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The Company We Keep
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
May 6, 2018
A reading from the Gospel of John
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
My daughter is two, almost two and a half. She’s still little. My daughter is two, and I’m always looking for something to ask her. Something that she’ll understand. Because she won’t answer if she doesn’t understand. “How are you?” is still a difficult one to get, but “How old are you?” is understandable. “Iiiiiiii’m two!” She says. I ask her if she likes her teacher. Yep! I ask her if she had fun at school. Yep! I ask her if she has friends at school. Yep! I ask her who her friends are. She stops, and thinks. Brooke! Anyone else? Silence. (sigh) Do you have any other friends at school? Henry! Do you have any other friends at school? Brooke! And round and round we go.
And then I begin to wonder, who are these children who are claiming to be my daughter’s friends? Are they nice? Do they treat my daughter with respect or does she have to go through some sort of initiation process to get into the Brooke and Henry gang? Was Brooke the one that bit her that one time? Is Brooke a mean girl? Is Henry just a friend? Because I know there are some boys here at UPC that are already blowing kisses to my daughter. So, Henry better back off. And of course that’s not true. Of course these two year olds are not a part of some big wheel and sippy cup gang. But you and I both know the later truths of friendship. That friends are fleeting. That it’s not always easy to trust people. That some people are just mean.
The ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle, thought much about friendship, perhaps more than my daughter has, perhaps more than I have. It’s the way in which we interact with one another. It’s the way is which we socialize, and it’s difficult to define. Aristotle said that friendship exists in three different ways: the useful friend: these are usually people that you work with, you gain something from your friend, they give something to you and vice versa, Then, the pleasurable friend: these are usually people that you hang out at parties with, once again, it’s usually gaining some good vibes from someone and/or giving some good vibes, and there there’s the noble friend: the true friend. The virtuous friend. You only have a few of these. According to Aristotle, all of our friends exist in these three categories. When we have “friends from work” they usually utilitarian friends, useful friends. When we have “friends from school” or friends that we have hobbies with, a shared external interest, these are our pleasurable friends. And then our noble friends, well those are difficult to define. These are the people that we share values with, the people we share virtue with. We with them nothing but good and they wish us nothing but good. These are the friendships that are not easily broken but withstand the test of time. They are not accidental, as in the case of the useful or pleasurable friend. These are hard-sought friendships.
Aristotle claims that you can be a good person and have all three levels of friendship. And you can be a bad person and only have two levels of friends, the useful and pleasurable. But, as soon as people are no longer useful or please you, then you will probably drop them like a hot potato.
If you are graduating, you are probably being asked to move on, and those friends from school who share the same love of Bevo and the color burnt orange or the cast of the play that you were in or the sports team that you played on for the majority of your days in the fall, may be gone after the end of May. It’s not that those people were evil. It’s just a lower form of friendship. The one who passed the football to you today may not be there tomorrow, even though he said he would always be there for you. The person with whom you took pictures with at prom may not be there next week. The roommate you had your first year in college may just end up being your friend on Facebook, which for some reason is not a level of friendship according to Aristotle.
The older you get, the more difficult it is to make friends first of all, and it’s even harder to hold on to them, especially when you don’t see them every day. And we didn’t even get to what happens with uneven relationships: your boss, your parents, your President, your doctor. Aristotle has some things to say about those too: things about flattery and being careful. But at the Last Supper, Jesus points out the evenness of the relationships. He just needs to talk with his friends.
When Jesus gathers with his friends at the Table on the night before he died, he might have said, “Guys, you were of use to me at one point, especially when you were able to fill up twelve baskets full of leftovers from the feeding of the five thousand. I appreciate that. I really hope y’all put that stuff in the fridge because fish gets gross if left out in the hot sun. You are no longer of use to me now because I’m going to die and none of you are physicians. So long.” Or he might have said, “Dudes, we had some fun. I mean the wedding at Cana was awesome, and I thoroughly appreciate none of you posting to Instagram because my mom was at that party and it was really embarrassing. However, this next part, not so fun, so, you can head out.” But he didn’t. He had a lot to say that night, particularly in the gospel of John, and none of it included that the disciples were no longer useful or no longer fun enough. He did say this though: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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.” These were Jesus’ noble friends. His Twelve. His partners. The company that he kept. Literally, the company he kept. Company comes from a French and Latin word, literally meaning “bread-fellow.” The company he kept that evening was the people he ate bread with.
