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God Wants Friendship

by Mark

God wants what? Where on earth would we get the idea that God might want to be our friend? Well, first and foremost, that is what Jesus said he wants. “I call you no longer my servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing. Rather, I call you my friends…” John 15:15 God wants my FRIENDSHIP? It’s pretty stunning, isn’t it? Maybe even too good to be true! When we think of sitting in front of the fireplace with a glass and a good friend God isn’t the first one that comes to mind, is he? And certainly we, small creatures that we are, could not demand such a thing of the creator of the universe. Nor do I suppose we would ever think to do so. God is too big, God is too powerful, God is too just, holy, so completely “other” that he doesn’t strike one as being “my type, exactly.”

I call you my friends…” The statement is stunning all by itself. But taken in context, well, I simply do not understand why it does not break every heart that reads it. Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding this incredible statement as recorded in John, chapters 13 through 17. Jesus is in his last few hours with the friends. These are the special people with whom has worked, traveled and eaten. He has shared their lives for the last three and a half years. But Jesus time with them is coming to an end. He knows that in a few short hours both he and they will be going through the most awful experience of their lives. Perhaps he is already beginning to feel the crushing load of separation from his Father that will drag him to the ground in Gethsemane and ultimately take his life as he hangs upon the cross.

Jesus knows that his disciples do not understand him. He knows they are not prepared to face the disappointment and grief that can destroy them as everything they have believed in is taken from them. It has been just a few minutes since Phillip has said as much. “We don’t know where you are going or how to get there.” John 14:5 Jesus answers that it he is the way to his Father, telling them both where he is going and how they can follow. John 14:6 Phillip innocently says “Show us the Father, that would be enough.” John 14:8 Jesus has to gently tell him that “Showing the Father” is what he has been doing all along. “Have I been with you so long Phillip, and yet you do not know me?” John 14:9-11 But they didn’t. They didn’t know him. They didn’t understand his mission. They didn’t know why he was there or who he was in more than a general way. They didn’t know what he was about to do.

And so, in this context, Jesus takes them through it slowly, carefully, knowing that they will not understand even now, that it may be a long time before his words take their true significance for his friends. It is only John, that “disciple who Jesus loved” that recorded the words in his “good news” toward the end of his long and difficult life. Only many years of experience made it clear that Jesus was telling them one of the most important things he could say.

And what was that? What was this important message that Jesus had to tell them before he left? It was just this. “I and my father are one. If you have seen me you have seen the Father. And I tell you that God wants to be one with you even as I am one with him. He wants you to stop all the bickering about who is the greatest and become one with each other. In the same way that I am one with my Father, the way I am one with you. Be one with each other, with me and with God. God wants your understanding friendship.” This is my summary of Jesus message in John 14 through 17.

Nothing moves me more than knowing that what God offers me is the desire of my heart. It seems to me that I have always been alone. It seems to me that this is one of the first and most damaging things about being caught in the rebellion against God and his way. As soon as we turn our backs on him we are alone. We fight this as best we can, with drugs, with sex, with religion or whatever we can find that stops the fear, the panic the loneliness of an abandoned child for even a few moments.

Once in a while we find someone with whom we do not feel quite so alone. This we call love. This reminds us of what we have lost. But it is also God’s promise to us. God himself is the only answer to our isolation, to our fear, to our loneliness. He offers himself to us as our ultimate friend, companion, and, if we believe Hosea or read the “Song of Songs”, God offers himself to us as a lover.

There is much that is fierce in the bible. There is much that smacks of power and authoritarianism. God has pursued his lovers by whatever means they have left open to him. With the Israelites, fresh from bondage under a powerful and cruel government he is the liberator, powerful, jealous so that those who understand only power can hear him.

Later he is the law giver, and plays “Let’s make a deal” with them so that those who require a legal contract in order to feel safe can still come to him.

“In many and various ways in the past he has spoken to us. But now he speaks to us through his son…” Hebrews 1:1-2 And so, near the end of this talk that Jesus having with his friends on their last night together he says. “In the past I have spoken to you in figures of speech. But the time is coming when I will no longer use figures of speech but will speak to you plainly.” John 16:25 And it seems that he decided that that time had come, indeed, if he was going to speak plainly then time had run out. “I do NOT say that I will pray to the Father FOR you. For the Father loves you HIMSELF.” John 16:26

To me this is Jesus giving us the “Good News” in a nutshell. The God of the universe is in love with you and offers you his friendship.

Although I do not always act like his friend, still, at the core of my being, I know that is what I want. I know that I was not meant to live in a world like this. I know that things are not as they are supposed to be. I know that I am not supposed to be alone. Nothing speaks to me more than what God offers. God offers me himself. Not just his death on a cross long ago, though certainly he offers that too. After all how would I know to come to him without the cross? But, in addition to that thing that happened “long ago and far away”, God offers me his friendship here and now.

As I write this, looking at his creation, the trees of an Oregon forest, the blue sky of a September afternoon, worried about where I will find a job and what will happen to my sons, I am not alone. The God of the universe sits beside me, silent and invisible, but present never the less. It fills my heart with joy and my eyes with tears. I can not hear him but he speaks to me in my heart of hearts and I pray “Lord, help me say of you what is right.” It is the least I can do for my friend.