Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about Whoville in relation to Dr. Suess’ classic Horton Hears a Who, but the reality is, that when most people hear the term “Whoville” that isn’t the book they think of.  Instead, they think of Little Cindy Lou Who and her family from Seuss’ 1957 Classic how the Grinch Stole Christmas. 

And that is where the title of this series came from. 

Back in November, the worship team led us singing “Who you say I am” and there had been a pile of advertising for the new CGI feature of the Grinch and my mind went to Whoville.

And while Whoville in Horton hears a who was a small world that existed on a speck of dust that existed on a flower, the Whoville in the Grinch is only identified as existing at the base of Mount Crumpit.  In the live action version with Jim Carrey, we are told Whoville exists inside a snowflake.

Are they the same Whoville? I don’t know.

But the end destination of my mental meandering that morning is this series, Whoville: Who God says we are.

And over the past five weeks we have looked at how we are called Disciples of Christ, Children of God, Victors and just last week Pastor Stefan looked at how we are called Ambassadors and New Creations.

This week I want to take you back to the hours before the crucifixion.  The story was read earlier, Jesus and the Apostle had celebrated Passover together, in a way that we have embraced as our communion celebration.

It was then that Jesus told his followers,  John 15:13-15  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends since I have told you everything the Father told me.  

I remember the first time I read that passage and the reality of verse 15 actually sank in.  Jesus, the Son of God said, “Now you are my friends”.  And while Jesus was specifically speaking to the  Apostles I truly believe that these words apply to us today. 

So when we ask, “Who does God say I am” as a follower of Jesus Christ you are his friend.  And this isn’t the only time the Bible refers to someone being a friend of God’s.

The prophet Isaiah wrote these words  Isaiah 41:8  “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend,

And Jesus’ brother James writes in  James 2:23  And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God.

And so, Jesus tells us, that he is our friend.  But what does that mean?

Helen Keller once wrote, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” And Henry Van Dyke said,  “A friend is what the heart needs all the time.”

So let’s go to the words of Jesus that were read for us earlier, John 15:16  You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.

Friends are Chosen  You’ve all heard the statement, “You can pick your friends but you are stuck with your relatives.”  And we do pick our friends, I’m not sure how that works, it’s pretty hard to quantify. 

I think about my relationship with my best friend, Reg and I have been friends since grade 9, that would be like almost 20 years ago or so.  Actually, it has been 44 years and when I stop and think I can’t remember the exact moment that we became friends, let alone became best friends.  But we are.

Commentators say that 2000 years ago it was customary for disciples to find a rabbi or teacher and choose to sit under their teaching.  But in the case of Jesus and his apostles, it was the reverse, in each case we see it is Jesus who does the choosing.

But not everyone who Jesus invited on the journey accepted the invitation.  I think one of the saddest parts of the Jesus story is told in Matthews account.  It is the account of a young man who sought Jesus out to ask him about eternal life.  And after a little bit of back and forth we pick up the story in Matthew 19:21  Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  The story doesn’t finish with the invitation, if we keep reading it says. Matthew 19:22  But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions. He was chosen, but he didn’t accept the call.

Throughout the Bible God’s people are told that they have been chosen, does that mean that God sits on his throne playing “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” with humanity?  And if he picks you then you have no option but to follow him?  And if he doesn’t pick you, well does that mean there is no hope?

Early in his ministry, Jesus told his disciples, John 3:16  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Who did God love?  The world.  Who gets eternal life?  Everyone who believes in Him.

Jesus chooses each of us to be his friend.  We get to choose if that is what we want.  If you aren’t familiar with the name John Maxwell he is a Wesleyan Pastor who has become a leadership guru so to speak.  He has written over 70 books which have been translated into 50 languages and have sold close to 20 million copies. 

I met John when he had only written one book.   If you look up extravert in the dictionary there is a picture of John and his signature line is “My name’s John, and I’m your friend.”

But if you don’t want to be a friend with John, he can’t be your friend.  So, there is a reciprocal choosing, Jesus chooses to be your friend, and you have to choose to be his friend.  We see in the relationship reciprocity.

Let’s keep going, Jesus continues by saying, John 15:14  You are my friends if you do what I command.  It’s here we discover that being a Friend comes with Responsibilities

Everyone one of us here today knows what makes a friend, and your list may be different than my list, but rest assured you have a list.  At some point in your life, if you haven’t said the words you’ve thought them, and you call yourself a friend. 

It was Walter Winchell who said,  “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” 

Jesus was basically saying “If you allow me to choose you to be my friend then you need to follow my teachings.” 

And we all know people who profess to be a friend of God, but they live like the devil. 

The easiest response is to say, but pastor we aren’t supposed to judge, but throughout the New Testament, we are told that our behaviour will be an indication of who we serve.

Jesus tells us that we can tell whether a tree is a good tree or a bad tree depending on the type of fruit it produces.  Good fruit, good tree, bad fruit bad tree.   

James carries on the theme in his letter when he writes, James 3:11-12  Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?  Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

Can you be a follower of Jesus and not follow Jesus?  Can you be a friend of Jesus and live a lifestyle contrary to what he teaches? 

