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Belmont United Methodist Church in Belmont Massachusetts

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Not So Fast - Pastor Jon - May 17, 2009 - John 15:9-17


 Text: John 15:9-17
Title: Not So Fast!

This morning I want you to imagine with me someone when I say this word.
Friend
Friend
Who comes to your mind?

I think about Daniel who was my first roommate when I came to Boston University in 2004.
We were the best friends with each other. He was a “party animal” who was so popular that everyone wanted to invite him to their party. Everywhere, school, church, and house, we were together. But we have lost being in touch since he left the school and got married three years ago.

Friend
Friend
Who comes to your mind?

I think about Bill, a soloist at Union UMC. I was surprised when he said, “Bob, you and I are friends right?” because he is his mid 60s now. Well. In Korea you become friends with others who are the same age with you. I liked Bill a lot because he was the one who first introduced me to soul food. BBQ rips, McCheese, Collard greens, and of course my favorite corn bread. He still calls me sometimes asking, “Bob, when do you want to have lunch together?”

Friend
Friend

Who comes to your mind?

I think about my friend Jee-Eun in college who was bright, pretty, and friendly to everyone. But she started missing the school many days. Later on we found out that she was fight with cerebral tumor. In the summer of 1998, she died in the presence of her family and friends. Her death made her closest friend leave theological education and become a medical doctor. Her death made me struggle with the question of life and death. And I still miss her.

As I share with you about my friends,
I hope that you have also called to your mind your friends
Who you may have not talked for a long time,
Or you see everyday.

What is the feeling that comes to your mind
When you hear the word, friend?

Feeling of missing?
Depending?
Conflict?
Love?

What is a friend?

In John 15 Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this,
To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Well. It is interesting to see that John mentions friends and love together.
What is the relationship between friends and love?

If you ask the 21st Americans what it means to be a friend,
I wonder whether love would be considered important virtue to be pursued in making friends.
Have you heard about facebook.com or myspace.com?
Some of you may say, “Oh, Bob. I may be too old to know them.”
Let me explain to you,
Facebook and my space are free-access social networking websites.
You can send messages to your friends.
You can upload your pictures and update your profile.
What I find amusing about these websites is that you can find your friends
by searching their names.
And they will also recommend some other people who you may know through network of region, school, or job.
People become friends with one another that easy.
In facebook.com and myspace.com, you are only one-click away from finding your old friends, or making new friends. See? Today making friends is that easy.

I am certainly not saying that making new friends is necessarily a bad thing.
But you do not have to make a commitment to knowing them better,
Talking with them, or meeting them.
You can still be friends when you do not care about what is happening to
Your friends.

However, when Jesus speaks about friendship,
He is saying that friends love each other. That is what friends do.
Greek scholars say that Jesus uses the Greek word, “philos” to indicate friend
in today’s text, which is actually from the verb, “phileo” meaning “to love.”
In Greek, a friend means literally one who loves and loved.
And Jesus in John uses this definition of friend many times.

How do we love our friends?
Verse 13 says that a friend lays down one’s life for one’s friends.
A friend gives oneself up for the sake of one’s friends.
A friend has guts to care for and know one’s friends.
A friend is also loved by one’s friends.

I ask you to look around in the sanctuary.
Look at the people sitting at your right.
At your left.
At your back.
You know what?
These are your friends.
Jesus is saying that the people that you see here are your friends that you have to love as Jesus loves us.

When we speak of making friends based on the biblical model,
I wonder if we are quick to associate friends with those outside the church.
When I came to Belmont United Methodist Church last July,
I was surprised to see how it was dedicated to the cause of social justice.
We bring their donation for food pantry.
Every first Saturday of each month, we help with Bristol Kitchen to feed the homeless.
We do the ministry for the undocumented immigrants by working with RIM.
To support and fundraise the mission work,
We had Pumpkin Fair, May Fair, and ‘Nothing But Nets.’
And the youth group and some of the adults are going to New Orleans this coming Thursday to help rebuilding the community.

