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Friends of Jesus

Sermon - 9/23/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 15:10-17

The text for this morning is actually driven by the theme for our stewardship campaign, and it's from the 15th chapter of the gospel of John.  I'll read verses 10 through 17:

10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.


As you heard, our stewardship campaign is based on this theme -- "I've called you friends".  But the theme, when I first thought about it, is based on an idea that does not seem to be a stewardship theme at all.  That we are called -- not as servants -- but as friends.  And the basis of that friendship, of course, with Jesus (as it should be with all people) is our love for one another.

The question that comes to my mind is "What the heck does that have to do with stewardship?".  In fact, it almost seems contrary to the message we usually hear at this time of year.  In biblical times, a steward was a servant in the household who was charged to manage the affairs of the household.  We're familiar with the parable of the stewards, more commonly known in the gospel of Matthew as the parable of the pounds, in the gospel of Luke the parable of the talents (or maybe it's the other way around).  The master trusts certain sums of money to his servants (stewards).  And we know how that turns out -- some of them invest the money and get good returns, but one of them does not.  Hides the money and just returns it with no interest and it does not bode well for that steward.

We get the message -- that we are servant stewards.  We're expected to use the resources given to us wisely precisely because they do not belong to us.  We can use our own resources as foolishly as we want, but if it's someone else's, we need to be more careful with it.

And so we talk about the fact that the earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it.  That means everything that we have -- our money, our homes, our cars, our clothing, is simply on loan to us from God.  It's all God's.  We get to use it for awhile.

And so we often speak of our Christian duty as servants to God, who is the master, the owner of all this.  And that's the whole point of tithing -- to give 10% because it's all the Lord's and we're just giving back to the Lord that portion as a way of showing our trust in God.  Not giving of the left-overs, but giving of the first fruits.  That's, by the way, part of the point of that rather bizarre story that we read earlier from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:1-15) -- in a time when the nation was being invaded and land was being taken away and the future seemed to be totally lost, God says to Jeremiah 'Go and buy a piece of land out there in that territory that's being taken over', as a way of saying there will come a time when you shall be able to buy land again, plant, and grow your own vineyard.  It's a way of trusting in God, in the hope of God.

And that's what tithing is about -- to show our trust in God.  And so that's how we typically speak of stewardship.

Now, Jesus comes along and threatens to undo that whole servant/master analogy.  No longer do I call you servants, he says, but friends.  And Paul, remember, builds on that idea in Romans when he says 'We are children of God.  And if children, therefore, we are heirs of God -- joint heirs with Christ'.  

And that, you see, is a paradigm shift.  Instead of relating to God as a servant to a master, our relationship to God is that of a child to a parent.  Our relationship to Jesus is that of a sibling, or a friend.

Not everyone has siblings -- how many single kids to we have here, with no siblings?  A few of us.  Not everyone is on good relationship with their siblings J.  We know that.

So lets think about friendship.  I invite you to call to mind your best friend.  Think about your feelings toward that person.  How you speak to one another.  What you do for each other.  Think about the qualities that make your friendship.  If your good friend calls you late at night because they're in trouble and need help, do you say 'call me in the morning'?  No, you listen.  If they ask for help because they're moving, or they need help fixing a car, painting a house, help with the children, if it's a good friend, you'll find a way to help them, won't you?

And you see, to be a friend of Jesus means simply that we are likewise ready and willing to help Jesus whenever Jesus calls on us.

So what if we think of stewardship as doing something for our best friend.  Responding not out of guilt, duty, or obligation, or even fear (those things we typically think about when we talk about these things), but rather out of love.  Doing what we are called to do because we truly want to do it for someone we love.

To let our love for Jesus be our guide in deciding what we give and what we keep.  To let our love for God help us decide how to shop and what to save.  To let our love for one another lead us in who we help and where we serve.  So that our stewardship -- what we do with those resources entrusted to us - is an act of love.

The biggest challenge, by far, I think in scripture, that tests the limits and depths of our love as friends of Jesus, is that familiar verse in Matthew 25, you remember when Jesus talks about that final day of judgment, divides the nations into those on the left and says 'I was hungry and you did not feed me.  I was naked, you did not clothe me'.  And the other group he says 'I was hungry, you did feed me.  I was naked, you did clothe me'.  

As any of our volunteers in our various ministries -- the Helping Hand ministry, the Good Samaritan Ministry, our office volunteers at the front desk, those on the front line -- will tell you when dealing with many folk who are in great need, that it's not always loved people we are called to serve.  And we have been especially challenged lately with some of our residents in our trailer program out in the parking lot, have had a number of complaints from neighbors, had to deal with that.  As a result, we have now emptied that parking lot, the trailer that was there is gone, the camper that's out there is for sale (if anyone needs a pickup camper, let us know).  Instead, we going to go to a nighttime only program for those folks who need a legal place to sleep, and see if it goes better that way.

Well, suffice it say, not everyone we serve is a model citizen.  Just think about it, so many of these folks come to us with all kinds of challenges and needs and problems and issues.  But you know what, I've discovered over the years, they have 2 things in common:  typically they have no place else to go, that's why they come to us -- they've run out of other options, they're desperate.  

And secondly, I did some checking -- I looked into every single one, I checked their ID.  Did some background checks on all of them, and I discovered that every single one of them is a child of God.  They've got the ID.  Sometimes we forget that.

I want to share with you just one of our success stories.  A few months ago, we didn't think this was going to turn out well, we decided it was time for some 'tough love'.  Kristi West came to us in October last year, needing a place to live.  She was in a dilapidated old van someone had donated for her to live in.  It didn't run, they had to tow it to the parking lot -- we agreed to that, to see if we could get it to work. 

I want you to hear Kristi's story -- I would like to have you hear her talk about that whole experience:

[Dan proceeded to play a video interview with Kristi West -- a brief summary:  after living on the streets for 2 years, including the last year in a van at First Christian Church, she has recently moved into an apartment -- she credits First Christian with saving her life.]

I had to stop the camera because she was getting a little weepy as she was talking about Marie, one of our Good Samaritan volunteers, who made the difference for her, because Marie believed in her.  Through that tough love, was able to get her going so she applied for that apartment, waited those 6 months before she was finally able to get a decent place that she could afford on her very limited income.

This December will be the 10th anniversary of when we started that program of allowing trailers in our parking lot.  During those 10 years, minus the year we had to stop it because of construction, we have housed 63 adults and 27 children.  Not all of those stories have ended up as well as Kristi's, but all of them at least found a safe, legal place where they could sleep for a period of time.

That video is just 1 segment of a video that will be making the rounds among our households as part of out stewardship campaign.  There's a lot more in it -- not just those programs, but many of our other ministries, and so we hope you'll watch the entire thing.  It's filled with lots of good stories of what we do here.

While I don't want to reveal all of the contents of that, because I want you to see it for yourself, there's just 1 more story from it.  At the end of the video, Dick Busic tells the old story of the people who found babies floating in the river.  They began pulling the babies out of the river, and recruited more people to help.  Finally, one person gets up, is fed up, and starts heading up river.  The others say 'Where are you going?'  He says:  "I'm going up river to see who's throwing them in!".

There's times when it feels like that -- that all we are doing is pulling people out of the river, and we need to do something to figure out how to keep people from falling in.

We need friends of Jesus all along the banks of that river.  Friends to help pull people out.  Friends of Jesus serving hot meals, building fires to warm them up.  Friends of Jesus raising money and recruiting others to help.  Friends of Jesus building shelters and bridges and boats.  Friends of Jesus who will go up river.

We can do it all, if there are enough friends of Jesus to provide the hands. 

And enough love to provide the heart.


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