When Jerry was just starting school, he and his buddy Steve would run out to the playground at recess every day to watch the older kids playing kickball. Y’all know what kickball is? – do they still play it? The way they would pick their teams was like – two of the best players would be ‘captains’, and they would go back and forth picking their team from all the kids standing around. Naturally, they’d pick the best players first and then the mediocre players and work their way down. Well, Jerry wanted so much to be able to play, but he and Steve were so small that they never got picked to be on a team. Every day, they would sit on the curb and watch and dream of the day they got to play.
The second year, Steve grew almost a foot and looked like a fifth grader, - so he actually got picked to be on a team! Turns out, he was really good at kicking the ball – so the team captains started picking him to play every day. Jerry wished he could play, but again, he would just sit and watch.
Until one day, one of the normal team captains was sick, so Steve got to be captain. Guess who his first pick was…. Jerry. Jerry didn’t even realize it… he was already sitting on the curb to watch when Steve came over and shouted – Get in the game! You’ve been chosen!
Jerry was so excited. He knew what to do, because he’d been watching for so long – but it turns out, he wasn’t very good at kicking yet…you know, he’d never gotten to practice. The other kids started to make fun of him and call him names – but Steve stepped in front of the group and said – “He’s my friend, leave him alone”. And that was that.
Jerry felt so proud to have Steve as a friend who would stand up for him – and really proud that he had CHOSEN him as a friend. He asked Steve – what did I ever do to make you want to be my friend? Steve said, nothing… you don’t EARN friendship – you just ARE my friend.
Jesus said today, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”. Jesus wants you to be His friend – to be on His team.
What did you do to make Jesus want to be your friend? Nothing. Before you did anything at all, Jesus had already chosen you to be on his team. Think about that….
You may feel like all your life, you’ve had to try real hard to be good, just to get Jesus to like you so you would be worthy of being on His team – but, he already chose you as His friend. We’re not good to make Jesus love us – we’re good BECAUSE Jesus loves us.
There’s a word in today’s Gospel that really bugs me – it’s a big and complicated word, but at first glance, it appears to change one of our most basic understandings of Jesus. The word I’m talking about is ‘if’.
Jesus says, “ You are my friends if you do what I command you.” It sure SOUNDS like Jesus is setting conditions … Like – if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I won’t be your friend! Anybody else read it that way?? Is he like the bully at school who says, I’ll be your friend, IF you give me all of your lunch money. Is THAT a friend who only likes you if you do what they tell you to do? Not at all! And that’s why it bugs me, because we all KNOW that Jesus loves unconditionally –there is nothing we can do to earn Jesus’ love - so how can we make sense of this statement?
Well, that word ‘if’ can be used another of way…
Let me give you a couple of examples – like if I say: “If I have a fever, I am sick.” Having a fever is not a condition for being sick – but the fever is PROOF that I’m sick – the fever makes it OBVIOUS that I’m sick. Do you see the difference? It’s not a ‘condition’ – it’s proof. Here’s another example: “if the water is boiling, it is hot”. Again, boiling is not a requirement to be hot – but If I see steam rolling off the top of the pan of water, It’s OBVIOUS that it is boiling hot. Do you see the difference?
So when Jesus says, you are my friends if you do what I command you – he’s actually saying – if you do what I’ve told you to do, you will make it OBVIOUS to the world that you are my friends. When you Love one another, that will be PROOF that you’re my friends.
Jesus is the kind of friend who will stand up for you – when the devil is picking on you – calling you names, tempting you to be bad - Jesus will step in front and say, “He’s my friend, leave him alone”. In fact, that’s what he did 2000 years ago when he was nailed to that cross – he was standing up for you and me. A true friend, Jesus said, will give his life for his friends. Obviously, we can’t have a better friend than Jesus. Jesus wants us to get in the game - to join him in His mission - The readings make it very clear that Jesus’ mission was all about Love - and OUR part of that mission is to ‘Love one another’. That’s your job… Love one another. Think about that when you receive communion: we are receiving His Love so that we can go out and SPREAD his love.
For those making your first communion today – it’s like you’ve been sitting on the curb for your whole life –watching the big kids play. You’ve only been coming up for a blessing – but you won’t do that anymore. Today, Jesus is stepping up and shouting at you, “Get in the game! You’ve been chosen!”