November 13, 2022

Jesus our friend

Passage: Exodus 33:7-11a, James 2:14-26, John 15:5,7-17

Winter, summer, spring or fall,

All you gotta do is call

And I’ll be there, yes I will

You’ve gotta friend….whoah oh

You’ve gotta friend.


When I was 9 years old living in England, I had a best friend whose name was Philip Hough. We went to school together and played together.

And we loved to pretend we were monkeys and we would squat down and hop around and make monkey sounds. Little boys are silly, I know and we were silly, but Philip was a good friend.

I moved away about three months before my tenth birthday, and I never saw Philip again, and frankly I cannot really even picture his face, but I can still feel, to this very day, the strength of that friendship, and the close bond we had as little monkeys in Greasby, England.


Three months after leaving Greasby, we moved back to Canada, and it was again a time of trying to make new friends. One of the friends I made was a boy name Reggie who lived half a mile up the road on a farm on the edge of Hampton. He was a good athlete and I spent many a day up at the farm skating and playing hockey on the small pond, playing ball, playing in the hay mow, helping with chores, playing cards and games, shooting his bb gun, tobogganing, sledding, building snow castles and having snowball fights, and playing kick the can.


I still visit Reggie to this day when I am down in New Brunswick, He was my best friend when I was about 12 years old, and is the friend I have had the longest time in my life…about 55 years.


When you are a child, a lot of what life is about is your friends. Making friends, losing friends, being a friend, doing things with your friends, or in some cases wishing you had a friend.


And consequently, when children are first introduced to faith… and specifically Christian faith, the understanding of Jesus as friend is something they often relate too.


One of the oldest hymns I can remember is

Jesus loves me this I know

For the bible tells me so

Little one to him belong

They are weak but he is strong.

       Yes, Jesus loves me, the bible tells me so.

Personally, for me, my faith awakening was not as a young child, but as a young teen. I didn’t think about God much or pray much as a child, but when I was about thirteen or so, I began to pray and have a religious experience and come to understand Jesus as my friend…


But my mother would tell me of going to three different churches on a Sunday when she was a little girl and praying and having Jesus as a friend.


The author and church historian Diana Butler Bass said that she was a lonely girl and so she would play with Jesus, and Jesus was her friend, and she did make believe with Jesus, and played dolls with Jesus.

And in fact, one December, just before Christmas, Diana took the Holy Family out of the manger scene, thinking that the Jesus and Mary and Joseph would be more comfortable in her Barbie and Ken’s house.  She was looking after her friend, Jesus.


And I have known quite a few lonely seniors who find that Jesus is the friend they talk to most.


Now some adults and some theologians have criticized the image of Jesus as friend as being childish or too simplistic, and think that when you grow up, you have to understand the theological implications of Jesus.

And that you have to understand the atonement, and the trinity and believe that Jesus is both God and human.

Some critics, and maybe I have even been one myself have criticized church music about Jesus which is fairly simplistic and treats Jesus as merely friend.

       Jesus, we just want to thank you.

       Jesus, we just want to thank you

       Jesus, we just want to thank you

       We just want to thank you.

              Next verse you just change one word.

Jesus we just want to love you.


Compare that to one of the hymns in our hymnbook


Immortal, invisible God, only wise

       In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

       Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of days

       Almighty, victorious, they great name we praise


That hymn doesn’t sound like Jesus is your buddy.


And there are those atheists who sometimes criticize the understanding of Jesus as friend.


I think it was Sigmund Freud who concluded that Jesus, “the invisible friend” was an illusion, a fairy tale, a projection, a neurosis.


But I like what Marcus Borg, the professor and author said one time about whether he believed the resurrection. He believed the resurrection because of the countless number of people who experience Jesus. Jesus is alive to them.


And while sometimes there are those who think that the image of Jesus as friend is simplistic and childlike, we have to say that it is biblical.


Two of Israel’s greatest people, Moses and Abraham are referred to in the scriptures as friends of God.

Moses would talk to God just like friends talk to each other.


And Jesus had friends. He had a close circle of friends and followers and a real intimacy with them. He cried when Lazarus died and called Lazarus friend.

And later just before his death he made it point that even though he was the teacher and they the servants, that he no longer called his disciples servants but friends.


Now, this idea of God as friend is a very interesting take on the divine.

Most people did not understand God as friendly at all in Jesus’ day.

God, according to many Jews was all about keeping the law and doing what was right, and if you didn’t, bad things would happen to you. Judgement would befall you.

In most cultures god or gods were terrifying. They demanded sacrifices and played with humans like toys. People thought all the bad things that happened were the results of the gods. If you were sick, a god or God was punishing you. If you were poor then God, or the gods made it that way.


So, when Jesus comes along and eats with sinners and tax collectors and poor people and rich privileged people. When Jesus touched the sick and healed them and spoke too and was kind to foreigners and even Roman oppressors…it was a new understanding of God.


God was your friend. God was on your side. God helped you, cared for you, healed you, was with you.


And Jesus talked about this God in very intimate terms. You can talk to God like a friend. You can pour out your heart to God and God will understand. You can tell God about your sins and God will forgive. When you are lost God will help you with direction.

And Jesus himself said that he would be with us, that he would never leave us or forsake us, that he would live in us and would could live in him.


