In the thirty seconds it took for me to read the Gospel lesson for today, I said the word love nine times. I don’t know how long it took for Jesus to speak the words that St. John wrote down for us, but I do know that there are nine sentences in what we just heard, and Jesus said the word love nine times. Jesus also said the word friend three times in three sentences, and friend is not a word we hear Jesus speak often, at least as He was recorded. So this passage from St. John is about love and it is about friendship; two things tied together, woven together by God and shown perfectly in Jesus. Love and friendship, two things we think we know all about but are hard to define, two things we think we can handle, but screw up so often.
I read an article last week by an author named A.J. Jacobs called Do I Love My Wife? An Investigative Report. The article starts off like this: “ How do I love thee? I love thee with serotonin produced by my raphe nuclei. I love thee with testosterone receptors deep in my hypothalamus. I love thee with dopamine that floods my primitive lizard brain.” Jacobs goes on to tell how scientists studied his brain while showing him pictures of his wife and then pictures of Angelina Jolie (which hardly seems fair) and then studying how his brain reacted to the images. The scientists think they have found some correlation between brain activity and love, which seems obvious enough, but I found it interesting how they broke aspects of love down into three categories: Lust (or sex), Attachment, and Romance. Lust is technically a sin (unless it’s for your spouse, or in this case unless your Brad Pitt), romance is great, and attachment seems like the most wholesome of the three, until you realize that you can be very much attached to someone whom you very much despise. And let’s face it, even when added together and shaken up, Lust, Attachment, and Romance still come out looking nothing like love.
So love is tough to get a handle on. What about friendship? Jesus sure had some interesting friends. It would seem that most of His friends made a mockery of their friendship with Jesus save Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. None of them particularly understood Him. Judas betrayed him to the cross, Peter denied Him three times, Mark ran away half naked at the first sight of the Temple Police, just about everyone else disappeared into the night rather than stick with their friend in His time of trouble. Only St. John, Blessed Mary His Mother, Mary Magdalene and the other unnamed women managed to stay with their Lord, their Teacher, their Friend. Nothing new. God had some interesting friends all along. Think of some of the people we could legitimately call God’s friends throughout history. Adam and Eve – I guess we all know how that worked out. Noah, sure, God saved him and his family but killed everybody else he knew. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, but he was a liar and a coward, and his wife Sarah laughed at God. We’re not even out of the book of Genesis yet, and what a cast of characters. Still to come are Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Isaiah, David, Solomon and Samson, so many friends of God, so many complete messes. The best, though was Jacob. Jacob may have been God’s best friend ever, the BFF of God. Jacob was not a nice man: he stole his brother’s birthright, he married by trickery, prospered in deceit, and yet God gave Jacob everything, practically conspired with him, and best of all, God wrestled with him. If you are anything like me and my friends, the mark of true friendship is in the periodic, and of course in good fun, beating of the everliving snot out of each other. Men have elevated this activity to an art form, and have called it football. God wrestled with His friend Jacob on the shore of the river Jabbok, they struggled against each other all night, Jacob struggling for the Name of God but receiving a new name instead, the name Israel, which means “God strives”, or “the one who strives with God.” Such an interesting bunch of friends that Jesus and His Father had.
So love and friendship. Complicated, horribly complicated things. Just when we think we might have a handle on them, when we think we might be able to predict where love may spring up or who might be great friends, we still know there’s no way to figure it all out. Or is there? What can we know about love and friendship?
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” So much about love right there. First, love comes from the Father, and we only know love because God has loved us, never more so than in the love that is Jesus Christ. Second, love is almost like a place, a place we can abide, live in. Love is more than a feeling; love is a state of being, a place of refreshment. Third, love involves the keeping of commandments, commandments given by God in Christ to keep us in that place, that state of being where love rules. And this is the fulfillment of that commandment: Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That’s love, that every one of us would lay down our lives for the person next to us. That’s the kind of love that wants nothing but the best for our friends, to see our friends, and yes, even our enemies, be reconciled one to another and with God. That’s love, to want more for our friends than we want for ourselves, to be willing to give up everything so that our friends might have life, abundant life. What comes out of that love is the willingness to tell each other all things, to share the life we have in Christ with everyone we know, and to love the other person enough to be willing to correct their faults, to point out their sins, because to leave our friends wallowing in their sins is not to love them, but to let them condemn themselves. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” said Jesus, and that commandment is to love as Jesus loved us, right to the death.
St. John tells us that Jesus, having loved His own while He was in the world, He loved them to the end. The Cross of Christ is the clearest offer of friendship the world has ever known. That offer is being made today to Noah Robert McKean, and his parents and Godparents are going to accept that offer for him. Jesus died for Noah, and He commanded us to do the same. Jesus lives for Noah, and He commands us to do the same. Noah is about to become our brother, a friend to all of us in Christ, so we will see to it that he learns the commandments of Christ, we will correct and encourage him, we will make this place a place where love abides for him. And on that last day when Christ comes to gather up His own, when the trumpets sound and the angels sing, we will turn to Noah and to each other and say “Hello again, my loving friend.”