Happy New Year!
The Lord be with you!
Today is the first day of the year, the first Sunday and first intercultural worship of 2012. It is a blessing that I have the opportunity to preach on this first day.
Every year we are so excited to celebrate the first day of New Year. In Korea, there is a big ceremony to proclaim the beginning of a year. At 12am on January first, the president, a chief leader of Buddhist and thousands of people get together in a specific place called Jong Gak to strike the biggest bell in the country. Many people in Korea watch this event on TV or listen on the radio to wish one another a prosperous year together.
Is there any specific national ceremony in Canada for new year’s Day? How do you and your family celebrate new year’s?
New beginnings are always exciting and filled with hope. People expect this year will be different from the last year. So many people make New Year resolutions. If so, what is your New Year Resolution? Do you want to succeed in your business? Do you expect a promotion at your job? If you are a student, do you want to get better grades this year? Or do you want to get a surprise from God?
Think your New Year Resolution.
Meeting a new friend can be a surprise. Or if we could build more intimate relationships with friends this year, that would be a gift from God. How about being a good friend of others who are suffering or needy? How about being a gift to others? Friends are gift from God.
Today I would like to talk about friendship. What does friendship mean to you? What does it mean to you to become a friend of Jesus? Is it possible for a human to be a friend with God? If so, what do you think His friendship tells us for our friendship on earth?
In an old tradition, friends are defined as “equals and similar in class, sharing meals, spending time together and following virtue”.
If friends are defined like that, who could image becoming a friend of God? Which god ever told a human, “You are my friend”? Never. None.
Even Aristotle thought there could be no friendship between a god and a man, any more than a man could be a friend to his slave or his tools, because they were too dissimilar in nature.
But the Bible radically rejects secular thought on this point. God who created the universe out of nothing came to become a friend of humans. The Word became a human like us to be our friend.
Is Jesus a friend of yours? Would He tell you the same?
Before I share my meditation on friendship, I would like to tell you two images of friendship from the Bible.
The first image in the Bible is the face-to-face encounter. This image can be found in Moses’ relationship to God in Exodus 33:11, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” The face-to-face image implies a conversation, a sharing of stories, the inner depths.
The second image of friendship is unity of soul. Deuteronomy 13:6, describes a “friend who is your own soul.” And this image is well described in friendship between Jonathan and David. 1 Samuel 18:1 says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”
Friendship is union of heart.
Both images describe intimacy of friendship between God and a human, and between a man and a man. Thinking of these images of friendship, three English words came to me for this year.
Friendship is a loving relationship. Without love, we cannot have any relationship with God or even anyone.
This is Jesus’ loves; “we did not choose him as a friend, but He chose us to be his friends.” When we did not know who Jesus is, he came to us and called us to be his friend. He called us, you are my beloved. You are very special to me.
What do you feel about it? Do you really believe that you are special to him and you are a special friend of his?
Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, ….. I have called you friends.”
In Greek law, a slave is defined as “a living tool.” A servant is a tool for the master. Between the master and the slave there was no personal relationship. For the master, a slave is not regarded as having feelings or emotions. The master commands and slaves do whatever their master says.
But Jesus told his disciples, you are not just a living tool. You are more than servants to me. You are my friend.
Jesus says, my love for you is this, I will lay down my life for you because you are my friend.
Love in friendships is shown by giving yourself for others. Love does not give alternate things. Jesus lived this type of love.
Philippians chapter 2 verse 5-8, “Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man and became obedient to death-even death on a cross.”
But we have tried to find many alternative ways to give to Jesus, instead of ourselves. As much as we can, we try to avoid giving ourselves to Jesus by substituting something else.
Instead of ourselves, we give alternate things as signs of our love toward Jesus. I do too. When I was fifteen years old, I heard God’s voice even though I did not know that it was God’s voice at that time. In my heart, someone asked me, “do you want to learn to be a pastor?” I was surprised, I never thought of becoming a pastor. My answer was No. I want to be a rich person and I’ll make a lot of offerings to you. If I have a son, it is okay for him to be your servant but not me.
