May 21, 2006
5th Sunday of Easter
"What's In A Name?"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Three friends were having lunch together; Jack Benny, George Burns and Edgar Bergen. If you remember, Jack Benny had a reputation for being tightwad. George Burns always said he had a "reach impediment" when it came to picking up the bill, and was, therefore surprised to hear Benny ask for the check. On the way out Burns complimented Benny by saying, "That was good of you to ask for the check." To which Benny replied, "I did not ask for the check, and that's the last time I'll have lunch with a ventriloquist." (1)
According to Bits and Pieces: a British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following: "One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable." "One who understands our silence." "A volume of sympathy bound in cloth." "A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down."
The winning definition: "A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out." (2)
We all need friends, don't we? We need people we can trust and who can trust us. We need people we can rely on and who can rely on us. We need people to hold accountable and to whom we are held accountable. We need friends. I think that's why one of the all time most watched comedies was Friends. It ran for ten seasons and through every idiotic situation, through every successful and failed relationship or job they stuck together. They were there for each other. Yes, they fought. Yes, they argued. Yes, they disagreed and got angry. But the hung together because they were friends and we all need that kind of relationship in our lives.
A. In my life I'd say I've had quite a few friends. Pastors get to meet lots of people and be their friends. And in the ministry, in college and seminary I've been close friends with a lot of people. But there are three friendships which standout as being formative and defining.
First, there was Great Grandpa Harold Bauer. He's my wife's grandfather but except my step-dad's mother, all of my grandparents had died before I was able to know them. Grandpa filled that spot in my life. After I was discharged from the Coast guard, we moved to the farm and took over the farm for Grandma and Grandpa. For three years Grandpa and I worked side by side. Together we designed and built a story and a half farmhouse. We did everything ourselves except dig the basement. Grandpa was an experienced carpenter. We cut the timber for the lumber ourselves, off the farm. We milled the lumber ourselves on the same saw mill and planer Grandpa has used to built his own house. Both were belt driven by the International Harvester Cub B tractor that we used to work the place.
For three years Grandpa and I worked side by side. Often time we had opportunity to discuss the faith and while we didn't always agree, we both knew the other believed deeply. I also knew if Grandpa said he was going to pray about something, it meant he was really going to pray and he expected and answer. Grandpa helped form my Christian life and practices through his own life. He was my friend.
B. Second, there was my first Pastor, Bob Core. In Bob I found a spiritual father and friend. When we first shook hands I knew there was something special about him and I also knew I wanted to get to know him more. And I did. He was my pastor when I accepted Christ. He baptized me. He was the one who, when I was struggling with the call to preach, looked me in the eye and said: "Don't preach unless you have to." And I understood exactly what he meant. And I have to preach. There's nothing else that satisfies what God wants me to do. Bob is also the one who modeled what preaching should be like, lively, engaging and challenging. He was my friend.
C. And then there's my wife Mary. I know, the first thing that happened is I fell in love with her. We got married as teenagers, too early and for all the wrong reasons but we loved each other. We were both eighteen and freshmen in college. Nobody thought we would make it more than six months. But the old song that says, "I love you more today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow" is absolutely true for me. Mary IS the love my life but as that love between husband and wife has grown so has our friendship. Mary is my best friend.
And I feel lucky to be able to say that because I know plenty of couples who don't think of their spouse as their best friends. And I think that's sad. Another reason I include Mary in this list is because she is the one who introduced me to my very best friend of all time and for all time. She really didn't introduce me in the normal sort of social way, you know, "Billy, I'd like you to meet . . ." No Mary did it subtly by her lifestyle and her practices.
She introduced me to a relationship that I discovered I wanted, desired, needed for myself. One I've discovered I can't live without. Listen to how Jesus describes that relationship.
John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
 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.
 You 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.
 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Did you hear that?  "I no longer call you servants . . . now I call you friends."
I don't know how many times I had read that passage before it really sank in. You see, I grew up in house where there wasn't a lot of love expressed. Especially for me. My mother divorced my father when I was 9 months old and I never saw met my father. He never bothered to look me up. Not once.
