Text: John 15: 9 – 17
Note: Technical issues unfortunately prevented the service for this week being recorded.
There are three words here to focus on. “Abide,” “Love,” and then finally, “Friends.”
“Abide” is such a wonderfully biblical word. If you know the Coen Brothers’ movie, The Big Lebowski, you know that “the Dude abides.” The main character, known mainly as “the Dude,” is a laid back, go with the flow kind of guy, and “the Dude abides,” means to just plainly, simply, exist. Just existing—not striving for achievement, approval, or attainment—is the way to happiness. It’s even inspired a religion, Dudeism.
The Greek word, menó, means, “to stay” or “to remain.” But has that larger dimension of “existing.” So when Jesus tells his disciples, “Abide in my love,” he means that they have experienced his love, they have lived it, they have seen it; they exist in the love of God. And Jesus says that when he leaves, they are to stay in it. Just because Jesus the human being is no longer there, does not mean that his love is gone as well. It is not. It’s there, and we are to remain in it, to abide in it, to live in it.
You may have heard of the idea that there are different words in Greek that all get translated as “love,” but they mean different things. C.S. Lewis wrote about the four loves: Romantic love, friendship, charity or neighbourly love, and affection. The word Jesus uses, “agape” is the same that Paul uses when he says, “The greatest of these is love.” It means a love that comes with obligations of care, respect, and grace; love for all humanity, not just those close to us.
But it’s contrasted when Jesus calls his disciples, and by extention us, “friends,” philos, which is the same as that other kind of love, the love between close friends.
Greek philosophers like Aristotle thought that friendship could only be between men of the same social class. Because you could never have that kind of respectful, reciprocal love that saw each other as equals between men and women, or between people of different social rank. It’s actually kind of scandalous when Jesus says to his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends.” The actual word he says is “slaves,” and it would have made sense to the disciples. They were following Jesus; he was the Lord. They were lower, slaves or servants, students, but not equals.
No longer slaves. Jesus does what he always does, which is upturn the established order. In the ancient world, slavery was just considered a fact of life. Some people were seen as just being lower than others, as part of a natural order of things. Women were below men in the same way children were below adults; slaves were below masters in the same way animals were below humans. Everyone was a slave to somebody; I suppose it was just a coincidence that for those at the top of the social hierarchy—the emperors, the masters, the rich—their masters, the gods, were absent and unable to provide any whippings or abuse. How convenient.
But Jesus tells us that God doesn’t see the world like this. We are not Jesus’ slaves; we are his friends. We are not God’s inferiors; we are Her beloved children. And we have to see the world as God sees it.
Unfortunately, we are all too eager to see others as beneath us, or at least different from us. When we think of people in terms of “like us,” and “not like us,” when we refer to other people as “blacks” or “natives” or “gays,” as if that is all they are, we make them into an “other,” rather than “black people,” “native people,” “gay people,” reminding ourselves that someone is more like us than not and those things are just part of their identity; an important part, but just a part none the less. And it becomes easy for us to distance ourselves and not empathize with the struggles of black people against a prejudiced policing system; of indigenous peoples against that same system, of people against generational poverty, of however many injustices there are in this world, and there are too many. We may say, “oh, I don’t think we’re better than them,” but the reality is that when we divide people into groups, we will automatically think of one, whichever one we identify with, as better. And for those whom society has marginalized on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, wealth, ability, religion, etc., it always becomes injustice; they always become slaves in the eyes of the masters.
God says she does not see us as slaves. Liberation is at the heart of what Jesus does; liberation for the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten. And we of privilege have to acknowledge our common humanity and stand with them against oppression, to say, as Jesus does, you are my friends.
Friendship, in that mutual, egalitarian way, that someone like Aristotle thought could only be had between equals. Just imagine that; imagine you sitting down for coffee with one of them; playing golf with a homeless person, having frank discussions with a child, sending Christmas cards and giving occasional gifts of flowers for the garden or wine or whatever small things you do for your friends.
It’s one thing to say, “I don’t hate you;” it is quite another to say, “I love you.” God doesn’t say, “I don’t hate you;” He says, “I love you.” If you love only those who love you, if you only do not hate, then what worth is that? Do not even the plebians do that? Instead, we are commanded to love, to love as deeply as Jesus has loved. It is our only guiding principle; the only thing that matters; the only rule we 100% have to follow to be Christians. Love one another, as I have loved you.
The Christian story is about love; it is about the triumph of love over hate, of life over death, hope over despair. The story is about the resurrection, that God’s love for overpowers even the worst of human hatred. If we are to be an Easter people, our starting point, our way markers, and our destination is love and love alone. Amen.