I’ve got a question for you this morning. How many of you know where we get our name from?
Springfield Friends, the Friends church, the Friends movement, Friends meetings everywhere — where do we get our name from?
Back in the early days, Friends used to be known by a variety of other names. Sometimes we called ourselves “Publishers of Truth.” Sometimes we called ourselves “Children of the Light”, or “Soldiers in the war of the Lamb”.
For a long time, we were known as “the peculiar people”, and I’m not sure that wasn’t the most accurate name we’ve ever had. But can you tell me why our official, legal name is the Religious Society of Friends? The answer is in this morning’s Scripture.
Jesus said: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
– John 15:12-17
As I read this passage, there are a couple of things in it that stand out to me.
The first thing is, we aren’t the ones who call ourselves “Friends”. That’s not a name we chose. It’s a name that was chosen for us, by Jesus Christ.
We are called Friends, not because we say we are, but because that’s who Jesus says we are. There’s a really big difference. We don’t just take the name; it’s a name that’s been given to us. We have been named. Our identity has been assigned to us.
If we were starting all over again, we still might choose the name “Friends”. It has a kind of a nice up-market, warm, fuzzy, attractive sound to it. I mean, why would you go to the Old-Fashioned, Narrow-Minded, Pulpit-Pounding, Fire-and-Brimstone Church, when you could go to a Friends meeting instead? Which name sounds better?
I get a lot of calls here at the meetinghouse from people who think that we’re a social group. They see “Friends” in the yellow pages or on the internet, and they think maybe we’re a dating service. They’re always very surprised when I tell them that we’re a religious fellowship. They’re even more surprised, when I tell them we’re the oldest church in High Point, and that Friends been around for almost 400 years!
But the name “Friends” isn’t one we chose. It’s a name which we feel was chosen for us. “No longer do I call you servants,” says Jesus, “. . .I call you Friends. . .” That’s where our name comes from.
The other thing that strikes me, as I read this passage, is that Jesus calls us his friends, on the condition that we do what he commanded us. I can’t see any other justification for our use of the name “Friends”. Without that, I think that we have no right whatsoever to go by that name.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. . .You are my friends if you do what I command you…”
I don’t see a lot of wiggle room there. We can only use the name, if we are doing what Jesus said.
A Friend whom I love and respect, once asked in worship, “Are Friends known more for how we talk, or for how we walk?”
I think that talking is important. You know me – I talk all the time! But I feel that walking is even more important, because it really defines who we are.
So, what did Jesus teach or command us? Somebody asked me that this week at Bible study. What does God want? I said, “Go and read the gospels. Go and read what Jesus said, and go and read what Jesus did.”
Most of those things are pretty simple. They’re not hard to understand. Ordinary people can read about Jesus’ words and actions, and know what he meant.
“You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. . .”
Those two laws, Jesus said, include all the commandments. Love God. And love your neighbor. It doesn’t get much less complicated than that.
People who are blessed, said Jesus, are humble. They hunger and thirst for righteousness, and they speak the truth. They are merciful, even as God is merciful. Their hearts are focused. And they make peace.
Jesus told us, time after time, over and over, to forgive, because we have been forgiven. That’s not just a sweet idea. Jesus talked about forgiving one another from the heart, about forgiving and being forgiven time after time after time again.
Our lives, if we are Jesus’ friends, are about continually forgiving. We confess our own wrongs, and we let go of the wrongs that others have done to us.
The way we live, without Jesus, is way too stressful. The burden of doing wrong, the burden of offending others, and the burden of pain and anger and unforgiveness, are burdens which are simply too heavy to bear. We need to lay those burdens down, and God will help us to forgive and be forgiven.
Jesus also taught us and showed us, by word and by example, that we’re supposed to reach out – to the blind, to the sick, to the lame, and to the broken people first of all. We’re supposed to include sinners in our fellowship, and we are supposed to embrace the untouchables.
Those people, Jesus said – the big sinners and the outcasts, the people who have been judged by everyone in society – are going to enter the kingdom of God a long time before we do. That’s because they know how much love matters, how much they need to love and be loved.
Jesus taught us to pray – simply, and directly, and in complete trust of our heavenly Father. Jesus said that if we pray that way, that whatever we ask will be given.
When Jesus sent out his disciples – whom he also called his friends – he told them to talk about the kingdom of God wherever they went. He said our job is to make people see that the kingdom is close at hand.
Jesus told us to heal the sick. He told us to raise the dead back to life, to cleanse people who are considered unclean, to cast out whatever is contrary to God, and to bring peace to every house we enter.
Jesus even told us not to worry too much beforehand about what to say when we’re in difficult situations. “The Spirit will be with you,” he said. And if we’re really Jesus’ friends, I think that’s still true.
There are all sorts of things that Jesus commanded us. And what most of them boil down to is, “Do what I do. Say what I say. Live my life. Trust me. Walk with me. Be my friend. . .”
I know that’s hard for some people to accept. They’re so hung up on what somebody else has told them, or on their own pet beliefs, that they don’t really listen to what Jesus said.
Jesus said, “If you can’t believe in me, then look at what I do. If you see people healed. If you see people forgiven. If you see people accepted and welcomed in God’s name. If you see hungry people being fed, then that’s all the proof you need. And blessed are you, if you don’t stumble over any of this. . .”
And to all the Doubting Thomases, to the people who need more proof, Jesus said, “Touch me. Hold me. Embrace me. I’m really not all that fragile. You won’t break me. Grab my hand. I get hurt, too. Touch my wounds.”
I wish that more Friends would really learn by experience and by experiment. We shouldn’t just think about love in intellectual terms. We need to know by doing, which is the most meaningful kind of knowledge that there is.
Jesus’ commandment is that we should love one another in exactly and precisely the same kind of way that he loved us. That is what allows us to be called Friends.
Jesus even talked about laying down our lives for one another, which is something we really don’t want to think about.
I don’t think that means actual dying most of the time. I don’t think he’s saying we should all go out and try to be martyrs or victims.
Parents lay down their lives for their children, every day, when we make sacrifices and pour out our time and energy and resources for our kids. We understand that.
Adult children lay down their lives for their aged parents. We’ve giving back the love and care which we received ourselves from them.
Teachers lay down their lives for their students, every single week at school. Nurses lay down their lives for their patients, with every caring act they perform, with every hour of overtime and every extra shift they work.
We lay down our lives when we don’t hit back, even when we’re angry. We lay down our lives when we serve other people cheerfully and well, even when we’re tired. We lay down our lives whenever we do a good job, an honest job, whenever we do a little bit extra, when we go the second mile.
We lay down our lives when we get a drink of cold water for someone who’s thirsty, just because it’s a kind thing to do.
We lay down our lives when we give way graciously, when we hold the door open for other people, when we demonstrate our respect for them – especially when we respect people who aren’t respected by everyone else.
“Love one another” is the most expensive commandment there is. Maybe if we learn about it by doing it, we’ll have a better idea of what Jesus meant.
Jesus is the one who calls us Friends. And the only reason I know for us to be called Friends, is if we try to be the people Jesus has called us to be, and if we do as we’ve been told.