And it’s not like Jesus has a whole list of unwritten rules that you have to follow.  Let’s go back to our scripture where Jesus told the apostles,  John 15:15  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.

Friends Know Their Friends 

There are levels of confidentiality which corresponds with our levels of friendship.  You don’t share all of your struggles with everyone.  Well, most people don’t.    And if you are one of those people who share your deepest and darkest secrets with everyone, you need to know how uncomfortable that can be.

But the deeper your friendship the more you share.  The Wesleyan Bible Commentary says it this way,   “Jesus specifically identified the basis of His friendship with the disciples—the full sharing of confidential information.”

Jesus brought his disciples into the loop, he shared his heart with them and gave them a glimpse of the Father.

And Jesus wants us to know his heart, his passion and his mission.  That is why we have the bible, in particular, that’s why we have the gospels.  And I know I sound like a broken record, but you will never know the Jesus story unless you read the Jesus story.

Jesus wants us to know his story, he wants us to know why he came, why he died and how he rose again.   And he wants us to know what’s expected of us.  After the resurrection he told the Apostles, John 20:21  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

And this implies that if we don’t know what the Father sent Jesus to do then we won’t know what Jesus wants us to do.  And that goes back to knowing the Jesus story.

Jesus left his followers with a mission, the same mission he had, to reach a lost and dying world with his grace.  And that might be worked out differently by different people and different churches, but if we are going to be his friends, then we have to take his words to heart.

Tuesday night, we rolled out some of how we see Cornerstone doing that.  Reaching and impacting the lives of people who are here, people who are near and people who are far away.  Why?  Because Jesus has told us what the Father told him, and that is we have a responsibility to reach a lost and dying world with his story and his grace.

But there is more to being a friend,  Solomon wrote in    Proverbs 18:24  There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Friends are Faithful  I have discovered through the years that not all friends are forever friends. 

One of my favourite philosophers, Willie Nelson, wrote in his 1963 song You’ll Always Have Someone, these words,
When your fair weather friends
Leave when fair weather ends
There’ll be someone waiting for you

Willie defined that someone in a 2015 song he recorded with his friend Merle Haggard,

‘The whole sky opens up

And it rains down on my head

I show up at your door

Beat down and soaking wet

I know you’ll open up

And let me waltz right in

My come whatever

Unfair weather friend”

We all want to have Unfair Weather Friends, but we also need to be an Unfair Weather Friend.

If Willie is a little too low brow for you, Aristotle stated: “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit.”

Aristotle would go on to say that there were three types of friendship,

  1. Friendships of utility
  2. Friendships of pleasure
  3. Friendships of the good

Friendships of utility are based on the benefits each person brings to the table. For example, you might be friends with someone because you are business partners, or classmates or perhaps roommates.  But the friendship is tied to the mutual benefits that you have from the relationship. 

You probably don’t have to think too hard to remember friends from the past that once circumstances changed the friendship changed.  And that doesn’t mean they weren’t friends. 

And then there are Friendships of pleasure These are friendships that develop out of a love for a common interest and the enjoyment it brings.  

These would be fishing buddies, skydiving friends, hockey parents and even church friends.   And even though you are friends, when your interests change the friendship usually fades.  Again, that doesn’t mean they were any less your friends, simply understand what the friendship was based on.

The most important type of friendships are Friendships of the good, these are friendships that are based upon respect and an appreciation for who we are. 

And this type of friendship is usually really hard to quantify.   Sometimes it grows out of a friendship of utility or pleasure and sometimes it’s just happens.   There are very few people who have less in common with Denn Guptill than Reg Thomas, but we’ve been best friends for over four decades.  Through good times and bad times.   But we’re not sure why.  Our former District Superintendent told me that Reg and I shouldn’t even like each other.   But we do, most of the time, and even when we don’t we’re still best friends. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the first two types of friendship, but they are easily broken.

When circumstances or interests changes these friendships often fade away.

That doesn’t negate their value, it simply defines it.  I have enjoyed my friendship with people I have worked with and gone to school with in the past, but we aren’t friends now as much as we are acquaintances, but we were friends at the time.

However, friendships based on goodness are usually long lasting but these friendships are hard to find and hard to develop.

And you will be blessed if you have more than a handful of these friendships in your entire life. 

It’s been said that a friend will tell you what you want to hear, but a good friend will always tell you what you need to hear.

And Steven Daniels wrote, “A good friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body.”  He was probably kidding, probably, we’ll say he was kidding.

And Jesus is telling us that is the friendship that he offers,  we are told in Hebrews 13:5-6   For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” 

And after the resurrection as Jesus is sharing with the apostles his expectations for them, he read this,  Matthew 28:18-20  Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

That’s Jesus promise for each of you today, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Through the good times and through the tough times, the promise is the same, Jesus will always be with you. 

Thomas Fuller wrote, “If you have one true friend you have more than your share.”  And if you are a Jesus Follower, then you have his promise that you will always have one true friend. 

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