Sermon for Easter 6, Year B

Based on Jn. 15:13-15

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

"Jesus Our Friend"

Pinhas Sadeh, in his book, Jewish Folktales, tells the following story: "In a city lived two friends whose wondrous love for each other was proverbial. Once there was a war between two kingdoms, and each of the friends was taken captive by the army of a different king. After a while, when one of them was freed, he went to the capital of the other kingdom to visit his beloved friend. The king there heard that a man had arrived from the land of his enemies, took him for a spy, and ordered him arrested and put to death. At once the king's men seized him and dragged him to the place of execution."

"As he was being led away to his death, the condemned man asked to be brought before the king, because he had something to tell him. This wish being granted, he threw himself at the king's feet and begged for a stay of the sentence."

"What good will that do you?" asked the king."

"Your Majesty," pleaded the man, "in the town that I come from I'm a well-known merchant; all my goods and money, however, are in the hands of shopkeepers to whom I have given credit, and I have no written receipts. If you kill me now, my wife and children will be left hungry and penniless, because they do not know who owes me what and have no way of proving it. Therefore, I beg you, Your Majesty, have pity and let me go home before my execution in order to recover my assets, so that my family will have something to live on when I'm gone."

"But how do I know you'll return?" asked the king. "It's asking too much of me to believe that, having eluded my grasp, you'll come back for the sole purpose of being killed."

"Your Majesty," said the man, "I have a friend in this city. I'm sure he will agree to stand hostage for me."

"At once the king sent for the man's friend, who was brought before him. "Are you willing to agree," the king asked him, "that if this man, who has been condemned to death and now wants time to set his affairs in order does not return to be executed by a set date, you will die in his place?"

"Your majesty," said the friend, "I will stand hostage for him. If he is not back by the date you set, I will die in his place."

"Whereupon the gave the condemned man a month and had his friend held in prison until then. "I would like," he thought, "to see this wonder, of a man laying down his life for a friend!" And when thirty days had passed with still no sign of the condemned and the sun was about to set, he ordered the hostage taken from prison and put to death."

"Just as the sword was being put to the hostage's throat, a cry went up in the city that the condemned man had returned. He reported at once to the king and then hurried to the place of execution, where he seized the sword that was already on his friend's throat and placed it on his own. Then the two began to wrestle for it, each demanding to be killed, while the king sat looking out his window and marveling at such love, which surpassed anything he had ever seen before. So astounded was he and all his court that he ordered the sword put aside and the two men pardoned, after which he gave each a generous gift. "I have never," he declared, "seen such love between friends and I would like to ask to be your friend too." A request which they were only too glad to grant!"

This story is a good example of what Jesus is saying in our gospel today concerning Christian friendship. Jesus says that: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus has made us his friends forever because of his sacrificial death for us all on the cross. As his friends, he calls on us to do the same thing if that becomes necessary. There is no greater friendship than that.

The story of the two friends and our gospel today confront us all with the questions: What kind of a friend am I? What kind of friends do I have? Would I be willing or able to lay down my life for my friends? Would my friends be prepared to do the same for me? We all know that Jesus did that for us already. Thus, he is our greatest, our best friend of all. His sacrificial death gives us life now and eternal life ~ what a wonderful gift! What kind of sacrifices are we prepared to make as friends of Jesus?

A second ingredient of Christian friendship with Jesus is that he no longer regards us as servants or slaves but as friends. There is always a great distance between a master and a slave. The master does not tell everything to a slave. Some things are kept from a slave. The same is also likely true of the slave ~ who may not trust the master enough to divulge everything to his or her master. Also, the master exercises power and authority over the slave often by the use of force. The relationship then of master-slave is one of inequality and exploitation based on the use of fear and force.

How radically different is our relationship with Jesus, our Friend! As friends of Jesus, we are drawn much closer to him than a master-slave relationship. His power and authority are based on sharing our humanity and serving us in love. He does not command us to do something that he himself has not done first. His friendship with us is based not on fear but love; not on force but peace, gentleness, kindness, freedom and trust.

This friendship with Jesus makes a world of difference, because he is willing to get so close to us that he's willing to share everything with us. He tells us in our gospel: "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." Think of that! We have the special privilege of knowing everything that Jesus has heard from God the Father! He has shared with us the nature, purpose and destiny of life in relationship with God. He has shown us God in every way that is possible.

In this most intimate relationship with Jesus, we can trust him to share everything about ourselves with him too. We can pour out our hearts, souls, minds, our whole being to him. We can talk with him about everything under the sun ~ because he is our most trustworthy and true Friend. What an honour and privilege that is!

Indeed, as hymnwriter, Joseph Scriven put it: "What a Friend We Have in Jesus!" May we always honour, cherish and celebrate this great friendship with Jesus, so that it becomes deeply rooted within our lives ~ inspiring us as a perfect model for all our other friendships too.

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