Generally speaking, people don’t like being told what to do. On an international level, that was made clear in last weekend’s elections : 70% of the Greeks who voted opposed the drastic budget cuts and higher taxes once again required in exchange for another tranche of loans from Europe In France, Francois Hollande got in as President elect because he promised to challenge the austerity policies imposed on the French to help reduce government deficits. On a one to one level, a young man was stabbed and punched when, having boarded a bus at Victoria Station, he asked another young man to take his feet off the seat so he could sit down As for children: we’re probably all familiar with that phrase: How many more times have I got to tell you not to INTERRUPT ME WHILE I AM SPEAKING TO YOU– or, the bête noir when I was young - SHUT THE DOOR – (not surprising given that there was no central heating and draughts were rife) We tend to dig our feet in when told what to do and never more so than when we feel it affects our self interest, pinches our wallets, offends our sense of fairness or wounds our pride. A woman, wrote a journalist this week, and I quote, ‘threw her cigarette end down at my feet and when I asked her, politely, to pick it up, she just said ‘No!’’
It's a sticky wicket in our Gospel which is liberally strewn with instructions –stronger than that, commandments. Jesus is telling his disciples what to do, in no uncertain terms. You are my friends, IF you do as I command you. In a world where anybody telling anyone else what to do can come across as an imposition, even as a bit patronising, this seems to be dangerous ground on which Jesus is treading. More than being patronising, is Jesus issuing a veiled threat: unless you do what I tell you, you cannot be my friend? Friendship Of course it’s not a threat. Jesus is speaking of friendship that’s based on neither fear nor coercion. He is proposing a friendship based on a shared strategy, which people are glad to be part of. A friendship based on a common purpose, which all understand and agree with.
This is not a friendship where commandments are arbitrarily imposed, or half understood, like many of the rules at my school, which seemed to have been devised just to make life unbearable for the pupils; where for instance we had to eat all our dinner, even though the contents of the meat pies were mostly fat and gristle, because if we didn’t we would be punished. Needless to say we invented numerous imaginative and successful ways of breaking these rules!
But "You are my friends if you do what I command you". It’s a friendship where we want to do what Jesus commands, because we share so much in common, because we agree with him, because we share his vision anddoing his commandments enable that vision to be realised. What does Jesus command? That we continue his pattern of living, his ministry of healing, helping those in need, taking notice of the marginalised and those who can’t cope, addressing what is unfair and unjust in people’s lives and doing something about it. These words were spoken to his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion. They had seen and heard him live it out over the past 3 years and now Jesus is calling them to carry on after he has left them, to take on board the responsibilities and commitment that comes from being his friend.
"A Partnership": The Bishop of London has a particular phrase that he invariably uses at the end of his communications to the clergy of the Diocese and it sums up the kind of friendship Jesus is putting forward here. When the characteristic buff coloured envelope arrives, there at the end, in his large, sprawling script, is the line: ‘with thanks for our partnership in the Gospel’. Jesus is looking for friends who are his partners, whose words and deeds will correspond to his, who will work to extend and strengthen God’s kingdom on earth and who will be pro-active about doing it. Not because he has commanded them, but because they agree with his aim. What they do will bear fruit, fruit that will last, because it is rooted in the soil of Jesus’ way of living and loving.
Christian Aid Week Begins today – this evening we have a Christian Aid Service and we will be hearing about their missionary work in Sierra Leone among the old, the frail, the needy, the sick. Some of our congregation have and are doing similar work – digging wells in Africa, aiding schools in India and that is wonderful, but we need not go so far afield. Here in church there are opportunities aplenty to work for the Kingdom, to do as Jesus commands: to accompany Robin, who lives just the other side of the Edgeware Rd, to and from our morning service; to volunteer to help in our Kid’s Club (see leaflets in the porch) to be a volunteer at St Mary’s, our local hospital, just 5 minutes walk from here however and whatever we do, it is part of our raisin d’etre as a Christian community, part of our responsibility as Christians, part of our partnership with Jesus. This is how we are to live as friends of Jesus and doing it won’t feel like doing what we are told, rather it will be doing what brings us the peace of following Jesus’ commandments. because we share the work willingly as partners in a friendship of mutual goals and a shared vision: with each other and with Christ and we will be able, as the President says at the end of the Service, to: Go, in the peace of Christ. Amen