By Dan Edwards

I do not call you servants any longer. . . .

            I have called you friends.

 

Gospel means good news.

But just how much good news can we stand

especially if the good news isn’t just for us –

it’s about us?

Today’s Gospel lesson is both

good news for us and good news about us.

We are so used to bad news about us,

so many criticisms and judgments about ourselves.

We are so constantly berated by the voice

of our harsh inner critic –

the voice that says, You’re too much this way,

                        not enough that way.

            Try harder. Work more. Be better.

We are so used to bad news about ourselves,

good news sounds strange in our ears.

Today’s Gospel lesson is about our friendship with God.

Many people think of God first and foremost

as a judge looking down on us

deciding whether to declare us guilty or not.

For some, God is a drill sergeant

constantly demanding, driving,

pushing us toward perfection.

 

But Christians see God in the face of Jesus.

And Jesus shows us a very different way to connect with God.

He calls us friends.

 

The original word in this text is philos.

It’s the noun form of a Greek verb for love.

Raymond Brown, the all-time greatest scholar of John’s Gospel,

translates it as my beloved.

I no longer call you servants. I call you my beloved.

The best translation might be my beloved friend.

 

There is no one-up position in this relationship.

Jesus has stepped onto our level to look us in the eye.

We may think of God as a higher power dominating us.

But there can’t be much intimacy in a relationship based on power.

Maybe God got tired of just being powerful.

Maybe God got lonely.

The Bible says God wants friends.

 

Jesus does not want a relationship of subservience

I no longer call you servants.

He wants intimacy, trust, mutual respect.

I call you my beloved friends.

 

Call to mind a good friend you have had.

What made that relationship a good friendship?

Trust. Caring. Respect. Going both ways, right?

Jesus wants all those things in our relationship with him,

and he has them to offer.

 

But the one thing he puts in bold face underlined

with an exclamation point is joy.

Friends enjoy each other.

We enjoy watching our friend be who he or she is.

Friends are enjoyable.

And our friends enjoy us.

Friends delight in who we are.

And that makes us look differently at ourselves.

 

That’s what Jesus is saying here.

God enjoys us.

God delights in who we are.

Other people may not be too impressed.

Our harsh inner critic may not have a good word to say.

But God really likes us.

Isaiah wrote,

. . . You shall be called “my delight is in her.”

            . .  . for the Lord delights in you . . . .

            . . . . I will make you majestic forever,

                        a joy from age to age.

 

Jesus used this parable to describe our relationship with God.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field,

            which a man found and covered up.

            Then in his joy, he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.

 

How do we understand that?

We are the man who sells all he has for the treasure,

which is our relationship with God, right?

Well, I’m not so sure.

Jesus got a lot of his material from Isaiah,

and look what God says in Isaiah.

I am the Lord . . . your savior . . .

I give Egypt as your ransom

            and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Footnote: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba

were the richest countries in the world.

The text goes on:

Because you are precious in my sight and honored

                        and I love you.

            I give nations in exchange for your life.

 

Now let’s go back to Jesus’ hidden treasure parable.

It looks like we are the treasure.

It’s God who finds us.

In God’s joy, God gives all he has for a relationship with us.

 

God enjoys who we are.

That’s what Jesus means when he says,

As the Father loved me, so I have loved you.

 

This isn’t a philanthropist’s pity for a beggar.

It’s appreciation, joy, and delight.

That’s how God feels about us,

and God vulnerably hopes we will love him back.

That’s a win-win proposition because

being in love with God is the best experience

we could ever hope for.

Isaiah says,

Then you will take delight in the Lord

            and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth . . .

 

Because everything God created is an expression of himself,

loving God changes our experience of everything.

Imagine seeing God throughout the world

and enjoying him as a friend.

That’s when we ride upon the heights of the earth, as Isaiah says.

This perspective is the exact opposite of what Albert Camus

described in his book, The Stranger.

Camus saw us as strangers lost in an impersonal, cold universe.

The main character, while awaiting execution

after having been found guilty, says,

 

. . . (G)azing up at the dark sky spangles with its signs and stars . . .

I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

To feel it so like myself . . ..

 

People who experience the universe as cold and indifferent

become cold and indifferent themselves.

But those who accept the friendship of God

become friends of all creation.

So, if we want to ride upon the heights of the earth,

            where do we begin?

We take a serious look at Jesus

and dare to trust that he enjoys us

and longs for us to enjoy him.

Then we accept his judgment of us

as the last judgment, the final word,

the judgment that reverses all the other judgments.

The Lord has reversed the judgments against you. Zephaniah 3: 15

Forget what the other kids in high school said.

Forget what your boss said.

Forget the ones who broke up with you.

Forget your own self-judgment.

Jesus has called you his beloved friend.

 

From that point on the path to joy is short and straight.

Jesus said,

I have (told you of my love for you) so that

my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

— Dan Edwards is the retired Bishop of Nevada.