Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 “See How He Loved”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

 

 

John 11: 28-37

Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

I saw an exceedingly passive-aggressive T-shirt some time ago. It said in large letters “Jesus loves you.” In smaller letters underneath it added: “But then he loves everybody.” Ouch.

 

Biblically speaking, in the New Testament, in the Gospels, if Jesus loved everybody, he did not love everybody the same way. Some people he loved by confronting them; it probably didn’t even feel like love to them at the time or, I’d guess, later. Some Jesus loved by teaching them in large impersonal crowds. Some he loved by touching and healing them and then going on his way. Some he loved by disciplining them. Some he loved by forgiving them. Some he loved in an intimate and personal way.

 

Our Lenten booklet this year was on the theme of “Jesus as Friend.” I contributed a little meditation but frankly I found it difficult to write. So it helped me to read the reflections of other people on the theme “Jesus as Friend.” I realized there are different meanings for the word “friend.” You could see some of the differing meanings as you read the meditations from day to day.

 

There is a use of the word “friend” that has the meaning of being on somebody’s side, like saying that FDR was a friend of the common people or Coolidge was a friend of big business. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Then there can be friends you don’t necessarily know all that well but who show their friendship by reaching out to you in a time of need – a friend in deed. There can also be intimate friends who are closer to you than a brother or a sister – best friends – and sometimes they are a brother or a sister.

 

It is always interesting to me when a speaker introduces his or her partner or spouse, and says something like this: “I’d like to introduce so-and-so who is not only my wife but my best friend.” What is the assumption behind that – that most partners and spouses are not best friends? Maybe so!

 

There are different ways to love. There are different ways to be a friend.

 

Jesus loved different people in different ways. Jesus befriended different people in different ways.

 

Our scripture lesson today is about one of Jesus’ intimate friends…perhaps his best friend. His name was Lazarus. He lived with his two sisters Mary and Martha in the town of Bethany two miles from Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus. (John 11:5) It is clear that he loved them in an intimate and personal way.

 

When Lazarus became ill, the sisters send a message to Jesus that said, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” (John 11: 3) They didn’t even mention Lazarus’ name but assumed that Jesus would know who they were talking about when they referred to “the one whom you love.”

 

Jesus waited two days to go to Bethany. By the time he got there Lazarus had died. When Jesus met Lazarus’ sister Mary, she was weeping, and Jesus began weeping too. The people watching him, seeing the way Jesus wept, said, “See how he loved him.”

 

Jesus would eventually raise Lazarus from the dead in the story, but before that, the Gospel of John gives us a very intimate picture of Jesus’ grief at the death of a friend, someone he loved in an intimate and personal way…perhaps Jesus’ best friend.

 

As far as we know, Jesus had very few personal and intimate friends during his life on earth: Lazarus, Martha and her sister Mary…perhaps John, the beloved disciple. Jesus’ disciples were not really his friends in an intimate sense. Disciples were a master’s students and servants. They served the master in exchange for the learning they received. You remember it was only the night before his death that Jesus, after washing the feet of his disciples, said to them: “I no longer call you servants but friends.” (John 15: 15)

 

Biblically, Jesus is, first of all, Lord and Savior and Teacher. Jesus’ goal on earth was not so much to have us love him as it was teach us how to love one another.  

 

For those in the teaching, helping and healing professions, friendships are sometimes complicated, as Jesus’ relationships must have been. Working on this sermon, I became curious so I called one of the physicians in our congregation and asked him how doctors deal with having patients who become friends. He said that when it happens doctors have to sometimes ask the patient to find another doctor or else suggest that they back-off from the friendship because it can get in the way of good medical decision-making.

 

I know there have been times when my friendships with parishioners have made it hard for me to be their pastor. I find myself walking past their hospital room 4 or 5 times before I go in because I am so personally distressed by their illness that I am not sure how to be their pastor.

 

This is especially true when the illness is terminal. One of a pastor’s jobs is to give people permission to die.  If we ourselves can’t let go of someone, it gets in the way of doing what it is our job to do. Oddly enough, loving in an intimate personal way can get in the way of loving pastorally.  

 

Jesus had an intimate friend, a best friend, like Lazarus, because he needed a friend to make his life complete, not because it made Jesus a better Lord and savior for Lazarus. Matter of fact, being Jesus’ friend was costly for Lazarus. It cost him a second death.

 

Jesus needed an intimate friend, a best friend like Lazarus, so that he would know what it feels like to love someone – some specific individual – with all your heart. And, I suspect, he needed a best friend so he would know what it feels like to have someone you love with all your heart die.

 

“See how he loved him,” they said about Jesus as he wept for Lazarus and his own broken heart.

