May 9, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Parish in Naples, FL
Acts 10, 25,26, 34,35, 44-48 + Psalm 98 + 1 John 4, 7-10 + John 15, 9-17
At the court of the Roman Emperor there was a select group of men who were called “Friends of the Emperor.” At all time, day and night, they had the right to enter into the presence of the Emperor. No one else had that right, not senators or military commanders. The Emperor consulted “the friends” before he made any public announcements or military decision. The “friends” had the closest and most intimate connection with the Emperor. That was the understanding about “friends” when Jesus applies the term to his disciples. These words were spoken to disciples gathered around the table of the Supper before he died. They are spoken again to us at this Table because when we gather here it is the same sacrifice and same meal. It is not reenactment. It is not an imitation. It is the same meal, the same body and blood we consume just as they did the first time, and the same Jesus speaks the same words to us who are as disciples as those others. He calls us friends.
As much as we might like to claim our right to choose these days, there is one thing we need to get straight. We have been chosen by God. It is not the other way around. There is no other way to explain the fact that we are here and someone else we know is not. Then in the most simple and direct way, he tells us how to prove that friendship. “This I command you: love one another.”
It is a commandment more difficult and more challenging than all ten of those that Moses was given because there are just some people who are difficult to love. There was someone in one of the parishes I served who comes to mind every time I read these verses of John’s Gospel. For now, I’ll call her, “Rosie.” Somehow, she got my cell phone number, so she knew she could get around the system. She called often asking for groceries. When directed to the parish food pantry, she would remind me that she didn’t have a car asking that someone drive the groceries out her way because she had not had anything to eat for days. Most folks who came to our food pantry took whatever there was in stock. Not Rosie. She had a grocery list: smoked turkey, lean roast beef, and a pound of coffee – decaf.
A typical Oklahoma winter storm was blowing huge snow drifts. Not wanting to burden anyone else in the parish during the storm, I went to the food pantry, filled several sacks, and drove eight miles through the snow to her place grumbling to myself the whole time. Her place was a mess. No one had shoveled the blowing snow from her drive. I had to leave the car some distance from the door. As I stomped through the snow in my good shoes, the bottom of one of bags broke open. Rosie opened the door with a cigarette in her hand, and oblivious to the snow, she called out: “Why don’t you pull up a little closer? Did you remember the coffee – Decaf? All the way home, I kept mumbling: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And then I would say: “Really?”
And, of course, we know the answer. Yes, really. We are all invited into a relationship with God that is a friendship not fear. Because of that relationship, we all get a Rosie or two in our lives with their demanding neediness both to keep us from acting the same way, and to test really or not we can see the face of Christ who has come to remain with us at all times, all places, and all people.