Sermon Text: My Favorite Metaphor
The Queen of England. The various princes and princesses. The royal babies.
I don't see TV, but even I am aware of all the excitement. I walk past a rack of magazines or newspapers at the grocery store, and there they are. The Royals.
The media can't get enough of them. Brits can't get enough of them. Americans can't get enough of them. But me...I just don't get it.
And you're looking at a guy who was face to face with Queen Elizabeth the Second.
It was 1967. I was with my grandparents at the World's Fair in Montreal. We were walking along, and saw some agitation in the crowd. We looked up at the elevated train above us, and there she was...Queen Elizabeth the Second of England, ruler of the commonwealth, head of the Church of England, Defender of the Faith...passing above us, not too far away, very prim and proper.
It did not change my life. Not even a little. I live in a nation that rejected all that. The monarchy has never held my heart or mind. It all seems so archaic. And now it's just celebrity news.
Maybe that's why the idea of Jesus as King in the Bible doesn't do much for me. There is probably something wrong with my Christianity. I'll be the first to admit that. But I just don't relate to the ancient idea of kingship.
The New Testament, however, is chock full of metaphors. So if one doesn't work for you, pick another! And we are given a great one in today's text from John's Gospel. Jesus the Friend.
In our reading today, he says, "You are my friends. I don't call you servants any longer.
I call you friends."
I like that. A lot. Jesus is the Friend.
Now, as a kid, when I heard the word "Quaker," I thought of a round cardboard box of oatmeal. There was a smiling guy with a funny hat on the label. He's the Quaker with the oats. I knew nothing of the Quakers until I was an adult.
Originally, the word "quaker" was used as an insult about a religious group. One of their first great preachers encouraged people to tremble at the Word of the Lord. So other people mocked them and called them "Quakers."
You know, those Quakers teach some pretty good stuff. They live simply. They do not participate in wars. And they think Jesus has a relationship with each of us, and no one ranks above anybody else.
Their official name for themselves is not "Quakers." They call themselves "The Religious Society of Friends." There's that great word again. They are friends with each other. And they are friends with Jesus. "I no longer call you servants...I call you friends."
If Jesus is a king, then he's an upside-down king. And his kingdom is upside-down. The last will be first. Those who are humbled will be exalted. So, yes, you can call Jesus the king. You can call Jesus Lord. You can even call him what the Nicene Creed calls him: "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." But my favorite image from the New Testament is just one word: Friend.
As a child, I was not very religious. Like most kids, I was dragged to church by my parents. And I got quite a bit of religious instruction. My catechism teachers taught me two things: God is terrifying, or, God is boring.
But when I was 17 years old, something happened to me. For the first time in my life, I discovered that Jesus could be my friend. It was all there in the New Testament, but it had never hit me before. Jesus could be my friend. Instead of a boss or a judge or a dictator, he could be my friend.
This touched my heart. As an adolescent, like a lot of adolescents, secretly, I did not like myself very much. I had to put on a good public face, but I thought of myself as a loser, a nerd, and a wimp. But if Jesus was my friend, maybe all that was untrue. If Jesus was my friend, maybe I was just like everybody else. If Jesus was my friend, maybe I could rise above all that harsh negative stuff with his help.
I ended up changing my life plans. I went to seminary. I became a priest. I read thousands and thousands of pages of theology. I read hundreds of books about the Bible. I have an expensive graduate theological education.
I'm not 17 years old any more. That was almost fifty years ago. But it all still comes down to that simple yet profound idea. I have a friend. A forever friend. And his name is Yeshua, or Christ, or Jesus.
There is a famous old revival hymn called "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It's not bad. But there's a better one. We sing this other one during Lent and Holy Week. "O sacred head, sore wounded." I love the words from verse four. "What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?" Those are words from the heart.
Now, I think of myself as an ordinary, sane person. Some of you would be willing to debate that point. But I think it's true. I'm an ordinary, sane person. Kathleen Norris, a wonderful writer and poet, once said this: "Ordinary, sane people are in love with the Gospels much as one might be in love with a person." Yes.
I'm not a big fan of institutional Christianity, which may seem odd for a priest to say. I don't care much about ecclesiastical rank or church law. But I continue to be captivated by this Friend I met at the age of 17.
And I still meet him...in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I continue to work for a church that can become a society of friends. I want to be a friend to Jesus, and a friend to his followers, and a friend to the whole world...from the birds of the air and the flowers of the field that he loved, to the sun and the rain he used as metaphors in his teaching.
I want to be a friend...his, yours, and the world's.
How about you?