Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What a Friend

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).

Yesterday I attended a memorial service in which we were invited to sing some of the great old hymns of the faith. One of them I didn’t know so well. As for the others, I can’t remember a time when I haven’t known them. The familiar tunes echo deep into childhood where they soaked into me while I sat restless on a pew next to my mother just before Dad got up to preach. I might not have sung them then. I’m not sure I even liked them. But I learned them. And now I love them.

The focus of our reflections this week is friendship. That’s why I paid careful attention to the text of one of those old hymns we sang yesterday. “What a friend we have in Jesus.” The idea is biblically sound. Jesus himself told his followers that he didn’t call them servants, but friends (John 15:15). The friendliness that marked Jesus’ life was at the heart of the accusations leveled against him. Jesus was a friend to people like tax collectors and prostitutes. That bothered those who were serious about their religion.

Jesus is a friend. And every friendship we have in this life is derivative of that friendship. That is to say, our friends extend the grace of Jesus to us, and we to them. They are the people in our lives for whom we become the presence of Christ. And if our friends don’t have the slightest interest in Jesus, Jesus still defines how we relate to them.

Jesus defines friendship. Apart from him, we don’t fully grasp what friendship is. Apart from him, every friendship we have is fragile, hanging on the threads of common interests and mutually enjoyable activity and proper respect. Jesus bridges differences and teaches us about forgiveness. We need the presence of Christ because our friends are not always likeable people.

We’re going to spend some time this week thinking about friendship with Jesus. We may return to the words of that old hymn and place them next to words of scripture. But today, the story of the hymn itself gives some insight into friendship with Jesus.

The author of the hymn text, Joseph Scriven, did not publish the hymn during his lifetime. Shortly before Scriven’s death in 1886, a friend saw the manuscript and took an interest in it. When he asked if Scriven had written the text unaided, Scriven remarked that “the Lord and I did it between us.” After Scriven’s death, the hymn was coupled with the familiar tune many know today.

Jesus delights in partnering with us, taking what we regard as insignificant and using to make a difference in someone’s life, perhaps a difference in the world. Scriven had written a little poem for his mother as she was going through a tough time. Christians around the world know it today.

Today Jesus might take a note you write, a phone call you make, a conversation you have, an act of help or an act of giving, and use it in ways you never imagined possible. Who knows what Jesus might do through you and with you today? The possibilities are endless, and this can change the way you feel about the day that lies in front of you. Who knows what can happen today when you live it in friendship with Jesus.

Lord Jesus, teach us what it means to live in friendship with you. Take all that we will endeavor to do this day and fill it with the power and direction of your Spirit so that our deeds and words will make an impact far beyond what we see. Amen.

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