Weekly Sermon (19)

Sermon – May 5, 2024

Called to be the dearest of friends…

May 5, 2024

Scriptures: Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

‘So my child, what do you want to be when you grow up?’, asks the adult. ‘I want to be just like my daddy’, or, ‘I want to be just like my mom’, the child replies. I suspect that we are all familiar with this conversation…and odds are that each one of us participated in it in some way or other, either as an adult or as a young child. And I would also venture to guess that it often follows through, especially with family-owned businesses, or with professions that leave a strong impression on a young child.

Aside from becoming a minister, my father was an English major in college…something we kids found a bit annoying each time he would correct our grammar or syntax at the dinner table. And my older brother Fred, retired a few years back after a career as a beloved middle and high school English teacher down in Westchester.

My father also spent post-grad time at Westminster Choir College in Princeton NJ, and had a promising vocal music career interrupted when he was drafted during the Korean conflict. He had a wonderful baritone voice, and I always thought therefore that all ministers were also supposed to be the song leaders of a congregation! After a couple years at a Liberal Arts college, my younger brother Peter transferred to Hartt School of Music in Connecticut, after which he spent his life singing and performing extensively, as well as many years as a High School music teacher, church choir director, and teacher of private music lessons.

And me? From a very young age I wanted to be a minister, just like my dad. At the age of 6 or 7 years old I even had an old cardboard case with handles in which I kept a collection of discarded hymnals, old bibles, and left over church bulletins, just in case the opportunity showed up. However, as it was the sixties, that vocational desire didn’t last all that long. But in my later years I still felt drawn to learning about and sharing thoughts and questions regarding my faith, including a deep-seated desire to learn more about the original languages in which the scriptures were written, both Hebrew and Greek.

And I guess I put off a calling deep within my heart for many years, choosing instead to satisfy my faith-curiosity in both music and youth ministry. But I still held onto a feeling that one day I would like to know more about those ancient texts in their original tongue.

And that was still a factor when at the age of 50, and at the urging of the Church Council at the time that I reluctantly decided to apply to seminary. Which in truth was the first step on an amazing journey for me. One that opened my eyes in so many and varied ways regarding both the nature of God, and our calling as those created to reflect and to share that same nature. But behind it all, the old desire to learn Hebrew and Greek remained.

And it was not until the third or fourth year of my studies, after I had completed most of the core degree requirements, that I was able to begin that quest, signing up for a semester of Hebrew language and grammar study, and then a second semester of Hebrew scriptural analysis. And I must tell you, that you have no idea how hard that was for me! Evidently I didn’t pay enough attention to the English lessons my father sought to instill in us at the diner table, and I quickly realized I didn’t know most of the terms I was supposed to be cross-referencing from English into Hebrew…from perfect to pluperfect tenses, to participles and articles, to…well just let me say, I still don’t know most of them! But I learned enough to do well in both courses, however I really struggled to do so.

But perhaps most helpful was that I learned how to use the Hebrew, and later on the Greek resource concordances to look up what a particular word or phrase meant in the original biblical language, enabling me to satisfy that      original desire to hear and to understand the words of scripture as they were first recorded.

In essence, I learned how to learn, I came into possession of all I needed to at least begin to approach the original meaning of what the Prophets, and later on, what Jesus was saying, and even more, to be able to place those words into a context that now had far more color and meaning.

So in some sense I guess, all three of us boys followed in my father’s footsteps in some way or other. But that’s not why I shared all of that. Rather, I shared those thoughts because I think that in a strange way they are quite similar to what Jesus was sharing with his disciples in today’s gospel lesson. Which I am sure probably makes you wonder…and not just a little bit!

In today’s gospel lesson, set within the closing conversations Jesus had with his disciples just prior to his arrest and crucifixion, he tells them that he no longer calls them ‘servants’…those dedicated to serve him alone. No longer are they in a sense ‘under’ him, and there solely in order to serve or to learn from him. The Greek word he uses here in saying they are no longer ‘servants’, is doulos (doo-los) meaning literally a slave, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Instead, Jesus tells them, he now calls them, philos (fee-los) or dear friends.

