Rev. Dr. Lee B. Splitzer
General Secretary of American Baptist Churches
Given on April 7, 2019 at Indiana Chin Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A.


Sermon Text: John 15:9-17
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: 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 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.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other. (NIV)

Seven months ago to this week, I had a surgery for my heart. The doctors told me they were surprised that I was still alive. From birth there was defect problem in my heart. And only a major surgery would able to give me a second chance of life. During my recovery, three things brought healing to me. The first was a continuing abiding sense that God’s love has not abandoned me. I have been a Christian now for almost 50 years. But I have never felt God’s spirit so close to me as during the time when I was healing from my surgery. God’s love is healing force that is powerful. I also had the love of my wife and family. I had been married to my best friend Lois for almost 42 years. She was with me during the surgery and after with every steps of the way. My son and daughter loved me all thru out the period. My daughter held up my grandson and said, “Father, you have to live; he needs a grandfather.” How could I say no to my grandson? So I decided to live. The friendship of many people helped sustain me as well. Friends from distant places called me on telephone and computer to make sure I was progressing. Others travelled from around the country to visit me at my home. When you have friends who love you, you can face almost any challenge. But I also had a sense that God was not through with me yet. I have served God since I was 14 years old. And I was convinced he has more missions for me to accomplish. And so I experienced healing because of the love of God and my family, and because of the friendship of good people who I love dearly, and because I want to keep serving God as long as I have breath.

2000 years ago, Jesus lived on this earth. For approximately 3 years he preached the gospel in town after town thru out Israel. Just days before he was going to die on the cross, he preached the sermon recorded in John 15. And I would share with you that the John 15 is the only message we had from Jesus that we could preach the full understanding of Christianity from this one chapter. When I read Jesus’s words, I recognize a change of heart in his soul. When you read Jesus’s sermon in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they are all the same quality. Jesu’ words are logical and he does not speak for very long time. He gets to the heart of the matter, and then he concludes quickly. But in John 15, Jesus preaches in a different way. Knowing that, in a few short days, he would die on the cross of Calvary, and surrounded by his closest friends that he spent every year of the last three years with, J speak with an emotional depth and authenticity that he did not give to the crowd. He wants his close friend to truly understand what is about to to take place in his journey. He wants them to understand the cross the way he now sees it as he prepared to finish his life. And so it is interesting to know that this is the first sermon that Jesus ever preaches on friendship. Three times he uses that word in just a couple of verses. He did not wait until the end of his life to talk about friendship because it was unimportant. To the contrary, this is one of the most important sermons he ever gave in the gospels. To understand why, you have to understand the Jewish people. And so it is good that a Jewish General Secretary is here to explain. In Jewish tribal culture, the father of a family, who was also prophetic, saved his most important blessing to the end of his life. Isaac waits until he is an old man, to give his blessing to Jacob and Esau. Jacob waits until his dying days to bless the twelve children that had become the tribes of Israel. David is about to die right before he blesses his son Solomon. And in the same way, Jesus waits until he is about to die, to share what he shares in John 15. He is prophesizing to the disciples as his friends.

So what was Jesus’s message on that day? It was simply this: The cross of Calvary is composed of God’s love, friendship, and mission. Just as God is one God, but made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the cross is one event made up of love, friendship, and mission—one event with three-fold theme. And so when Jesus sees the cross, he sees love exemplified, friendship manifested, and mission accomplished. In John chapter 15, love, friendship and service are defined in terms of each other. Love equals friends in mission for the sake of the world. Friendship is love expressed through mission. And you can only do Christian mission if you have love and friendship to show to the world. This is why the result of the cross is the church. The journey of the church is based on the love, friendship and mission of Jesus Christ or Savior. And when the church accurately portrays Jesus, (we are) we experience God’s love, friendship, and do mission together. For Jesus, love, friendship and mission had specific meanings. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for us. Jesus said “If you want to love like he loves, we will obey the commandments of God. “If you keep my commandment, you remain in my love” he says. In Ephesian chapter 5, Paul says the very same thing (and we read that earlier). So it turns out the love in a Christian sense is based on obedience to Christ. This obedience is not coerced or used in a way of controlling others. The obedience of Christ does not take away our freedom, but actually gives it to us. And above all this obedience is to be given freely to the one we claim we love. We obey Christ because we are grateful for the gift of salvation that he has freely given to us on the cross. And this obedience is not really about arbitrary rules at all, but rather out of a heartfelt desire to please God in all we do and say.

When Jesus thinks of friendship, he sees the church in action. We are people who would be friends with one another because each of us is a friend of Jesus’s. Friends like to introduce their friends to other friends that they have. And so the church had been created by the Holy Spirit to be in the environment in which the friendship of God can be experienced between you and me, in and through our relationship.

My brothers and sisters, I cannot express how grateful I am that God has given us the gift of your fellowship and friendship as you are now in the United States. My hope and prayer is that you have felt welcomed now that you have come to this country. Indeed, all American Baptists do welcome and love you, and are grateful you are part of our family now. But you need to understand that the United States is going through a great cultural transformation. And one of the manifestations of that change is in the amount of loneliness that Americans experience in modern life. Almost all Americans own a telephone, but yet we are lonely. Studies show that one out of every four American adults does not have a close friend. That means they have no one to share their dreams with. They have no one to share their hearts with. They have no one to share their pain and suffering with. Americans need a church more than ever before. And don’t be surprised if God had sent you thousands of miles to America to help us overcome that loneliness that controls our society. Americans need your friendship. And through you, they need to discover the friendship of Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the cross because he was on a mission. He died on the cross so we might have eternal life. But in the Jewish tradition, we have a way of speaking about the work of the Messiah. So, as your guest today, I have learned a Chin word. In return, I want to teach you a Hebrew word. Listen closely ‘cos you’re going to say it out loud. The words are tikkun olam. It means ‘to heal the universe’. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah comes to help heal the entire universe. So say with me tikkun olam. “Tikkun olam.” (Now they all speak Hebrew! Now you are all Jews like me.) What does it mean to tikkun olam to the world? First, it means that the cross of Calvary heals the divide between our hearts and God himself. It means that we can be friends with God because of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Second, it means the church exists to express that healing power. We are to be the people that represent all the tribes of the world. Third, it means the message of reconciliation and peace-making to our divided world. And finally, according to Roman, it means God heals the entire universe because of what Jesus had done for us.

My brothers and sisters, in a few minutes, we will take a communion together. Communion is all about the cross of and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the bread and the wine, we discover the love, friendship, and mission of the kingdom of God. Our universe it not yet fully healed. And so may we draw strength and hope from the communion that we are about to take together. We take the bread and wine because we have accepted God’s love and we love God in response. The Messiah who died on the cross is our friend Jesus Christ. And until he comes back in the second coming we still have a mission to do. May the love, friendship, and mission of Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.

(Thank you so very much.)