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Daily Encouragement - April 21

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

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I 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.

(John 15:9-15 NRSV)

Every morning, I get an email from The Frederick Buechner Center (pronounced “Beek-ner” according to the man himself), a quote from the author’s considerable output. Unlike so many daily updates I receive by email and text, this one I actually signed up for. I’ve admired the writing of this Episcopal theologian since seminary days; he has a gift for uncovering the extraordinary amidst the ordinary in a way that brings it on home to me. Today’s quote did it again, this time on the subject of friendship. Brother Buechner writes:

Friends are people you make part of your life just because you feel like it. ... Basically, your friends are not your friends for any particular reason. They are your friends for no particular reason. ... The usual distinctions of older-younger, richer-poorer, smarter-dumber, male-female even, cease to matter. You meet with a clean slate every time, and you meet on equal terms. Anything may come of it, or nothing may. That doesn’t matter either. Only the meeting matters.

Indeed! Only the meeting matters. Even if it’s FaceTime, not face to face; Zoom, not in the same room; virtual, not “in the flesh” - what matters is the meeting. What matters is knowing and being known, loving and being loved; in short, what matters is the mystery and magic of connection. Given a choice, I’d take The Real Thing over The Virtual Version, any day of the week...but that’s not always a choice we have these days. Staying connected, though, is a choice we are able to make. Those of us who are old enough to remember long distance calls on landlines (!) also remember the advertising motto, “It’s the next best thing to being there.” Next best may be a long way from the very best, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing! It’s keeping the connection that counts.

Our most important connection, of course, is the one we have with God. In today’s quote, Buechner refers to Exodus 33:11, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend” and to Isaiah 41:8, where God refers to Abraham as “Abraham, my friend.” I’ve got to agree with Buechner; that’s a staggering thought. An almost heart-stopping thought, in fact. We speak often of the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God. But the FRIENDSHIP of God? Come on, now, I thought to myself; how often can that possibly happen? Not all of us can be SuperHeroes of the Faith.

But all of us can be friends of God, astounding as that seems. Jesus comes right out and says it in the 15th chapter of John. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” he says in verse 14. You can’t get much plainer than that, although Jesus manages to be plainer still in verse 15: “I do not call you servants any longer...I have called you friends.” As I think back on all the wonderful friends God has brought into my life over the years, I am almost overcome with gratitude. But when I contemplate the friendship of God, I am overcome; the tears run down my face. Being called a friend by the One who died for me is beyond my comprehending...but not beyond my appreciating; not beyond my grateful receiving. And, apparently, the two are connected; being friends with people and being friends with God are inextricably intertwined: you can’t have one without the other. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” as Jesus says in verse 14, is only one sentence away from the command itself, which is “to love one another” (verse 12). Or, as Buechner puts it, “To be his friends, we have to be each other’s friends, conceivably even lay down our lives for each other. ... It is a high price to pay, and Jesus does not pretend otherwise, but the implication is, it’s worth every cent.” 

Amen to that! What could possibly be worth more? If “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength” is, as Jesus said it was, “the first and greatest commandment” - and if the second, which is just like it (as Jesus also said), is “Love your neighbor as yourself”...then it’s not exactly rocket science that the two are joined at the hip. What matters most is the saving connection; the priceless, precious meeting of Jesus with those whom he calls friends, and of his friends with one another. Let’s face it: we’ve all got as much time right now as we’re ever going to get, and there’s no better way to spend it than meeting with God and connecting with one another. Spend some time today doing both. You’ll be glad you did.

What A Friend We Have in Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer.

Faithful God, we thank you that you call us your friends, and call us to love each other. It’s not always easy, Lord; but then, you would know that, right? So, grant us grace to see you in every present moment; to meet you every morning, to praise you every night. Keep us mindful of your command to love your other friends, Lord; for in doing so, we find you and your blessing. It is in your name that we pray. Amen.

Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood

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