And he does so, he says, because he has ‘taught them everything they need to know’! ‘I have called you friends’, he says, ‘because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’. In other words, over the three years they walked along beside him, over those three years of watching him not only do and say all that he did during that time, but also through all of the countless hours he spent deep in prayer with his ‘Abba’, or Father, they have somehow learned absolutely everything they need to know to carry forth the Good News in his upcoming absence.

Now I can’t imagine how the disciples must have felt upon hearing those words. ‘Everything we need’? All the knowledge we could possibly have need of we already have?

After which Jesus goes on to boldly assert that, ‘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.’

In other words, this was the ultimate ‘handoff of responsibility’…the moment that Jesus felt they were ready to assume responsibility for carrying forth his message to the rest of humanity…and ultimately, as it turns out, for the rest of time!

What an awesome, and indeed terrifying moment this must have been for the disciples. We know for sure that they all expected a far different future than this, for in the following verses we hear them all proclaim that he must never leave them…that they are willing even to ‘die with him’! Surely Jesus could not really mean they were going to have to carry on without his presence!

In fact, that is not what Jesus meant at all. He was not telling them that he was abandoning them in a world filled with danger, strife, discord, and injustice whatsoever. Rather, he was saying that they were prepared, that they literally had all they needed, in order to do the work that lay before them. No longer were they his ‘slaves’, but now the dearest of his friends, entrusted with carrying forth the greatest story ever told. But still…how do you think they received this staggering news?

And that, my own ‘dearest of friends’ , brings us back to the title of today’s message. And hopefully also might begin to shed some light on why I shared that rather long introduction concerning my family childhood. For I truly believe, that we too have literally everything we need, in order to carry forth that same message Jesus entrusted to the disciples. I believe that what those first few followers had…has also been given fully to each one of us. And as such I believe we too are therefore called to be the ‘dearest of friends’, both with our Lord Jesus, as well as with one another.

I had so wanted to learn and to be able to understand the ancient texts of the bible in their original language. But I very quickly came to the humbling realization that I was nowhere near prepared to do so without perhaps years more of study…first of English of course…and then of Hebrew and Greek, before I could even begin to gain that knowledge.

But what I did learn…what I did learn…was where to turn in order to find what I was looking for…what I learned was that there was a resource…a most wonderful collection of information which I could draw upon to gain the clarity and understanding I was seeking.

The resource Jesus gave to his disciples…the gift that he offered to them which was the source of all they would ever need to know in order to continue on after he left them…was the gift of the Holy Spirit…a holy and divine presence dwelling within each one of them. By doing this for them, he ensured that he would never be far away, that in fact he was as close as every whispered prayer…for indeed he and the Spirit were one.

And therefore the offer of friendship he extended was not just for that short time between that evening and his last breath on the cross a few days later, but rather forever…always there, always ready to hasten to our side, ready to guide our steps, ready to watch over us and keep is in his care…always…both for his first disciples…and for ourselves, for we all are his dearest friends!

The message Jesus relayed to his disciples that evening, the gift he offered to them, the assurance that they were his dear friends…is the same he offers to each one of us. We too are called to be friends…in fact a gathering of his friends in pursuit of the same holy endeavor that lay before the disciples. We too have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, resident within us…the most incredible resource of everything we could ever need, both to live out our lives within the embrace and care of our Lord, as well as share that message of goodness and grace with all whom we meet.

I know this to be true because in the final words of our passage today Jesus tells the disciples, ‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’ And that, that is both our solemn calling, as well as our greatest responsibility…

…for indeed in both remembering and practicing our call to be the ‘dearest of friends’, we are fulfilling much of our calling as both disciples and friends of our Lord.

‘This is how they all will know you are my disciples’, said Jesus, ‘if you have love, one for another’…

…May that grace and blessing continue to be our call…

…and our solemn promise…


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