08 May 2015

On Being Counterparts and Collaborators: I Call you Friends, Not Servants

Throughout this Easter Season the Church gives us a chance to come to terms in a more exhaustive way than we might have until this point with the fact that in light of the Cross, the world in which we live is not the one that existed before Jesus' death and resurrection. In the world in which we live in light of the Cross while death and sin are still realities, they are not dominant; they do not have the last word. Instead, the grace of God, God's powerful presence is dominant and sin and death have been defeated in a way which promises that life in abundance is the true hope and promise of this world. The prayer we say daily, "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (That is, may your love be real for us here and now in space and time just as it is real within your own eternal life; may you be sovereign here and now in space and time just as you are in eternity) is something we see not merely as possibility but as promise which is already realized in a partial way in our own lives and communities.

Similarly, these fifty days give us the chance to grasp and claim more fully the fact that we baptized human beings are not the same either. We are a new creation, not just created by God but recreated by his life within us and by our baptism into the death and resurrection of God's own Christ. If sin and death have lost their dominion in our world more generally, God's love has been poured into us in a way which allows our hearts and lives to truly transcend sin and death more specifically. The petition that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven is also the promise we claim that God's love will be sovereign in our own hearts just as it is sovereign in the life of the Trinity. We were originally made to be counterparts of God in our world; we were made to walk and talk with God in the cool of the evening, to be friends and partners with God in all we were and did in our world. That friendship was realized most fully and exhaustively in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is that friendship which baptism into his death reestablishes and reclaims --- not as a mere metaphor for a life without serious sin, but as a literal description of who we are and how God regards us. "I call you friends," is the NT's highest formulation of the love and delight with which God regards us.

It is also something which marks an identity far beyond that defined by law or measured by the necessary legal categories of worthiness or unworthiness. I wrote a couple of months ago that Christian humility was the result of being lifted up by God so we could see ourselves in light of his own gaze. Here we have the confession of the truly humble: I am called "Friend" by God; it is my identity and my destiny. From the face-in-the-dirt humiliation we often visit upon ourselves and upon others --- or they us, God lifts us up to our knees. It is the place of inestimable dignity his love carves out for me and the role it empowers. Beyond any thoughts of worthiness or unworthiness God delights in me and calls me friend. Beyond failure or success, guilt, shame, humiliation, or pride, God delights in me and calls me friend. Beyond law to the empowerment of grace, the whole purpose of my (or any Christian's) spirituality is that we allow that to be true here and now in space and time just as it is on God's eternal side of things so that one day God will be all in all.

But it is not easy to let go of law to accept grace. It is not easy to let go of self-judgment, blame, lack of self-esteem or its opposite in narcissism to receive the pure gift of friendship and the esteem and dignity which is part of that. It is not easy to treat the Good News of what God has done in Christ as something which stands on its own and is not to be added onto our own performance under the Law. It is not easy to let the scales drop from our own eyes and see ourselves as God sees us, or to let His Word pierce and clear away the blockages of our own ears, minds, and hearts so that we can truly receive the message of today's Gospel pericope:

[["I call you friends!" --- that is how I regard you, you to whom I have revealed my own heart and will, my own plans for the world and the cosmos, my own deepest desires and most profound dreams and delight. You are no longer merely servants; in my Christ you are my counterparts and collaborators in making these things real in space and time --- on earth as it is in heaven. Love one another as I have loved you. As I have loved you in Christ so let others know that same love in and through your own life. As you have known my delight, let others know my delight in them. See them as I see them --- beyond any thoughts of worthiness or unworthiness, success or failure, guilt or innocence, shame or honor, beyond even sin and death --- reveal the ground of your own new-found dignity and identity, the world-shattering vocation you share with them: "I call you friends!" It is thus that My Reign is established.]]