Friday, April 3, 2009

May 17, 2009 - John 15:9-17 - Barry Chance

Gleanings from the Text
John 15:9-17

This text is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John. This discourse focuses mainly on preparing the disciples for life and ministry post-Easter and thus the topics include the coming of the Holy Spirit, persecution, and the nature of the continuing community of faith. This particular pericope is the second half of a section that began at 15:1 and focuses on the image of the vine as a symbol of the interconnectedness of Jesus and his disciples.

A few words of particular interest in the Greek:
Agape – One of three Greek words for love, John favors this word when speaking about a self-giving love as best illustrated by the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Philos – Most often translated “friend” it is more literally “loved one.”

In this pericope, Jesus effectively says “I love (agape) you, so I call you loved ones (philos).” The theological implication is that the identity of the disciples is tied up in the fact that they are loved—they are Friends of Jesus—Friends of God.

Food for Thought
What does it mean to be a Friend of God? When Jesus says “Love one another as I have loved you” he gives us a clue as to where we might begin to reorder our relationships with God and one another.
1. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To be a friend is to give generously of yourself to your friends.
2. “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Friends do not hold back from one another; rather, the basis of friendship is trust and openness.
3. “I appointed you to go and bear fruit.” Friends take each other seriously; they recognize the gifts and purposes of the other and seek to help the other live a meaningful life.

Some might hear the commandment to love and wonder if it is still love if it is commanded. There is no good way to resolve that; however, I wonder how it might change the debate if we think of love as an action instead of a sentiment. If love is more about what I do to my neighbor than what I feel about my neighbor, does that change the dynamic? Perhaps sometimes we need to practice being loving until we learn how to love.

Sink Your Teeth Into This:
“You’re my friend ain’t you mamma? I mean daddy. I mean, Mr. Barry?” I hear those words at least once a week. Sometimes it is while I am shaking hands as people file out of the sanctuary, but usually it is at Bible study on Wednesday night. My answer is always “Yes, Mae,* and you’re my friend.”

Mae is one of the students in my congregation’s Friendship Bible Study, a weekly study for adults with intellectual disabilities. The class is called Friendship because the curriculum we use comes from Friendship Ministries, but I can think of no better name because it reminds me and all of the other mentors that our role is to be a friend.
Friendship has not always come easily to all of my friends. Some of them have been mocked, excluded, and abused because they are different. Some have difficulty expressing themselves and people aren’t patient with them as they try. Some are just hard to befriend. Still, they are my friends and Jesus teaches us what that means.
Friends give generously, trust and are open with each other, and help each other live meaningful lives. Friends tell the legislature when the laws aren’t working, say enough when someone is overmedicated, log many miles in the car getting people to church, share the details of their lives, let others pray for them, and help each other discover and use the gifts that God has given them.

* I have changed the name to protect my friend’s privacy.

For Further Reading & Reflection
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Adam, God’s Beloved. (Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY, 2004)
Hauerwas, Stanley and Jean Vanier. Living Gently in a Violent World. (IVP Books: Downers Grove, IL, 2008)

Biographical Information
Barry Chance (M.Div., ’05) lives in Shreveport, LA, with his wife Katie. He is the pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church where he teaches a weekly Bible study for adults with intellectual disabilities. He also serves on the board of two ministries that serve the needs of people with intellectual disabilities - Evergreen Presbyterian Ministries and Friendship Ministries - and would love to speak with anyone looking for ways to include people with disabilities into the full life of the church.