My Mom remarried when I was about 4 and my step-dad made it pretty clear early on that I wasn't HIS son. So there I was the unwanted son and the unwanted stepson. I can't tell you the sense of belonging and sense of being loved that flooded my soul and filled my heart when I met Jesus and accepted Him as my savior. And because of that love I was one of the most willing servants He'd ever found. And I would have been happy just being a servant in the house of the Lord for the rest of my days.
But then one day this verse just jumped off the pages at me. It was like God grabbed me by the collar and said: "Son, you need to look at this and you need to listen. Do you hear that? Do you hear that? That promise is for you."
And to be honest, I couldn't believe it. I knew Jesus wanted me to be His servant. I knew Jesus wanted me to be His Disciple. I knew Jesus wanted me to be His Preacher. But I didn't know Jesus wanted me to be His Friend. That thought had never crossed my mind. But there it is.
Billy, I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend." Leslie, I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend." Louis, Bob, Pat, Kristen, I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend." Matt, Justin, Jeff, I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend."
A. "I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend." So, what? What's In A Name? What difference does it make whether we're called Servants or Friends.
Well, it impacts how we look at ourselves and how we respond to the relationship God offers us through Christ. Let's compare the roles and how servants and friends react and respond.
Servants and friends have different roles. And while I'd be glad to be nothing more than a servant in the house of God, Jesus says, "I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend."
B. The remarkable thing about this friendship, this love that's offered by Jesus, is that it begins with God. It is unmerited, unconditional and unearned love. Jesus chooses us as His friend. He said, "I chose you: you did not choose me."
We've been chosen to be a friend of Jesus, but it's our choice whether we accept that relationship or not. We can remain servants if we want to. But why would we want to be a servant when we can be a friend. I can't begin to describe how completely awesome and humbling that is all rolled into one. The Son of God wants us, wants ME, wants YOU for His friend. It's almost too much to wrap this feeble brain of mine around. And while my mind may not be able to comprehend it, my heart has no trouble at all wrapping itself around it.
But I have to warn you. This is a risky relationship. When we accept this relationship it confronts us and challenges us. It confronts us with the knowledge that while our friend Jesus promises to accompany us wherever we go, this is a mutual relationship. And in mutual relationships, sometimes, a lot of times, a friend invite, encourage, lead, insist that we accompany them to places we've never been before.
And this relationship challenges us to love others in the same way because the love of Christ, the teachings of Christ, the compassion of Christ, the grace of Christ are needed more today than ever before. Not too long before she died, Mother Teresa spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. She was introduced to that gathering as "the greatest woman in the world." But when she stood up to speak she completely dismissed that introduction by saying that if she were the greatest woman in the world, you'd think that God would've made her tall enough to see over the podium behind which she was standing. But she went on to say, "I am nothing close to being the greatest woman in the world, but I will tell you the greatest thing about my life. I've been able to be a tiny pencil in the hand of God, someone through whom God writes love letters to the world."
When we accept Jesus as our Savior, when we accept and step into the friendship Jesus offers, each and every one of us becomes a tiny pencil through which God can write love letters to the world.
And that's my challenge to each of us and especially the Seniors who are graduating this year. You've learned about the love God has for you through Christ. And hopefully along the way of learning, you've experienced that love and have come to think of Jesus as your friend. Don't just invite Him along with you on your journey into whatever future you have planned for yourself. Walk side by side with Him and let Him lead you so that you can be a tiny pencil in the hand of God. Someone through whom others can experience the love of God through the love letter of your life.
In one of his books, theologian Leslie Weatherhead says that the Gospel can be put in six simple words. He writes: "I suppose to some that Christianity may seem a complicated thing. There are so many sects and creeds and theologies. Believe me, I am being very serious when I say that it can all be summarized in the words: Jesus offers his friendship to you."
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ wants to offer that same friendship to you.
What's In A Name? As you leave this place this morning to go back into the world; as you leave this place this morning to begin a new phase in your life and your future listen to what Jesus has to say to you: "I no longer call you servant . . . now I call you friend."
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), March 1989
2. Bits & Pieces, July, 1991
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