Since it’s baseball season, I think about my favorite baseball book by David Halberstam, who describes what baseball was like 60 years ago and what he calls the virtues of radio. Mel Allen, who broadcast New York Yankees games on radio and then television, lamented the advent of TV, feeling it rendered his words extraneous. He decided that TV was “a medium in which both the broadcaster and the fan became lazy – the broadcaster because he had to let the camera do so much of the work and the fan because he did not have to use his imagination. Allen felt that he had a less-intimate relationship with viewers.”
I’m unsure how to picture this in my imagination, the way fans listening to Mel Allen conceived of Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig shaking hands at home plate or a Joe DiMaggio slide into second. I do think of a few, a very few old friends – which I can count on one hand with a leftover finger or two – historic friends, guys who knew me before I knew myself, who could care less if I am preaching on television or in a barnyard, who have stuck with me and always will, who would say words to me if I grew blind and could not see them or if I had a stroke and could not speak in return. They have loved me and stuck with me and we are friends; and there really is nothing better than adult laughter.
I think there must be one other thing, too. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this – to lay down his life for his friends.” And we are hearing this word during the season of Easter; we know how the story ends, we know Jesus suffered terribly, but God could not leave His Son, the one he’d loved, his friend, in the grave. How did the Father love Jesus? On the third day God raised him up – which really tells us less about some automatic destiny we might have after we die than about how magnificent God really is; and if we think about it, we fall down on our faces and we laugh, then we pick each other up and begin to sing some great chorus of praise to a God who loves like that.
It’s odd, but so hopeful, to hear what Jesus said the night before he was crucified and to hear it after Easter. Jesus’ future invades that night, and the flicker of the candle really does banish the darkness. The disciples were not dying the next day – although they might have if they had been required to prove their friendship to Jesus.
They are simply deemed friends; they have some number of years left on them, and the question Jesus knew they would harbor in their souls was, “So what do we do now that he’s gone?” Remember that last night he said, “As the Father has loved me so I love you,” and that he called us – us! – friends? What do we do now?”
Well, the answer is probably lots of things, and they are probably all really hard and scary. But to these friends, Jesus said, “Go and bear fruit.” Go bear fruit. Where does one go to bear fruit? I mean, trees bear fruit, but they can’t go anywhere at all. Paul, who is another very pious guy who didn’t “get” Jesus but was simply knighted as Jesus’ friend, spoke of the “fruit of the Spirit.” Not “the fruit of my good intentions” or “the fruit of my gritting my teeth and trying really hard.” No, the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
Not only are these not against the law. They are not the law! Paul doesn’t say, “You must be patient or joyful.” It’s so American to feel like being good is up to us; I do it! I’m good. And then God is pleased. But Christians wiser than you and I, our friends who were brave and suffered for their faith and kept the Church alive through history, believed in what theologians call “Sanctification.” I do not bear fruit, as I have no clue how to do such a thing. It is the Spirit who works in me.
Yes, Jesus commanded things Jesus knew I was incapable of. But he commanded love and fruit, knowing that I’d never pull it off – but he did call me his friend knowing this about me. And so he must have had some strategy to make fruit happen in me, and in us; and it is the work of the Spirit, in Jesus’ lingering, elusive, powerful presence surprising me, surprising us, surprising the world with a wobbly but very definite image of Jesus in the world after all these years.
We are the Body of Christ, we are the friends of God, and then we discover the joy of that prayer we sing at Christmas: “Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.”
Fit us for heaven. I am not fit; we are not fit. So fit us for heaven. We will go and bear fruit, although if we go five inches from you, O Lord, the tree will die; so we will just be still and know that you are God and we aren’t; and as we raise our arms in prayer and thanksgiving we notice, pulsating through us, some fruit, the love, the friendship, and it’s happening, and nobody’s more surprised than you and me, pondering now, and our imaginations get dizzy with what is happening, or not happening, and it is all good, because it is all of God, and somebody out there who didn’t care about God five minutes ago notices, and she raises her arms, and the fruit forms, she is loved as Jesus was loved, she’s a friend, and together, side by side, absorbed in our common interest, we laugh, we sing, we sigh. We love.
Rev. Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.