 

New Testament Greek has different words for love. It has a word that means romantic love and a word that means the love between friends and a word that refers to love like the love of God. The word for the love between friends is philia, like the first half of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. The word for love like the love of God is agape. When John talks about Jesus loving Lazarus, he uses the Greek word philia – the love between friends. (John 11: 5 and 36)

 

The biblical scholar D.A. Carson, in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, notes how often in the New Testament the Greek words philia and agape are used almost interchangeably so that it is hard to distinguish a difference in meaning between them.[i]

 

I think the significance of this is what it suggests about friendship – that friendship, intimate friendship, best friends, may be the human experience we have in this life closest to the experience of the love of God.

 

Jesus instructs us to love everybody…even our enemies. This is in Matthew. In the Gospel of John we are instructed especially to love everyone else in the church. This is the new commandment Jesus gives us in John 15: 12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

 

Look around you this morning. We are commanded to love everyone here…even people we have never spoken to. And it happens. I have seen people weep at the death of someone they never spoke more than a word or two to personally, but he sat 6 pews in front of her every Sunday for years, and even though they never spoke to each other, they loved each other. And when he died, she came to his memorial service and wept. See how she loved him.

 

Jesus commands us to love everyone here, but remember there are different ways of loving different people. Just before Jane and I came here to Foundry, after our appointment here had been announced, Jane’s father died. Phil Wogaman mentioned it during concerns and asked if someone would write a note, and somebody did. We felt the love of people we had never met through those notes. They were a very special and real expression of love during a time we needed to be loved. They were exactly the right way to love us then; they wanted nothing in return. More would have been less.

 

I hope you know how important things like notes and phone calls and offers to help and casseroles are when people are going through things. They are powerful and profound. They are profound ways of loving one another.

 

When Jesus says to love one another sometimes all he has in mind is a note or a casserole.  

 

We love one another by using whatever spiritual gifts we have. Jesus loved crowds of people he never met personally by teaching. If you want to love and you have the gift of teaching, teach. If you have the gift of teaching children, teach children. You will never be forgotten. I will never forget any one of my Sunday school teachers. There are teachers who live inside of me who have been dead for 40 years. Teaching is a way of loving one another. Administering is a way of loving one another. Coming out to a Trustees cleanup day and painting the walls is a way of loving one another.   

 

What I am trying to say here is that you don’t have to become somebody’s best friend to love them. Jesus had very few intimate close friends but he loved everybody. There is a way to love everybody here this morning.

 

Not all love takes the form of close intimate friendship, but all of us need a Lazarus or two in our life. All of us need intimate, close friends. One of these can be a partner or a spouse but a partner or a spouse is not enough. We need someone with whom to be as close as Jesus was with Lazarus.

 

We need this for many reasons, I suppose, but one of the reasons is spiritual. We can’t really understand the profundity of the love of God unless we have profound friendships.

 

We will sometimes discover that what we thought might be a friendship will turn out to have been merely an alliance. An alliance is agenda driven – in an alliance people are pulled together be a shared common concern or interest. In the Washington Interfaith Network where we work with other congregations for social change, one of our mantras is “No permanent friends; no permanent enemies.” A friend on one issue may turn out to be an enemy on another. Alliances are agenda driven. It is very disappointing when we discover that what we thought was a friendship turns out to have been on the part of another or others merely an alliance. Some politicians have experienced that with WIN. What they thought was a friendship turned out to be an alliance. It is one thing for that to happen in a social change movement; another for it to happen in a personal relationship.  

 

A friendship may have agendas, but the relationship transcends the agenda. Friends may find themselves on different sides of this or that issue but the friendship is deeper than the issue.

 

Unless we have the experience of this kind of love – philia and agape mixed together – we can’t understand God. God has an agenda for our world, but God’s love is not agenda-driven.

 

The other reason we need profound friendships spiritually is because there is no more accepting relationship than a true friendship. I had a sort of minor breakthrough in understanding something about myself recently…a discovery about why I have sometimes been dysfunctional in this particular little corner of my life. It wasn’t a very complimentary discovery, I was embarrassed about what I discovered about myself, but I immediately knew that I wanted to call a certain friend and tell him about it…someone I went to seminary with and with whom I talk a half-dozen times a year, sometimes more, sometimes less. I knew that knowing this about me would help him understand me better and I want him to know me…even the parts of me that aren’t very attractive. He is a friend.

 

Unless we have friends like that, we can’t quite understand God who wants to know us and understand us – even the parts we think aren’t very attractive.

 

One of the functions of church is to be a place where we find friends…friends of all kinds…but at least one or two profound friendships. Friends whose friendship is deeper than any shared agenda. I am not talking about alliances, but friendships. When we build friendships within the congregation, it deepens the love of the congregation.

 

There may be someone in this room this morning who is a missing jigsaw puzzle piece in your life. If we are prayerful and open and not anxious, God will allow us to find one another, just as Jesus and Lazarus found one another. If we let it, love will happen. We can’t make it happen but if we open ourselves to it, love will happen. They said about Jesus, “See how he loved him.”

       

 

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[i] D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway Books, 2000), 25-30.