people trying to figure out what being a friend with Jesus might mean, he wrote a lot about how people should live together in community.  As you are confirmed today, we will pledge to surround you with a community of love and forgiveness.  That’s what we are trying to create here together as friends of Jesus who are friends with each other – a community of love and forgiveness.
            There is another dimension to being friends with the friends of Jesus, something we might call home.  Now you all have your own homes, and they are really nice homes.  But in life, I am not sure we can ever have enough places that feel like home.  The poet Robert Frost (Have you had to read any Robert Frost in school?), the poet Robert Frost once described home this way.  “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in” (“Death of the Hired Man”).  When you say “yes” to Jesus, you also say “yes” to being friends with the friends of Jesus.  “Do you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to all people?” In church we also find home.
            You have enriched our community in so many ways already.  You have brightened our Jesus home here.  We have heard music from Sannah, Elise, Nakiah, and Josie.  Sannah, Nakiah and Shelby were part of last summer’s youth trip to New York where we found out about the city, and about poverty and hunger there and in other parts of the world.  They have helped with dinners.  They have participated in a variety of church activities, brightening each with their smiles, deepening each with their wonderful curiosity.  Outside of church they are dancers, skiers, runners, writers, actors, soccer players, divers, musicians – in short, remarkable.  We are glad you are our friends in Jesus.  We are glad you are part of home here for us.
            Today is about reaffirming that we have a friend in Jesus, it is about reaffirming friendship with the friends of Jesus, and it is committing ourselves to being friends of Jesus day in and day out, and continuing to grow in that.  Friends of Jesus seek to live in a certain way: living with hope and resisting despair; living with love and resisting prejudice and hate; working for peace and justice and standing up against evil and oppression; praying, even when it may be difficult.  Friends of Jesus love.  I appreciate the insights offered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about being a friend of Jesus, from the poem cited earlier:
People go to God when God’s in need,
find God poor, reviled, without shelter or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand by God in God’s own pain.

            To be a friend of Jesus is to stand with Jesus as Jesus is open to the pain and hurt of the world.  It is to stand with God as God sees the pain of the world and seeks healing and compassion and love.
            Sannah, Elise, Shelby, Nakiah, and Josie, may you always know that you have a friend in Jesus and may you continue to explore the depth of God’s love for you in Jesus. You’ve got a friend.  May you always know that in Jesus, you have all these friends, and many more besides, that you always have a home among the friends of Jesus.  You will get by with little help from your friends ‘cause that’s what friends are for.  May you also always seek to do the harder work of being a friend of Jesus who loves the world.  May you always use the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.  As you do know that we’ll be there for you and with you.  We want to be friends of Jesus, too.  Amen.

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