He pointed out that they were all at the same Table that night. That they were somehow equal in the midst of Jesus being the Son of God. These were the true, virtuous, noble friends of Christ… who later denied him. But, on this night, the night before he died, they were his true friends.
We too are friends of Christ, and that means a variety of things. Our acts of personal devotion and gratitude to the one who gave his life for his friends are individual and beautiful. It is in those moments when we abide in God, where we are just in God’s presence for the sake of being in God’s presence that we will understand this strange friendship with a risen Christ that we cannot see. A friendship where we are not constantly asking God for things or just waiting for God to give us what we want. Just dwelling in God is enough—more than that, it’s deep and beautiful and fulfilling, and it’s difficult to slow down long enough to remember this ultimate friend. Personal devotion is about friendship with Christ, who by the way, welcomes us to this table. You’ve already been accepted into this friendship. You are a friend of Christ, not because of who you are, but because of who God is.
And our servers look out from this Table claiming that if you are a friend of Christ, then you are a friend of mine. What a bold claim in the midst of so many fleeting friends. Because we do not always agree, you know. Later on in Scripture, in the letters to churches, we will see that many people in churches engage in behavior that is not becoming of a Christian. There’s gossip and lying and all-around meanness. There are people who think of themselves more highly than they ought. There are people in our churches that will take advantage of others and use Christianity for their own political gain. There are people in our churches that will use church for entertainment, wondering what spiritual high they will gain. Sometimes it’s hard to even hope for altruism and true friendship in the midst of what looks like a group of hypocrites just trying to take a hit off of the opiate for the masses. It’s going to be hard to see church-going people as friends. No one wants to be associated with hypocrites. No one wants to be associated with power-hungry monsters.
But I’m not convinced that’s who we are. I’m not convinced that’s why we are here. I’m not convinced that the only reason that we come here is because the music sounds pretty. It does, and it is pleasing to us, but that is an entry point. I’m also not convinced that the only reason we come here is that we need to use the church’s resources. We need the free meals and the comfort that other people can sometimes provide. I think that when you find the right church, it feels like home. It feels like the people that are in it are the people you want to associate yourself with. It’s the people that you can stand with, and you’re going to find out who your real friends are when you find out what they value. And if you disagree in a session meeting about what color the carpet is I’m not sure that is a good enough reason to leave a church. It’s certainly not a good enough reason to leave your friends. But when you really need to stand for something, and you’re out there standing up for someone or protesting something unfair or demanding that your voice be heard, you’re not standing alone. It may feel like it but you’re not. You stand with all of the people that you take communion with, that you are in community with. You stand with the company you keep.
Our daughter got up at 6:30 one morning this week. It’s unusual, but we went with it. I got her dressed, and John took her to day care. And he walked in, only seeing a teacher in the room. He was a little sad for Lorelai, mostly because he wanted her to be able to have fellow children to interact with in the morning. And then he heard a little gasp from the corner behind him, and there was Brooke, wide-eyed and with her arms outstretched. “Lorelai!” she cried, and guided our girl to a table so that they could get to the important business of playing. Literally, took her by the hand with one hand on her back. Brooke understands welcome. And I don’t know if Lorelai and Brooke are going to be lifelong friends, and if they connect over only crayons and sharing cookies, I’ll take it. But I imagine Brooke values welcome. Brooke had genuine warmth. Brooke called my child by name and led her to a table. It was a love for my kid that every parent hopes for. Lorelai has a friend.
I can’t promise that every single interaction you have at church will be this way. I can’t promise that each time you darken the door of a church that Brooke will be waiting there for you. I also can’t promise that you will find lifelong friends here. But friends that share the same values and actually take time to discuss those values have a chance of being stronger. And friends that are in physical proximity to one another tend to have a better chance of survival. And friends that eat together end up becoming company. And if we are a church of a bunch of children like Brooke, we approach everyone as the risen Christ has approached us—as if we are already friends.
So if you are new here, welcome. And if you are just passing through, welcome. And if you have been here forever, welcome. And of course, if you are leaving us today, choose to welcome people to the table, even if you are in a new place. After all that’s how we know each other: by our love. Any friend of Christ is a friend of ours.
In the name of our friend, Amen.