“I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” John 15:15
Three words beginning with “f” are at the heart of what Jesus is saying to his disciples in the Gospel reading: Father, friends and fruit.
Father: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love”, says Saint John Chapter 15 Verse 9. Jesus is saying that he cares for his followers as a parent would care for their child. It is a close relationship, which the disciples can make last, if they choose to do so. “Abide in my love”, says Jesus, but they are free to walk away from that love if they choose to do so. The choice is whether or not we accept Jesus’ way, he says in Verse 10, “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.” As they had spent time with Jesus himself, we might have thought that all of those who had been with him would have chosen to abide in his love, but we know from the Gospel account that many people simply could not accept the way of the Father’s love that was offered. After the feeding of the Five Thousand in saint John Chapter 6, and Jesus’ teaching about being the “Bread of Life”, we know that many people decided they no longer wanted to be with him, Saint John Chapter 6 Verse 64 tells us, “For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe”, and Verse 66 says, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him”. Jesus knows that most people will not choose to keep the “Father’s commandments and abide in his love”.
What does the word “Father” say to us about our relationship with God? Jesus is telling us that God is like a loving parent, but how do we see him? Do we see him as something out there, some vague, invisible force, or do we see him as someone close to us, someone as concerned about us every day as a loving parent would be? Do we see the Father as someone who loves us enough to give up his own Son for us?
The second “f” is “friends”. Jesus tries to explain what it means for him to be their friend and what it means for them to be friends towards each other. Before Jesus, people’s relationship with God was with a powerful and terrifying being, one whose face could not be seen. Now Jesus is changing everything, rather than them laying down their lives for God, he is going to lay down his life for them. In Chapter 15 Verse 13, he says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. This is a relationship different from any that has gone before, Jesus treats them as equals. “You are my friends if you do what I command you”, he tells them in Verse 14. Then he goes on, in Verse 15, to explain to them what it means to be his friends. “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.” This is not the sort of relationship people expected to have with God, they expected to be in fear and awe and they expected to see themselves as no more than the lowliest of servants, a God who came among them as a friend was something that probably caused confusion, apprehension, questioning.
How do we see Jesus? We often sing the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, but when we sing it, do we really mean what we are singing? Do we prefer a God who is at arm’s length, rather than one who walks alongside us? If we are honest, friendship means a sense of obligation and sometimes we prefer Jesus to be distant and anonymous rather than being someone who is a friend and who might expect the sort of loyalty from us that a friend would expect. Do we ever think about our friendship with him? What does it mean for us?
The third “f” is “fruit”. Because Jesus has chosen the disciples as his friends, he asks them to do for him as a friend would do. In Verse 16, he says, “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.” If they are his friends, they will bear the fruit that he wants, live lives that produce the sort of things he wants, and the Father will respond to them. Perhaps the disciples were a little confused as to what sort of fruit Jesus meant, they were used to a religion of rules and rituals, now Jesus is saying that it should be about the lives they live, about the fruit that can be seen. In the letter to the Galatians Chapter 5 Verses 22-23, Saint Paul lists the sort of fruit that Jesus appointed his friends to bear, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The first fruit on Paul’s list is love and Jesus sets it as the priority for his friends. In Verse 12 of the Gospel reading, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”, and in Verse 17, he reinforces his point, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” The disciples are left with a very clear idea of what it means to bear fruit in their lives.
Being people who bear fruit means that we are much more than people who just attend worship each Sunday morning, it means being people who are completely changed by our friendship with Jesus. Are we changed people? Does our sense of the Father being with us and our sense of Jesus being a friend, mean that our lives produce the things for which Jesus is looking? What fruit do we bear?
The Father, the friendship and the fruit – they ask us about what sort of Christians we are.