“I have called you friends.” – Jesus
If you would, ponder a few things with me.
Some of you know I like to fly fish. In fact I am passionate about it. What that means is that it takes me to streams, rivers and shallow estuaries in some of the most beautiful settings one can imagine. It also makes me very attentive to how ecosystems operate. To oversimplify for a moment, if anything in the system gets out of wack – if the water flow significantly changes or its quality degrades; if the invertebrates that live in the water, the bugs, are harmed in any way; if the aquatic vegetation that is supposed to be there is damaged or invaded by exotics; everything else in that system is compromised, including the fish. Likewise, if each and all those things are healthy the entire system is healthy. What’s up with that?
Or ponder two protons. If two of them are in close proximity, as within the magnetic field of the other, and both are spinning in the same direction, say clockwise, but then one is sent off several million light years away from the other in a neat device called a cyclotron and then receives an electrical charge to start spinning in the other direction, counterclockwise, guess what happens? The other one, millions of light years away ALSO starts spinning in the opposite direction. What’s up with that?
Or think of a group of people you care about, even your own family. If one person in the group is really happy it tends to infect everyone else in a positive way and everyone is happy. Likewise, if someone is really sad or hurting, so is the rest of the group. You’ve heard the saying, “If mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy!” What’s up with that?
Or maybe you have heard of something called the butterfly effect. There are a lot of variations, but essentially it says something like if a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, you will feel the breeze on your cheek here in Charleston. What’s up with that? It’s a poetic way of saying what the other three examples are saying – that everything is connected. The way that God has created the universe is that everything is connected and one thing cannot happen in one place without it in some way affecting something else. We are inextricably linked in this creation, sometimes in ways in which we are not immediately aware. Such an understanding informs, at least in part, what we mean by one, holy catholic and apostolic church.
Then, what God also does, is right in the midst of this splendid, beautiful, diverse, sometimes puzzling universe, he sends Jesus, perfect love. And according to St. John, Jesus says the most amazing thing: “I have called you friends.” This is what we are celebrating in the lives of those being baptized, one being received as a priest of The Episcopal Church, and those confirmed today. Yes you, and every one of you, sealed sacramentally in the gift of your baptism. This is radical stuff! Jesus is saying that the relationship with God is being totally redefined by him. We are bound in the truth that connects and holds the entire universe together – God’s love. It is the way we, indeed the entire cosmos, has been created.
We have been made for relationship with God and one another, for connection. Jesus teaches us that the connecting agent is love, shown forth in the way that we live on this earth. The Gospel today makes it clear that the reason we are given the command to go and bear fruit in God’s name is so that we can do just that, love one another. Yet mind you, this is not about mere sentimentality, for Jesus commanded that we, “Love one another as I have loved you,” laying down his life for his friends. Love comes from the Cross. It was costly for Jesus and it will be for us.
Eternal life is now, not just after we die. And if God has told us once, God in Scripture has told us over and over – the answer is love. It goes way beyond mere tolerance, for if we are listening to the Spirit, the love freely given will lead us into action. It is passionate, dancing-with-your-arms-wide-open love for everyone and everything God has made. It is the love of Jesus shown forth in us and through us calling us to be an offering to God and one another in thanksgiving for the gift of life we have in this amazingly connected world. When we do so, lives are changed and relationships are renewed. We are able to see each other and our life on this planet through the lens of resurrection hope. It respects the dignity of every human being and seeks justice for all, for no one is outside the realm Jesus has established. This is what we are baptized into and celebrate in all of today’s promises and vows, indeed, in every Eucharist.
Let me leave you with these words from a theologian named Reinhold Niehbuhr:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true, or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context in history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.”
That is precisely what Jesus does for us. Connected forever. Wildly loved. And amazingly, he calls you – FRIENDS.