Isn’t this what Jesus also did in the Bible?
Jesus fed five thousand hungry people
With two fishes and five loaves of bread by blessing them.
Jesus healed the daughter of Cannanite woman who was gentile.
Then he went to the territory of gentiles ministering to aliens.
Jesus forgave the sins of Zacchaeous, a tax collector,
And went into his house to have meal with his family.

Amazing things happen when we share our love with those
Who are on the streets.
The kingdom of God is coming to the earth as we do our good works.
Oh, we get so excited when we imagine how our works for justice and peace
Would make this society different.

And Jesus says in John 15,
“Not so fast”
“Not so fast”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
This was the farewell of Jesus to his people gathered
before he went to be crucified.
And I believe that this is what Jesus also commands us today,
“See the people sitting with you in this church?
These are the people you need to love first.”

Although preaching from different text,
Thomas Long, a professor of preaching at Emory School of Theology says,
A serious problem with 21th century American churches is not unbelief,
But superficialism.
We think that we know it all when we actually don’t.
We think that we know all so we dare not to go deeper.

What is the greatest commandment in the scripture?
Yes. I know, “Love your God and your neighbors.”
What is the motto of the United Methodist Church?
Yes. I know, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.”
We need to open our doors to strangers, help the homeless,
Give some our money to those who need it.

We think that we figured out all of it.
But we often do not live out the call to love one another in the community.
Often liberal Christians argue that the main reason why
Christian churches in New England Conference are dying is because
We are not fully open to those who are oppressed or marginalized in society.
They often claim that we need to open ourselves radically to the strangers.

Although I do not disagree with then,
I think that their analysis is only part of the whole story.
It is not just because we do not open ourselves to those outside the walls of the church,
But also because we often fail to witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection
Inside the walls of the church.

I think that it is often easy to go out and love our neighbors
Than love the people in our community.
Think about your family. How often do you find it difficult
To love someone in your family because you have some expectation for him or her,
That person may not live up to your expectation, but you still need to live with them.
We can go to New Orleans. We can go to Nicaragua to help those
Who are in need. We won’t be able to take hot shower for a week.
We won’t be able to go to shopping. We won’t be able to watch our favorite TV shows.
But that’s ok. We can just endure for a week. We have a place called home.

But people, guess what. This is home for us.
We live together.
We see each other every week.
We see some people who we like to get along and who we may not like to be together.
But this is home for us. We are not going anywhere.
Some of you may say,
“Bob it is not true. I can go to another church if I don’t like it here.”
Well. You may be looking for a nice house.
But I think that you may not have home.

Yes. We do a good work as we can in the world.
We go out to society to feed the hungry,
To cloth the naked,
And to find shelter for those who are homeless.
We try to witness to the good news in the world.
But Jesus says that we need to love each other first.

Love your neighbors,
But love your households first.
This is what is also seen in the loving relationship between God and Jesus.
Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me,
So I have loved you.”
Jesus did not say to his people, “I hate my father but I love you.”
But he said, “Because my Father loves me, I love you.”
We cannot possibly achieve the perfection
When we love someone, but hates others.

So Jesus calls us to be his friends, not his slaves.
As he loves us to the extent that he died for us,
He calls us to love one another.
I assume that it is not easy to love one another
Especially when we think that someone is painful to live with.
Someone is not good enough for us.
Someone does not belong here.
The associate pastor is speaking English as his second language,
And it is often difficult to understand what he says. Yes. I know.
But Jesus calls us to love one another
By encouraging one another, praying for one another, and
Living in the kingdom of God together.

There is no one in this world who is perfect.
We are all human being living in fragility.
But Christ is the perfect one who showed us what it means to love others.
He is also the source that constantly empowers us to love one another.
Jesus is the true vine to which we are all attached as branches.
So we can live together in love, harmony, and peace.

Let us do our good work, my friends.
But let us first live out the love of Christ by loving one another here, my friends.
And the promise of Christ is that we will bear fruit that will last forever.


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Belmont United Methodist Church is a Certified Welcoming Congregation


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