friendship sermon

Friends of Jesus, John 15;12-17, Acts 9:26-31
(video below)

John 15:12-17
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Acts 9:26-31
26 When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.  31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

We worship today as friends of Jesus whose lives have been blessed by the friendship of Barnabas and Paul.

Barnabas and Paul were as different as night and day.  Barnabas was the person you could call on at any time, night or day, for any reason.  Barnabas’ birth name was Joseph, but the apostles gave Barnabas the name by which he would be known after he generously provided funds for the early church by selling a field and giving the proceeds to the apostles.  Acts 4:36 records the apostles being so encouraged by this extravagant gift that they gave Joseph the name by which he would be known in the early church – Barnabas, a name that literally means “Son of Encouragement.”  In today’s scripture lesson it is Barnabas who vouches for the validity of Paul’s conversion as he stands by Paul’s side before the leaders of the Jerusalem Church.

Barnabas had the gift of nurturing encouragement that envisions the possibilities of God’s presence in the life of the church and in the lives of people.   Barnabas was a person who was extravagant with grace-filled encouragement.  My father was a Barnabas.  He always offered encouragement.  When I wrote the book Does Your Church Have a Prayer? my father told me he thought this book could help change the church around the world.  He was the type of person, whom a friend described in this way, “you did not mind seeing Morton coming through the doorway.”

We worship today as people whose lives have been blessed by the encouraging ministry of Barnabas.  We also worship today as people whose lives have been blessed by the accountable ministry of Paul.  Paul’s ministry had a different emphasis from Barnabas’ ministry.  Where Barnabas saw grace-filled possibilities, Paul saw grace-demanding accountability.

Paul was an early persecutor of the early church.  Prior to today’s scripture reading from Acts, we read in the seventh chapter of Acts about Paul’s presence at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the early church.  In the eighth chapter of Acts, we read of Paul leading the persecution of the early church.  Earlier in the ninth chapter of Acts that was read as part of today’s scripture lesson, we hear of Paul’s conversion to Christianity.

Paul’s birth name was Saul.  In Acts 13:9, Paul received the name by which he would be known in the church as Barnabas and he became the first appointed missionaries of the church.  On this mission trip, they traveled to Paphos where the proconsul, Sergius Paulus summoned Barnabas and Saul as he sought to hear the word of God.  A magician named Elymas confronted Barnabas and Saul in an attempt to prevent Sergius from hearing the gospel message.  Saul became known as Paul when he confronted Elymas with these words: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Paul’s ministry was driven by the gift of unapologetic truth-telling.  To say the least, he was a type-A personality who spoke the truth boldly.

I experienced the unapologetic truth-telling ministry of Paul following my appointment as the Richmond District Superintendent in 2001.  I was at the opening session of the Conference School of Christian Missions.  There were two youths from my previous pastoral appointment who were serving on the youth staff for the week.  I was sitting with them in the auditorium where the meeting was being held when the person making the introductions introduced me as the superintendent of the Richmond District.  I stood, people applauded, I sat down.  I said to Eric, one of the youth, “A month makes a lot of difference, doesn’t it?”  To which Eric answered, “Yeah, you’re popular now.”

You did not mind seeing Barnabas coming into the room through the doorway.  You knew Paul was in the room because he had kicked in the door.

Barnabas was an encourager.  Paul was an unapologetic truth-teller. Both were leaders in the early church.  Both were friends.  Two sides of God’s message of friendship through Jesus encouraged and held each other accountable.

Encouraging and accountable friendship is what Jesus offered to his followers when he told them, “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.”

Gail R. O’Day in an article entitled I Have Called You Friends, states that “For Jesus, friendship is the ultimate relationship with God and one another. … Jesus gave everything to his friends—his knowledge of God and his own life. Jesus is our model for friendship—because he loved without limits— and he makes it possible for us to live a life of friendship—because we have been transformed by everything he shared with us. Through friendship, we come to know God and through friendship, we enact the love of God. We can risk being friends because Jesus has been a friend to us.”

  1. 21-27, I Have Called You Friends, Copyright 2008 Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University

Barnabas and Paul risked being friends with each other.  Two sides of the story of God’s love through Jesus were as different as night and day.  They risked being friends because Jesus had called them friends.

Friends of Jesus, we are called to do the same.

April 25, 2021

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