Today I want to talk about love and friendship.
The command to love each other doesn’t appear in isolation. There is a reason, an inducement. The command comes with the attachment “Just as I have loved you”. So it is not a do as I say and not as I do, It is an invitation from the divine to live as Jesus lived. It is an invitation to follow him on the way of love and compassion, no matter where it leads.
While love is the most powerful force in the universe – it is also a word that confuses and threatens because in the Western world the word love is so tied up with Romance and sexuality, which is also true and good of course but I want to use a less threatening word - friendship.
Friendship is probably the most under-rated word and concept in all religions. Friendship can be seen as a bit weak and frivolous compared to the heavy word “Love” but actually Friendship is essential and is foundational for the big three .
Abraham, the Father and foundation stone of three of the most important religions in the world – Judaism, Christianity and Islam is known simply yet profoundly as “The friend of God”. In another place in John’s gospel Jesus says, I don’t call you servants any longer, because when you realise that love and compassion are the very heart of God I call you my friends.
To be a friend of God implies being friends with each other. And this is not theory or dusty theology this is a lived reality. Without my friends I couldn’t have survived these last two and a half years since my wife died.
Friends kept me going. Friends are the most important thing in the world. Don’t whatever you do under estimate the value of friendship. Friendship is a way of loving and life giving and supporting someone that lifts us out of depression and reminds us that life is worth living.
Sarah is one such friend that helped me to survive, and not just survive but flourish. I think I was one of the first people to be told when Sarah became pregnant so I have known Jacob since he was a barely discernable bump. I am honoured that she decided to baptise Jacob her in Gainford.
This morning in baptising Jacob we are affirming not only that Jacob is loved by his family and friends but is infinitely loved by God. We do so in the hope, not the expectation, but the hope that Jacob will one day return that love and be a friend of God. In baptism we affirm that Jacob is part of a universal family, whose local expression is us – the people in this church. Jacob, but not just Jacob, all of us, are loved by God.
But do we even believe in God? If you’re not sure, let me try and offer some help. In another place St. John says “God is love”. So another way of framing that question would be “Do you believe in love?”
It is a lovely and profound thought that if any of us have ever experienced love – either love for us – or us loving someone else – or witnessed love – you have seen, experienced and witnessed God in your life. God is not a distant stranger to you after all – he rests within you in your heart – at your very centre and you actually felt God. You may not have recognised him, but you do know him. The divine is then rescued from being a strange other worldly theory or concept and made real flesh and blood. Just like Jacob. Just like all of us.