Easter 6, Year B
Acts 11: 19 – 30, 1 John 4: 7 – 21, John 15: 9 – 17
Friends of Jesus
When I went to college in the mid-70's, the Vietnam War was still raging. As a freshman, I went to my first anti-war demonstration in the streets of
It was a simple white wooden building with green trim. Inside there was no altar, no pews, no pictures, no candles, no vestments, no stained glass …. None of the beauty to which we Episcopalians are accustomed. Instead, there were simple wooden chairs, in rows that faced each other. Light streamed in through the clear windows. There was nothing to distract one’s attention. I sat down and waited. And spent the next hour waiting. I’d never been a part of anything like this before. About fifty people simply sitting together in silence. Every now and then, someone would stand to speak a few sentences – I don’t remember now what anyone said. But I felt God in the spaciousness, resting graciously among us. I was moved to tears.
There was a library in their fellowship hall, and I checked out books and read all that I could on this particular way of being Christian. What I found out was that Quakers started in the early 1700’s as a protest against some of the offenses they perceived in the in the Church of England. I didn’t know anything at the time about the Church of England, but I became absorbed in the stories of early Quaker martyrs – who were flogged and had their property taken from them, as well as a few who were tarred and feathered and killed in the American colonies. The cause of most of the problems stemmed from their stand against being forced to tithe to the established church – as well as their radical stance towards equality between people of all social ranks, in a day and age where hierarchy was strictly enforced.
But at the heart of early Quakerism was their worship life – which consisted of expectantly waiting upon God’s Holy Spirit. Of course, they measured their inward promptings of the Spirit against the standards of Scripture and the wisdom of the community. They trusted that God would tell them what to do and then would enable them to do it. Since I was naturally drawn to contemplation and like most young people, wanted to connect what I believed with what I did, I came often to worship with them.
After meeting for worship, this group went to stand in vigil at the docks. They stood in silent prayer for the well being of the world and for the end of the Vietnam War. They continued to do this every week until the end of the war. Their consistency and their faithfulness to listening and then doing what they felt God calling them to do won me over. I became a Quaker, and stayed so for many years. Today, some of my closest friends are still Quakers.
One of the things I found so enchanting, and continue to love about this group is their formal name: The Religious Society of Friends. "Quaker" was actually a nickname that was intended to be derisive - the early Quakers were known for their trembling when they stood to speak in their worship services, being "under the influence" of the Holy Spirit. Being good peacemakers they took this taunting with good humor and became known by this nickname. But their formal name - the Religious Society of Friends - was drawn directly from this morning’s gospel passage. “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.”
I have called you friends. Isn’t that the most lovely name you could be given? To have as your identity - Jesus’ friend.
Obviously, I am no longer a Quaker. As my friendship with Jesus matured, I longed to worship sacramentally – that is, not only in silence, but in art and language and music, with water and oil and fire and bread and wine. I wanted worship that engaged me not only as a soul but as a body. I love that the bread that will hold the real presence of Christ is grown from the earth, watered by the rain, harvested by human hands, and offered up in thanksgiving to the God who created us and who continually offers himself to us for our healing and our nurture.
I found that because sacramental worship involves the created world, it leads progressively towards friendship with the natural world and with the poor. As well as being the Sixth Sunday of Easter, it is also Rogation Sunday. Rogation is from the Latin word for asking – and what is traditionally asked for at this time of the year is protection of crops – the production of food. On this Sunday, some churches process around the neighborhood, asking for protection of all people, plants and animals within the boundaries. In a mission church I served, a bagpiper led the way as we prayed at each of the four directions for God’s blessing and protection. Today, on this Rogation Sunday, we are especially remembering not only newly planted gardens and crops, but our calling to be caretakers of the whole of the creation – and especially – in partnership with the Greater Richmond Interfaith Housing Project – we are asking for care and protection for those who are in need of shelter and affordable housing.
So friendship with Jesus leads us to ask on behalf of others. But our friendship with Jesus includes more than asking.
Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” With Jesus, friendship is a verb. It is about what we do. It’s about how we live in the world. It’s about the decisions we make. It’s about the seeds of compassion growing up and bearing real fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. This was what I began learning among the Religious Society of Friends, and what I continue to learn as we Episcopalians connect our sacramental worship with the hungers and thirsts of those outside our doors.
So – our friendship with Jesus is about asking on behalf of others – for all of creation and especially those who are vulnerable. It is about doing – connecting our words with our actions.
But first – First – it is about receiving.
Several years ago, a colleague of mine was the Director of the
Being a friend to Jesus means loving others. We know that, don’t we! We hear it Sunday after Sunday.
The truth is, accepting love maybe even harder than loving. But it comes first.
To be a friend of Jesus, one has to first accept his friendship. His love. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” This is what my friends the Quakers do in their silent worship – they seek to abide in love. To Rest in love. This is what we Episcopalians do as we break bread together and eat with Christ and one another. We love by first receiving love.
If you have not already, I urge you today to receive Christ as your dearest and sweetest friend.