Once again this year, we have been sending young people off to the holy and sacred ground that is known as Camp Christian—located in tiny old Magnetic Springs, Ohio.
We have had youth attend both Chi Rho Camp and CYF Conference, along with Grandparents Camp, which was for that young person “Aunt Camp” because she went with her Aunt Kim who wanted to make sure those who met her knew she was not a Grandparent, but was in fact a “much too young to be a grandparent and was actually an Aunt.”
Camp, as we have heard over the decades this church has sent youth to camp, is a meaningful and powerful experience for those who attend. Which means the end of camp, and coming back to the “real world”, makes for a kind of a let-down sort of feeling upon returning home.
Now I am sure all of our students are glad to be back from Camp because they missed their parents so much, but being back with parents only slightly reduces the let-down feelings of camp being over.
Camp is church away from church, where there is song and worship, scripture and study.
But this might it might come as a shocker…the main reason our young people go to church camp is NOT just for the song and worship, not just for the scripture and study.
It’s in the top five. Top ten. Well, it’s in the gamut of reasons they go.
They go to… Grow closer to God, for sure. But they also go to enjoy things like… the Ho-Down and Talent Show. Fishing and paddle boating. The serenity of Vespers and a meaningful Consecration service. And of course there are the Klondike’s and the chipped beef.
But one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why they go to camp is to see their friends and make new friends, because a camp friend is like no other friend.
Sure, all have close friends beyond Camp Christian, but a camp friend is unique and special in its own right.
A camp friend is one who shares beliefs, faith, and the desire to grow closer to God in a world where exercising a system of beliefs is often viewed as a constraining way to live, and even a waste of time. A camp friend is someone who will stand with you, and walk with you, no matter what.
I know this because I am a product of Camp Christian and still have many close Camp friends—two in particular, one of whom is the architect who designed our new church restroom.
As we know, the term friend can take on many meanings, and have many conditions in our world.
In the “real world” to be a friend can often mean you have to have something of benefit or of use to a person before they will be your friend.
Ask the young people of our church family and they will likely tell you in their world, in order to be a friend to certain people you first have to look a certain way, and act a certain way, in order to be a part of a particular circle of friends.
Ask adults, and many will relay how it’s hard to even make friends today—in our world that is so big, yet so small, and is often so “crazy busy.”
Bottom line, a true friend is elusive, and hard to find. But it’s a blessing Jesus was intentional to share.
So what is a “friend”?
Some years ago a publication asked the question “What is a friend?” and offered a prize for the best definition. Among some of the thousands of responses received were these:
A friend is one who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose loyalty is unbreakable.”
“One who understands our silence.”
“A true friend has your back.”
“A friend lets down their guard, and is authentic and honest with you.”
The winning definition read:
“A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”
Great answers for sure. However, ask that question to those who go to Camp Christian, and you’ll get responses like:
“A friend will hug you and laugh with you even after you just embarrassed him in a ‘spirited’ game of basketball.”
“A friend is someone who doesn’t care how crazy you act or dress, and someone who doesn’t care if you make a fool of yourself.”
“A friend will laugh with you until you cry, and then cry until you laugh again.”
“A friend will share the craft supplies with you.”
It is safe to say, in whatever form the definition takes, the young people who spend time at Camp Christian each summer would explain their friends are friends as long as they do one thing—accept them for who they are, because that is what they are going to do for you.
Acceptance without condition.
That is the Camp Christian definition of friendship.
In a true friendship, there is a connection that mirrors the kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with us, and us with others.
Jesus makes it clear we are to do what he commands if we are to be called his friends.
Now at first glance this appears almost childish. How many times have we heard children give some kind of condition on their friendship? If you don’t do such and such, I won’t be your friend. But this is not what Jesus is saying.
The condition for friendship with Jesus is we follow his example and simply Love each other.
We are not to demand others be or act a certain way. We are meant to love others as Christ loves.
Jesus says, “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 I have made known to you.” Now it should be noted, a rabbi or teacher would have followers, and those followers were considered servants, not friends. But what Jesus is doing is he is changing the relationship he has with the disciples—which is a monumental cultural shift.
Jesus is not calling them to serve only him. He is calling them to serve the world as he serves the world— with love for others.
Now, what I just told you is not new to you in any way shape or form.
We all know Jesus is our friend.
We learned it in Vacation Bible School and Sunday school.
We are reminded of it each time we come to church.
But I tell you this again, rooted in this scripture, because Jesus is not just telling us how to be his friends, but Jesus is telling us how to be friends in the real world— the real world that has countless rules and expectations—expectations that you have to look a certain way, act a certain way, and be a certain way before you will be accepted.
Jesus is telling us we should not be a “real world” kind of friend—with all its conditions.
He is telling us we need to be a friend like he is a friend to all of us.
Be that kind of friend to the world, share what you have come to know and experience through your mutual friendship with Jesus Christ, so that those around you in the “real world” might know it as well.
That is how Jesus calls us to be his friend.
It is important to remember that in our text for today, the Last Supper has already taken place and Jesus is headed for the Garden of Gethsemane, where he will be arrested and then crucified.
Therefore, what he is saying to them are some of the last words Jesus tells his disciples before he dies.
Jesus was sharing a deeper understanding of God. He was taking them to a new level in their relationship.
Jesus was giving them something extremely special here—he was giving them himself and the relationship he enjoyed with God.
Now, being this kind of friend is a hard thing to do.
It’s a hard to accept someone else without condition.
It’s a hard to embrace someone who is different from you, or outside your circle, or has differing opinions.
It is hard to call someone a friend who you don’t even know yet.
But that is what it means to be a friend of God.
One way we can strive to be such a friend is by living out that familiar “Golden Rule”—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
But if that’s not enough, and you need and want more instruction for being a friend, well, then go and talk to the youth who have been to Camp Christian. They know exactly how to be the kind of friend Jesus is calling us to be.