“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."
John 15-12-17 NRSV
It has been a long time since I wrote that phrase on a piece of notebook paper, took time to fold it just right, along the light blue lines and flick it across the classroom as a paper football. It has been a long time since I even uttered that phrase out loud. I haven't asked someone to be my friend in a long time. I am in need of friends, especially ones that tolerate me and my whole, struggling self.
Here is little Nico and our well-worn, battle-tested orange cat, Pumpkin. When we first moved to Reidsville, Pumpkin disappeared for three full weeks before deciding it was an OK place to live. I was working on my third sermon at Morehead on a Thursday and around 11am he appeared on our front porch-skinny and needing some love. I took his re-appearance as a sign that everything would be OK for Joe and I at Main Street and Morehead Churches. Everything would be OK for Olivia at UNCG and Ivan at Reidsville High School. When Pumpkin appeared, I cried. This orange cat was a sign. That was five years ago.
Pumpkin and our black cat, Pearl, wonder how come Nico gets to go in and out of the house. How come Nico is on that string and they yank him this way and that? How come Nico eats our food...THAT is a million dollar question: Why does this little dog shake all over his body, how come he vibrates with desire to eat cat food of all things? Pearl and Pumpkin also ask, "where are you taking him?" They howl as we take Nico on his early morning constitutional. One or the other of them actually follows us around the neighborhood, crying out for us...or for Nico, probably.
Cats and dogs are different. Cats are languorous. Independent. They slink, stretch in luxury as they sun themselves on the sidewalk. They take care of their own waste. They are less domesticated than dogs, thus, they hunt and return small birds, lizards and even baby bunnies to the front porch as if these almost dead bodies are trophies. Signs of their love for us. Nico, the dog, is breathless. In fact, he chokes himself on the pollen with his eagerness to bite, lick and taste everything around him at an agitated, frenetic pace. He swallows air, he seems desperate, he pines for attention.
Dogs and cats aren't supposed to like each other.
And yet...here is Nico, exchanging his eager and nervous, anxious exploration for a meek and submissive posture, just to lick Pumpkin's ears, to clean Pumpkin's face. He curls himself up against Pumpkin slowly, as if gaining trust. Mind you, we've had Nico since last August. We're talking eight months of wooing. Eight months of asking, in the dog way, "Let's be friends." This is the closest they have been in eight months. And you see with Pumpkin's posture it's not all easy. Pumpkin is ready to strike with claws.
When Jesus tells his disciples that he doesn't call them servants any longer, he calls them friends, I think of all the time it takes to build a friendship. (John 15:12-17) An approach. A request. A submission, showing the pink underbelly of need. An acknowledgment that hierarchy has limitations and that the equal reciprocation between friends is crucial to having a right-sized impression of one's own self, an accurate impression of relationships, of the world. I think of how few real friends I have and how few people really reciprocate with care and concern when I am in need. A reciprocal friend relationship is rare. If you have one- value it. Treasure it.
Isn't it absolutely remarkable that Jesus wants to be our friend? A real friend. One friend taming their initial impulses for the sake of relationship. The other friend being willing to open themselves to relationship.
It's strange- friendship. As strange as a tiny-toy dog and an orange alley cat wooing each other.
What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and griefs to bear What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit Oh, what needless pain we bear All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Grace and Peace,