Five years later, when I was twenty, I struggled about my future. While I was praying, I heard the voice again in my heart, “Nak Sun, I want You, not your money or your son. What I want from you is just yourself.” It was Him, God’s voice. He wants myself, nothing from me. But I very often tried to find something else to give to God, not myself.
How about you?
Love is not finding alternative ways of giving, but giving ourselves. The greatest love we can give Jesus is ourselves, not other things. He wants our whole heart and mind.
The first day of 2012, how about making decision to stop finding alternative things to give God, but giving yourself to God.
Another difference between servant and friend is that servant obeys his master’s command out of fear, but friend does so out of trust. True obedience comes not out of fear, but out of trust.
We trust God’s faithfulness. We trust God’s steadfast love that gave his only son to us.
When Jesus calls us his friend, He says, “I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me or betray me.” Do we believe that? His trust towards us never fails.
Sometimes I would tell my wife, if only I could erase my high school years. I had a time when I wanted to give up everything, even my life. I did not have any hope and I was tired of myself. I almost gave up my future. But fortunately one of my friends led me to Jesus again and we prayed together very often. One day, I heard the voice from within, “Nak Sun I have never given up on you; never. I trust you even though you do not trust yourself.”
It was a wonderful moment for me. I had departed from God for many years. Even though that, God still trusts me! If God trusts me, why would I give up on myself?
Whenever I disappoint myself, I remind of myself, “more than I trust in God, God trusts me.”
Trusting can transform a life. After I found that God trust me, my life was changed in many ways.
Remember, God trusts you.
Recalling my teenage years again; I had five friends in my village who were very close to me. Five of us had a sleepover once a month at my house because my room was separated from my parents’ room. We shared many things together. More than sharing common interesting, we shared our secrets—deep secrets--because we believed that we were close friends and it was a safe place to share.
You may know what kind of secrets teen boys keep. At that time, each of us liked a girl secretly. We never told anyone else. But one day, we shared our secrets with each other and made plans to help each other out. It was not important if our plan worked or not. What was important was that we shared our inner secret , we had one mind.
Like this, Jesus wants to share his stories with us, and wants us to share our stories with him because we are his friends.
In Genesis chapter 18, Abraham hosted three angelic visitors, one of whom was God. Following the meal, after two angles left for Sodom to warn Lot, God said himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” God and Abraham engage in a dialogue based on the intimacy of friends. God as a friend of Abraham did not hide his plan.
The gospel of John 15:15, Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus says, he does not hide anything from us. He wants to share all of his stories with his beloved friends and he invites us to share our stories with him in prayer.
In the Message, Eugene Peterson translated verse 16b, “As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.” In prayer we can share our stories with God and listen to His stories that reveal of himself.
prayer is not only a request for something, but also sharing our stories and God’s stories together.
In the first day of 2012, open your heart toward God and share your deep secret with God and find Him in prayer.
In intimate and healthy friendship with Jesus, we will bear good fruit-fruit that will last. In love, trust and sharing, our relationship with Jesus can bear good fruits such as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, fruit of shalom with our neighbors, fruit of salvation for others. Our friends and neighbors know who we are through our fruit. If they see good fruits of us, they can see Jesus through us.
Jesus sent us to bear fruits. I pray that this year each of us would grow to be his best friend, not the type of friend who makes a few phone calls a year to say hi, but the type who share their hearts with each other. I pray that the relationship with Him makes us invite His other friends who were invited to his table: the outsiders of society: the tax collectors, the handicapped, the prostitutes, the sinners and the poor.
Like Jesus, we will be their friends and say to them, “you are my friend, not a stranger and you are loved.” Through being a friend with them, may they find Jesus in us, and may we see Jesus in them.
At the beginning of the New Year 2012, I pray that each of us bear this fruit as a friend of Jesus that will last ever.