The One With the Sandwich
Year B, Easter 6
This past week I saw a cartoon circulating on Twitter. It was a how-to guide. The cartoon was an instruction manual for how to find something to watch on Netflix. Step one, settling in the couch with a tasty beverage. Step two, scroll through your options. Step three, watch The Office again. It is a pretty accurate cartoon with one exception: instead of watching The Office again, you should watch Friends again. At least, that is what we do in the Hardy house.
Friends is a 90’s/2000’s sitcom following the lives of a group of friends living in New York City in their late 20’s and early 30’s. They share milestones together, endure heartache, go through countless iterations of Ross and Rachel, Rachel and Ross, and ultimately grow out of their urban friendship as life takes them to new adventures. If you have not seen the show you would not know that in one way or another we fit into the mold of one of the friends. Each friend plays a specific role in the cast and at the same time is influenced by the good and bad of the others. Allison would argue that I am Ross but I think I am a mix of Rachel and Joey. I would peg Pastor Mac as Ross, Pastor Ed as Monica and Pastor Jeff, well the only obvious choice is Phoebe.
It is hard to imagine friendships as the staring point for the relationship between the Messiah and his disciples. Theologically speaking, I can make a better argument for words like “sin,” “justification,” “repentance,” and even “born again”. But Jesus had a different plan in mind. In all my time at Wesley Theological Seminary friendship has not been a theological concept or requirement of discipleship that we have studied.
Love is one of the most used words in the New Testament. It is also a word that is over used today. The verb to love, in Greek philo, is where the Greek word phials is rooted, which means friend comes from. The reason I pegged Pastor Ed as Monica is because like Monica, Pastor Ed pays attention to the details, and for us this morning, it is good that Pastor Ed pays close attention to words. So the detail we cannot overlook this morning is that when we are talking about the ultimate relationship between God and another we are talking about the verb of love, which can be understood as “one who loves.” This connection between love and friendship reframes what we know about and how we live out friendships. For us as disciples of the One who first loved us, friendship is the starting point for how we should expect to interact with the divine.Without love, our theology surrounding the divine does not matter.
Friendship, like it does today, was an important cultural function in the ancient world. Ancient philosophers saw friendship as a key social construct. Aristotle noted that friendship served (serves) three functions: usefulness, pleasure, and for the sake of friendship itself.
Useful friendships are the ones we form with co-workers or the parents of our kid’s friends. Since we are going to spend a lot of time together it would be useful to know one another better than the guy we pass every morning on Metro.
Pleasurable friendships are the ones where the shared life we have with another creates a pleasurable experience that we want to mutually replication. In this scenario the experience must be mutual. Your BFFs, and spouse or partner falls into this category.
Friendship for the sake of friendship, it is the hardest to form but will last once established, and this is where the friendship extended to us from Jesus begins. Friendship for the sake of friendship, in this model Jesus is both the model and the source. No agenda, just the One who loves.
Throughout the Gospels we follow the journey of Jesus and his disciples as a teacher/student relationship. Jesus is the rabbi and the disciples are the students. But from the beginning, their relationship is different. The disciples did not approach Jesus and ask to be taught, as was the custom in first century Israel. Instead, Jesus calls each of the disciples to join him, reversing the process for establishing the relationship. But Jesus takes it a step further by living a life of the ideal friendship. The pattern of his life along with his victory over death embodies and gives promise to the words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The disciples were witness to these promises as Jesus not only taught about the Kingdom of God but also as he embodied it. We heard about this a few weeks ago as Jesus declared that he was the Good Shepherd, leaving the gate open for all to join his flock. Jesus will be present in our lives until death unlike the hired hand he spoke of who will run when danger is present. Even at his arrest which would lead to his death, he steps forward to accept the kiss of Judas, protecting his flock voluntarily. This was friendship, and the resulting love, was offered freely and without hesitation.
One of my favorite episodes of Friends involved Joey, Chandler, and Ross riding along with a NYPD detective. At one point a loud bang is heard and Joey falls on Ross in what appeared to be an act of self-sacrifice. In that moment their relationship changed. Joey’s apparent willingness to take what was thought to be a bullet for Ross created a new bond between them until it was revealed that Joey was not protecting Ross, and instead a sandwich when he heard a car backfire. While in the act to save his sandwich, Joey did protect Ross, but the agenda of a sandwich changed things.
Loving one another without agenda, loving as Jesus does, is perhaps the most radical thing written in the Gospels. Friendship without an agenda enabled Jesus to lay down his life for his disciples. It is a love that spans the test of time. It is a love that can be replicated and embodied by His followers but requires His love to be acted out in our lives, and that is where things get complicated, because while we might want to think of ourselves as Joey saving Ross, more often than not we are Joey saving his sandwich. While our actions had loving effects, the agenda that initiated them was not self-sacrificing. Instead, they were preserving what we place a high value on, the thing other than the one we call friend.
The words of Jesus are an invitation for us to reexamine the cavalier way we refer to someone as a friend. Are they a friend because it is a useful friendship? Are they a friend because it is pleasurable? Or, are they a friend for sake of being “one who loves?”
In the moment of Jesus turning the relationship he had with his disciples on its head, and in turn, changing our relationship with Him, we stop asking questions like “WWJD?” Remember those bracelets from the late 90’s and early 2000s? This question, “WWJD?” is off the table as we see the rising of Jesus after the brutality of the cross. It is now less about what would Jesus do, and instead more about what Jesus did. When we read the Gospels in this light, looking for the active and not the hypothetical, we see that Jesus acted decisively in love as a friend. We see that Jesus lives as “one who loves.”
When we examine what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, things like “sin,” “justification,” “repentance,” and “born again,” are replaced with the commandment to take seriously our friendships through freely given love, without counting the costs, keeping score, or placing limits, because that is how Jesus loves us. In Christ, friendship is perfected through the act of love, freeing us to join the new life rising from the friendship on possible through perfect love.