I was saying last week that one of the reasons I became a Christian was because I saw Jesus as someone who stood against the status quo. I still love the way he really goes for the posh people in power and mixes with the ordinary people, that the posh people look down on. But although this would have made me admire him, as I might admire other historical figures, this would not have been enough by itself to make me into a Christian. No, what really attracted me was that this man Jesus, whom I admired so much, wanted to be my friend; and a friend who would be with me for ever, wherever I went, whatever I did. That’s why I love his saying “I do not call you servants any longer, but I call you friends” (John 15:15) and then the words “Remember I am with you always, to the end of time” (Matt 28:20)
Today’s Gospel (John 10:27-30) takes this even further, because it shows us what kind of a friend Jesus is. I remember when I was a student many moons ago, visiting a friend in hospital. He was so pleased to see me because, he said, I was the only friend who had come to visit him. He had lots of so-called friends, but I was the only one who showed true friendship when things got hard. It reminds me of some words from a poem that I love
“Every man will be thy friend
Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend”
and then it ends
“He who is thy friend indeed
He will help thee in thy need
If thou sorrow he will weep,
If thou wake he cannot sleep.
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe”
(from The Passionate Pilgrim)
And this is why I follow Jesus. Because I see him as my truest friend, and a friend who is not just for this time only, but is a friend for ever, a friend who will be with me even beyond death, because he has already been there for me. That is surely why Jesus says of us who follow him as the Good Shepherd, “I give them eternal life. They will never be lost.” And remember, as I have said many times before, this “eternal life” is something we have NOW. It is a relationship with him NOW. What a gift to be given! To be one with God, the eternal power underlying the Universe, and how? Not by some mystical incantation, nor by striving to be perfect, but simply by being friends with Jesus!
And what a friend! Did you notice the final words from the 2nd Reading, (Rev 7:14-17) words often read at funerals? Jesus, “The Lamb who is at the throne”, will be our “Shepherd”.. and here are the crunch lines “He will lead (us) to springs of living water… and will wipe away all tears from our eyes.”And our link with him is more than ordinary friendship. Jesus says we are as close to him as are branches to a Vine. (John 15:5) What a wonderful and extraordinary gift! To be that close to Jesus, to be one with him, in union with him, so that whatever we face, we are never alone.
You will be surprised to hear that despite the love for Jesus that I found as a teenager, and never lost, the last thing I wanted to be was a priest. When people said “You would make a good priest” I used to say “Oh yuk, Anything but that!” Not least because sadly, a priest to me was an establishment figure, someone rather proper and conventional – and no way was I going to end up like that! It was only later when I realised what a challenge the priesthood could be, a challenge to me, but also a challenge to society, a challenge to conventional ways of thinking and behaving, that I reluctantly began to look at the idea again.
Today, is the Sunday each year when we particularly pray that more men will think about becoming a priest, and pray for those who are now training to be one. I was at a Conference of priests recently where they asked us to write on Post-it Notes three things that we liked about being a priest, and then we stuck them on a wall so we could compare notes. You will not be surprised to hear that no-one said they enjoyed running a church building, coping with leaking roofs and damaged sewers, making sure enough money came in. No. We all wrote about the joy of serving all sorts of different people, and the wonder of being given time to pray and to support others in prayer.
Prayer –not saying words at a distant God, and certainly not about sending up endless requests, hoping one or two might get an answer, How tragic that some people think prayer is like that! No, true prayer is the way we make explicit in our minds our eternal friendship with Jesus, and thus with God; our knowledge that we are in him and he is in us, and then to put all that glory into words and actions for others.