First Mennonite Church
December 12, 2021
A Friendly Church or A Church of Friends
1Samuel 18:1-9; John 15:9-17
Let us put this passage in its context. The army of King Saul had been suffering harassment from the champion warrior Goliath of the Philistine army. David heard the contemptuous words of Goliath when Jesse, his father, sent supplies to his other sons who were Saul’s soldiers. David offered to fight Goliath. After David defeated Goliath, Saul wanted to know who the brave warrior was that defeated the giant. David was ushered before Saul and our passage reveals what happened at this first encounter between Saul and David.
There is something that happened in Jonathan towards David, which the Bible describes as “Jonathan becoming one in spirit with David and loving him as himself.”
For David, love seems to have been given to him as a gift and destiny. He was loved even by Saul, at first (16:21). David was loved by two of Saul’s children, Jonathan and Michal, and all the people of Judah and Israel loved David (18:16). God’s favor over David, by giving him success and victory over the Philistine which led to his fame, suddenly became the very and only reason Saul hated David. It seems that David’s successes and effectiveness in all his assignments instead of being reasons for celebration by Saul, they became the sources of bitterness and jealousy.
David was asked by Saul to stay with him. Saul even gave Michal, his daughter, to David to be his wife. But the friendship between David and Jonathan was strong, even to the point where Saul saw it as a threat.
As you might also know, the story of Jonathan and David has also been used as evidence that the Bible supports same-sex relations. David’s lament for the death of Jonathan, found in chapter 20, are taken as further evidence to support that idea. When Jonathan died, we read: David wept and said, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women (2Samuel 1:26).
I believe we need to read these words in their historic and cultural contexts. The literary genre where these words are found is poetry, thus, they are not necessarily literal in their meaning. In their historic and cultural contexts these words are not uncommon. The language and emotions used to express affection was uninhibited in such cultural setting. It is not like in today’s culture where one cannot say to love another person of the same sex, without having to explain him/herself. And that is so sad. Just recently I was asked if my son says he loves me or if he kisses me. I said he does both when he is at home. (Sometimes he kisses me, but just for the sake of poking me with his mustache, which he knows I don’t like.) Therefore, to say that this text is evidence of homosexual relations, not only does violence to the text, but completely disregards the context of the story.
The words and emotions Jonathan and David expressed towards each other were nothing more than the deep affection of true friends. Their friendship was such that each was willing to lay down his life for the other. Each wanted only the best for the other. Jonathan and David are the epitome of what friends are. The great philosopher Aristotle describes a friend as “another self” and “one soul in two bodies.”
However, in our New Testament passage, Jesus pushes the definition of friendship to another level. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” he said to his disciples. But Jesus also invited his disciples to reciprocate his friendship when he continued, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” In Jesus’ definition, a friend is someone who is willing to give everything for the sake of the other’s wellbeing. And friendship happens when there is reciprocity, both towards him and others. This is why the theme for my sermon this morning. Is the church a friendly church or a church of friends?
Let us begin with “being friendly.” We all aspire to behave friendly, even with those we do not know. The lofty aspiration of being friendly makes us behave in such ways that we do our best to show some kind of concern, love, respect, and gentleness towards others. In short, our attempt at being friendly is born out of the desire to make the other person feel that we are pleasant, warm and cordial to them, however fleeting and brief our encounter is with them. In extreme cases, even if the encounter is not a pleasant one, say, someone bumped your shopping cart and did not even apologize. In your effort at being friendly you would either ignore it or even smile and apologize to the person. The goal of being friendly is to avoid conflicts and to stay out of trouble. Being friendly is more a desire to protect self than the selfless interest for the other.
Jesus’ definition of friendship goes beyond the comfort zone of friendliness. Jesus’ definition of friendship calls for full engagement with the other. Therefore, once again, as we celebrate this Advent Season, we are reminded of God’s incarnation in Jesus. That is, God took human form, so that not only would we be able to know him better, but that he would become like one of us. God got deeply involved in the human experience through the coming of Jesus Christ. What was hidden of God, what was incomprehensible about God’s nature all became visible and possible to be experienced by those who approached Jesus. Jesus got deeply involved in the lives of those who came to him. He opened up himself to others. He shared his bread. He told them when he was tired. He did not hide his frustration and anger. He spoke truth when it was necessary to be heard. He cried before their very eyes. He moaned when he was tortured and nailed. He died before the eyes of the world. Jesus did everything before his disciples and hid nothing from them. All that he did he did it out of love. Thus, he said to his own, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” [And] “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
Are we a friendly church or a church of true friends? As we know, we live in a time where people prefer Facebook relationships, instead of face-to-face encounters. People are comfortable having “likes” rather that heart to heart commitments. True friends expand and enrich our lives because in their successes and joys we also find delight. When we hear that so and so finally found the job he or she was looking for, we rejoice in their success. When someone overcomes some health problems we are comforted too. But not only the positive things in our friend’s life expand ours, their troubles and afflictions also deepen our sense of humanity. When our friends suffer loss, we not only share in their pain and sorrow, but we also grow in our understanding of it means to be human. Their loss puts our life and the lives of our loved ones in perspective. True friends share and carry together both the joys and pains of life.
Are we a church of true friends? And, how or where do we begin to affirm our friendship for one another?
First, we need to remember that friends help each other see themselves more clearly with insight into what is God’s best interest for them. A Christ-centered friendship, which is the type of friendship there is in the church, is first and foremost characterized by looking for the good and best interest of the other, according to what we believe is God’s plan for life. Paul’s instruction found in Philippians is the best definition about the task friends have. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (2:3, 4). The task of looking to the interest of others is not only the acknowledgement of what is wrong or in need for improvement in the other, but it also the aspiration for what God desires for them to be. True friends care for each other; therefore, they also encourage and help their friends grow in the Lord.
Secondly, among friends there is equality and mutuality. That means that their approach to caring for the other is not paternalistic. A Christ-centered friendship is characterized by humility. Even if correction should be given, it is given in the spirit of brothers and sisters. Mutuality takes the form of openness. There is intimate knowledge among friends, which means, they share not only their joys and sorrows, but also their fears and struggles. True friends share their deeper feelings, such as their anxieties, fears, and weaknesses. This is something Jesus did the night he was arrested. In Matthew 26, verse 37, 38, we read: He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (John and James) along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Jesus is the Son of God, yet he openly told his intimate friends how overwhelmed with sorrow and trouble his heart was. True friends open their heart to each other. This is something they would not do with acquaintances. Of course, this kind of openness is only possible when there is trust and unconditional love, which is what Jesus commands us to have for each other.
The church is the place where true friendship takes place. True friendship is indeed a spiritual journey in which the goal is to encourage the growth and wellbeing of the other. The foundation of such a pursuit is found in the love of God. This is the love that puts the other first. It is a love that remains constant and is modeled after Jesus, who laid down his life for his friends, for us. May the Lord make us a church, not only of friendly people, but of true friends. Amen!