Jesus is our friend. He loves us. He seeks after us. He serves us. He listens to us. He talks to us. He lets us in without ever letting us down. He is the greatest friend anyone can ever have.
As our friend, Jesus patiently leads us through the world that is and into the real-time experience of the world that is to come. He champions our glad submission to God's redemptive rule as we journey through the complexities of our current contexts. He produces within us a way of life whereby we see ourselves, our church, and our city in light of His perfect life, submissive death, victorious resurrection, and inevitable return. Faith, hope, and love define our lives.
Stepping into friendship with Jesus involves reorienting all of life around Jesus. His priorities become our priorities. His passions become our passions. His interests become our interests. One of Jesus's most fundamental joys is friendship. He loves to make friends. All throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus sought friendships. In fact, the ridiculous religious leaders often chastised Jesus for the types of people He befriended. On more than one occasion they chided, "Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (Matthew 11:19; cr. Luke 7:34). Of course, Jesus was neither a glutton nor a drunkard, but He gladly endured guilt by association because He loved not only those considered the least of these but, by first century standards, the worst of these. Because people mattered to Jesus, He risked His reputation before the religious elite for the sake of redemption. After all, Jesus "came not to call the 'righteous' but sinners" into the kingdom of God (Mark 2:17).
As Jesus now reigns and rules from His seat at the Father's right hand, He continues to seek out new friends. Of course, He no longer does so through His physical body on earth but through His spiritual body on earth called the church. Following Jesus, then, always leads us into friendship with fellow disciples AND non-disciples. Let us consider whether or not our lives are marked by both facets of friendships. If all of our friends are either fellow disciples of Jesus or non-disciples of Jesus then we may not be following Jesus as faithfully as we thought.
As a church, the ordinary way we seek to engage Jesus' mission in the world is by living out our faith in the context of our friendships. We love one another as we seek to love our neighbors. We do not fill our church's calendar with many events and programs that serve our desires so that we can have time to befriend those who would never step into our ecclesiastical structures--p.s. if you know what "ecclesiastical" means then you may not have many non-Christian friends :).
Ministry is as simple as making friends. However, do not mistake simplicity with ease. Making and maintaining friendships can and will be difficult. The practice requires, among other things, intentionality, vulnerability, and accountability. Moreover, the onus rests upon us to imitate Jesus by initiating and instigating our friendships, particularly with those who have yet to see and to savor all that God is for us in Jesus. Fortunately, before Jesus departed this earth, He promised to provide a Helper for His disciples--the Holy Spirit (John 14:16).
Consider Jesus's final words to His followers, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). One of the most overlooked aspects of the Holy Spirit's purpose in our lives is to help us make and maintain friendships. How else will we make disciples? Those we disciple will be or become our friends. Even Jesus would say of His disciples, "No longer do I call you servants . . . I have called you friends" (John 15:15).
As a church, sharing meals and throwing parties are a priority for us. Meals and parties provide natural avenues for making and maintaining friendships. In his book "Eating Your Way Through Luke's Gospel," Robert Karris observes, "In Luke's gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal." Meals and parties provide opportunities for acquaintances to become friends. They also provide an opportunity for the church to showcase what life in God's kingdom looks like as we conduct ourselves in harmony with our shared faith, hope, and love. Let's open our dining tables to one another and to our neighbors. Let's throw parties where both facets of our friendships converge.
This coming Saturday, we are throwing a party at B. F. Day Playfield. We will do so again on Saturday, July 19. On both occasions we will gather in the park from 11 am to 2 pm. We will eat together. We will play together. We will laugh together. We will build friendships together and in so doing we will subtly see the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Let's follow Jesus and make some friends.