Three friends from the Protestant Church in Rabat, Morocco visit Kentucky: Pastor Basille Zouma, Anne-Marie Teeuwissen, and Carlos Nzoyoum.
Read Pastor Basille's excellent sermon below:
Pastor Basile ZOUMA’s message
Morocco team visit to LABC
21 September 2008
Scripture: John 15. 8 -17
Before starting this sermon, once again I wish to share with you warm greetings from your sisters and brothers of your twin church of Eglise Evangélique Au Maroc (EEAM) in Rabat. This morning, I invite you all to meditate on friendship in the light of the text we have just read. All of us have already learned from experience that if one doesn’t choose his biological family, one can choose friendships.
With regards to God’s family, it’s almost the same logic. We are brothers and sisters because we belong to one spiritual family, of which Christ is the central and unifying figure. This family isn’t actually within our control; it lies on God who makes it possible. It is Christ whom each one of us has chosen first, not necessarily the men and women who form this spiritual family. I am a Christian, he or she is also a Christian; therefore we are brothers and sisters without any particular involvement.
This reality applies to us also in Danville and Rabat. Before we met in the context of this twinning which has allowed us to know each other, we were already brothers and sisters through the fact that we belong to the same Lord whom we serve. And if we have not had the opportunity to choose the members of the family (in Christ) to which we belong, it is our duty since the day we have committed ourselves to this process of bringing our churches closer together to chose each other as friends.
So what is this friendship which I am talking about this morning? Here is a famous and brilliant definition given by Montaigne, the French philosopher of the 16th Century. When asked the reason for his friendship with a certain La Boétie, he simply answered: “Because it is him, because it is me”….Montaigne does not try to list all his friend’s qualities, he doesn’t try and state any objective reasons for this friendship, and he doesn’t dissect this relationship….
If asking “why this friendship”, he would already be placing himself outside of it, outside of the relationship! Montaigne is content with describing the alchemy and the pleasure he finds in the relationship, one within which I can be truly myself in the presence of someone else without having to play a role or cheat. One within which the other person can also be himself in my presence, fully welcome and accepted for what he is, not for what I would like him to be….
This is indeed the best description of friendship, a relationship in which each one can be himself in front of an other with no fear of judgement, with no preliminary conditions; a relationship in which each one can be ‘real, and ‘true’ because he knows his friend’s only demand is for him to be authentic; a relationship in which I can show myself as I am with my weaknesses, my failings, because I know my friend will not take advantage of them and will not humiliate me….
I hope that we are all lucky enough to experience such friendships which give us space for freedom in which to blossom… When we think of our human friendships, we can then measure the meaning of Jesus’ words: “I am no longer calling you servants, but friends”. So Jesus comes to allow a new kind of relationship between a human being and God, a relationship which can be compared with the friendship which can exist between two persons!
We can represent our relations to God through several images: the relationship of a client to a merchant, the relationship of a slave to his master, and finally the relationship of a friend to a friend…. Jesus invites us to go beyond “commercial” or “servile” relations in order to enter friendship, but that does not come to us naturally!
Naturally, we are prone to “commercial” relations with God, a ‘give and take’ relation in the context of exchanging mutual services… We are prepared to “believe” if we can see our immediate benefit, but in times of hardship where the “gifts” of God are no longer discernable, we are about to give in! This kind of relation to the divinity characterized primitive religions, where the idea of sacrifice was essential, to regulate the “give and take” relations: I give you a part of what I own, you give me your benediction, and we’re quits!
The slave’s relationship to his master is slightly different. It’s totally an issue of “doing”… hence also merit and retribution…. If I do a good job, I‘ll have good wages and my master’s recognition, if I don’t, I will only receive his anger…. Today, this image of slave and master no longer speaks to us, but that of the employee and his boss is closer to us….
Sometime we represent God as a kind of Super-Boss, with all those sorts of fears of not doing enough, of not doing well which come with that kind of relation!
Jesus however invites us to go beyond this stage: “I am no longer calling you servants, but friends” as the only value the servant has in the eyes of his master is the work he has accomplished.
Neither the relationship of a client to a merchant, nor of an employee to his employer, but a friendship… This is the proposal Jesus makes to us… The commercial relationship belongs to the realm of what is useful, of belongings….. The master-slave relationship belongs to the realm of accomplishment, but friendship, indeed, belongs to the realm of being! And we come back to the statement made by Montaigne: “Because it is him, because it is me”. In friendship, I enjoy who the other person is, I respect him and love him for who he is, I accept him unconditionally, beyond any question of why? This is what Jesus manifests in the Gospel when he meets individuals on his road. He comes close to each and every one and even more particularly to those who feel unworthy, to offer his friendship…. He doesn’t expect people to improve but offers his friendship on no condition, and then, because Jesus loves them and trusts them, spectacular changes can take place, as we can see with Zacchaeus (Luke 19.8-9)!
The friendship which binds us since we have undertaken to walk this road together may not be quite perfect yet, but it seems already to match the definition we have given here. We have first met in circumstances which we had not really planned, and we have automatically accepted each other. Through correspondence or with a delegation as intermediary, we have exchanged words, we have laughed together, we have shared bread as we enjoy doing, we have listened to each other, and we have shared our concerns and our joys. Rest assured, your brothers and sisters in Rabat still have excellent memories of the various delegations who have visited us; the spontaneity of exchange, their simplicity, their openness and the sincerity of their smiles, their conviviality were all particularly striking. They were friends to us, and you are friends to us also.
I truly hope that we will continue to share this friendship which the Lord reveals to us through his words in John chapter 15, verse 15. And why is that? To recall Montaigne, “because it is you, LABC, because it’s us, EEAM”. May the experience of this friendship help us to transcend the borders of our churches, to lead us eventually to consider the entire universal family of believers as friends. Simply to love them for who they are and not for their actions. Because finally, this love reveals potential and creates life. It is also a sign of our belonging to God as it is said in 1 John chapter 4 verse 7 “
I am convinced that God invites all communities who claim to belong to him to go beyond the point of passive relation to reach a fully assumed and accepted relationship. The challenge for each of us remains to welcome this brotherhood which we share in Christ, to live it fully and turn it into friendship, the horizon which Christ our Lord invites us to reach.