Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 9, 2021

YEAR B 2021 easter 6

Easter 6, 2021
Acts 10:44-48
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17
Psalm 98

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This morning I want to talk about just two things:  Friends, and fruit.  Let’s start with friends.  In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says to the disciples, “I have called you friends.”  If I ask you to tell me what word is the opposite of friend, what word comes to mind?  Probably enemy, right?  Friends and enemies.  Or, if you’re into alliteration, maybe you’re thinking foe.  Friend or foe.  Usually, to us—living in 21st century America—the opposite of a friend is an enemy.  But this is a relatively new way of looking at the world.  Which means, it’s not what Jesus has in mind when he says, “I have called you friends.”

I recently read an interesting article in the journal Interpretation, written by Gail O’Day, where she lays out the context for what Jesus means when he says, “I have called you friends.”  In Greek and Roman antiquity—the time before Jesus was born—the term “friend” was connected to being a good citizen.  That is, laying down your life or your personal needs for the city or nation.  We get our word liturgy from this connection;  the Latin word liturgia and the Greek word leitourgia mean “the work of the people.”  In Greek and Roman cities, individuals paid for things like roads, and choirs, and warships and stuff—rather than the state funding them.  So, to people like Aristotle, to be a friend was to be a good citizen, to put the good of the people before your own interests.  The opposite of the word “friend,” in ancient Greece and Rome was to be selfish, self-centered, and miserly.

Around the time Jesus was born, this idea begins to shift.  And the opposite of friend starts to also mean “flatterer.”  If you were a flatterer, you wouldn’t be my true friend.  But the connection to selfishness is still there.  Because the purpose of flattery is to manipulate someone into getting what you want out of them.  It might be as simple as getting them to like you.  Or it might be as targeted as getting a good price on a new chariot, or getting a promotion in the army.  But flattery is a sort of deceitful selfishness, which tells complimentary lies in order to get something out of the other person.

So, when Jesus says, I have called you friends, it carries those two understandings of what a friend is:  One who lays down their life for others, and one who tells it to you like it is.  It does not have our modern connotation of, “You guys are no longer my enemies.”  For Jesus, a friend is one who lays down their life for you, and one who gives it to you straight.  Now, we already know that Jesus lays down his life for us . . . quite literally.  But how is Jesus telling us the unvarnished truth?  Telling us like it is?

Jesus says to them, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”  And then he says, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  You did not choose me but I chose you.  You might see how this is the opposite of flattery right?  If Jesus were trying to flatter us, he’d say, “Thanks for choosing me you guys.  You’re the best!”  But instead he gives it to us straight:  “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

We like to think that we have decided to follow Jesus.  There’s a hymn by that very name, in fact (which we will never sing as long as I’m picking the music around here).  It sure would boost our egos to have Jesus tell us that we decided to follow him.  Quite the flattery, in fact.  But Jesus is our friend, so he is willing to give us the unvarnished truth: “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  Which, I think is very good news!

And the reason that is good news is because of this:  If I can decide to follow Jesus, then I can decide not to follow Jesus.  If it is up to me to choose Jesus, then most days I will be making the wrong choice.  I confess to you my brothers and sisters that I am not up to choosing Jesus most days.  And if you’re anything like me, you could say the same.  We cannot decide to follow Jesus by our own strength and determination.  And Jesus says to you and me, “that’s okay, actually, because you did not choose me; I chose you.”  And, as I say, that is good news indeed!

And then Jesus gets to why he chose us:  “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  Fruit that will last.  From a botanical standpoint, a fruit develops from the flower of a plant, while the other parts of the plant are categorized as vegetables.  (Sorry tomatoes.)  But we all agree what most fruits are.  Think bananas, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, and so on.  And the one thing we know all about these various fruits is . . . they don’t last!  With something like an avocado or a pear, you have like a 30 minute window between ripe enough to eat and something destined for the compost.  Jesus says the disciples have been appointed to bear fruit that will last.  And still, as we all know: Fruit does not last.

Now, in normal times, it would be a slam dunk to tell you that you can make fruit last by turning it into wine, right?  To say that the fruit that will last is the Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus, handed down through the generations in the Church.  The fruit that lasts could be the Sacrament, which brings forgiveness, healing, and everlasting life.  That’s what I would say in normal times.  But these are not normal times.  For the sake of everyone’s safety, we don’t distribute the wine from Communion right now.

And so we turn our attention to the eternal part of this promise.  Rather than the fruit that we have right now, we look to the fruit that lasts.  It’s easy to get discouraged in these seemingly never-ending “unprecedented times.”  How we all long for a return to precedented times.  Times when the priest can make the connection to the wine on the Altar and then just drop the mic.  But those are not the times we are living in right now.  No, for now, we press on with the unprecedented, the strange, the unusual, and we keep our hopes on the future, by drawing on the past.  We’re not sure what exactly it is we have right now, but we know what we will have in the future, because of what we have had in the past.

In the future, we will have a small but mighty choir singing to God each week, because we have had that before.  In the future, we will gather a hundred people in that parish hall and share meals and friendship together, because we have had that before.  In the future, we will fill this sanctuary to overflowing on Christmas and Easter, and everyone will partake in the Sacrament in both kinds, bread and wine, because we have had that before.

For most of our 186 years as a parish, we have been doing those exact things, and much, much more.  And with all that history behind us, holding us up, telling us what we have already done . . . it is a reminder that those who have gone before did indeed bear fruit that lasts.  That’s how we got where we are, and how we have gotten through these last 14 months.  Because that fruit that they bore is what is sustaining us in this desert of COVID.  The fruit we have inherited from those who have gone before.  We will get through this, and we will come out the other side, nourished by the fruit that Jesus promises will last.  May God remind us of that lasting fruit every single day, because Jesus has called us friends, and he tells it like it is.


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