Paul the apostle talked about Jesus, who is on our side, our advocate. “Who is in a position to condemn us?” Paul asked. Only Jesus, but Jesus does not condemn us. Jesus is on our side interceding for us, sticking up for us, dying for us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Jesus is the proof of that friendship.


One of the hymns that I grew up with is called “In the garden”


It is based on Mary Magdalene who after Jesus’ death goes to the tomb and finds it empty, she tells Peter and John who come and see the empty tomb and go home, but Mary is there weeping.
And Jesus asks her why she is weeping.


Mary is the first to see the Lord after the resurrection and the hymn is based on that encounter.


And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.


Many, many people have identified with that song, with that experience with walking with Jesus, of talking with Jesus, of Jesus as friend.


And while God as friend may seem tame or juvenile to some, as opposed to arguing the finer points of the Trinity or the Incarnation or the Atonement…


…I want you to realize how radical the concept was and how Jesus brought God as friend to life.


Although to be fair, God as friend was in the biblical record from the very beginning.

We read that God created the first man and God says that is not good for the man to be alone and God creates the woman out of the man.

But reading between the lines you might understand that it is not good for God to be alone and that God created the man and the woman so they could be in relationship with God, so they could be friends, companions.

And while things go wrong, the original intent is there, and in part Christ comes to make one, the broken relationship, the broken friendship between God and humans, and the word for that is atonement.

      When I was a child I remember watching the original movie Miracle on 34th Street filmed in 1947. In that movie a lady Doris Walker brings up her little girl Susan to not believe in fairy tales.

Susan has no friends her own age and thinks other children stupid or immature. But once Kris Kringle befriends her, he opens her to the power of imagination. The point is not that she comes to believe in Santa Claus but that she becomes a little girl, full of wonder and amazement and belief and hope and joy and friendship.


Just how many children’s books are about friendship, making friends, welcoming friends, learning that friends are special and unique and different.

Maybe you remember Charlotte’s web and the friendship of a pig and a spider.


Or many other books where people of all races and ethnicities are friends, where different animals are friends, or where friends support each other no matter the difficulty the friend is in.


Friendship is one of the first and one of the most important virtues we teach children.


And so, when Jesus allowed the little children to come to him and told the disciples not to hinder them, it is possible that Jesus understood that children approach friendship is a very real and fresh and uncynical way.


We who are adults mostly have had the experience of a friend letting us down, or maybe having what we thought the love of our life reject us.

I, like most of us, have had friends turn on me, betray me, reject me and try to get rid of me.


But when Jesus says, “unless you become as a little child, you cannot see the kingdom of heaven”

…maybe Jesus is saying that the kingdom is the place where we are friends, and everyone is treated like a best friend, and maybe it is children who understand that.


I do know that Jesus took friendship seriously and the night before he was arrested turned the tables on his disciples. First of all, he turned things upside down when instead of being served he acted like a servant and washed their feet, and told them this is the way to be, to be a servant to others. And then he turned things upside down again and said that they were no longer his servants but his friends.


“No greater love is found than this”, he said “to lay down your life for your friends.” And what I take this to means is that when Jesus lays down his life for all humankind, it is because we are all Jesus’ friends.


Then Jesus says: You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

At first it seems jarring to hear this. Friendship is not about conditions is it.

Friendship is usually about unconditional love.


But let me tell you a story.


There was in the news and on television a wonderful moving story about friendship three years ago in Wichita, Kansas

A boy named Conner who had autism, was going to school on the first day of the school year and was having a bad day and was crying.

A boy named Christian, saw him struggling and held his hand and became his friend. He consoled him and waited for the school bell to ring and walked him into school and has been his friend ever since.

And what is also wonderful is that one of the boys is black and the other is white and race to these boys was irrelevant.

These are quotes from the mothers

Conner’s mother said: "It doesn't matter, you know, color. It doesn't matter, gender. It doesn't matter, disability,"      "Just be kind. Open your heart. And, that’s what we need in this world."

Christian’s mother said: "One act of kindness, you know, can change someone’s life,"

With that as an example, I think we would do well to become like little children and emulate the childlike wonderfulness of this example.

This is what Russia and North Korea and China and Canada and United States and many other countries of the world and its leaders should look to.

Unless they become like Conner and Christian they will not see God’s kingdom as a reality.


And this is what is means to be a friend. “You are my friends “Jesus says “if I do what I command you.”


And what did Jesus command us. “To love one another.”

There is no friendship without love. It is contingent upon love. In fact, that it what is called when you love someone who isn’t family. It is called friendship.

Jesus brought his disciples to the very heart of God who love us and longs to be in relationship with us.

Abraham and Moses were friends of God, and so too were the disciples, and so are we.


Many years ago, I heard this story of an elderly Scottish man who was confined to his bed. When the minister visited him, the minister noticed there was chair next to his bed, close to the old man’s head. There was another chair for the minister to sit in.

The minister asked the old man why there was a chair next to his head.

The old man replied: “Och aye, when I am lonely, I imagine Jesus sitting in that chair, and I talk to him as my friend.’


Several days later, the old man died. The daughter called the minister to say that her father had died in the night. She had come in the morning and she found him dead, but she said he looked peaceful.

“The funny thing is though,” she said “is that he had is hand on the chair by his bed. Do you know what that means?”

“Yes, I do,” said the minister. “It means that Jesus, his friend, was with him when he died.”