Photo with permission ©Vatican Media
This year’s theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5-9). Each contributor to our series has reflected on a daily verse from this Scripture passage, as indicated by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, for each day of the octave.
Today, Day Four, Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. reflects on the verse “I do not call you servants any longer...but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15).
By Cecil M. Robeck, Jr.
“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14).
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
“I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15).
“Friendship with Jesus, fellowship divine,/Oh, what blessed sweet communion,/Jesus is a friend of mine.”
When I was a boy, we often sang this gospel song, “Friendship with Jesus.” It sounds syrupy sweet today. Yet, the idea that I had a friend in Jesus, that I could call Jesus a friend of mine, was extraordinary. How could this be? He was God in the flesh, and we were friends.
Jesus told his disciples that if they kept his commandment, to love one another as he had loved them; they were his friends. As I read the biblical text, I wondered again how this could be. Jesus called his disciples friends.
What about us? Do we love one another as Christ loved us?
I am a Pentecostal minister. Quite unexpectedly in 1983, the Lord called me to work on issues related to the unity of the church. I have been working in the ecumenical field ever since.
My call came in a series of visions in which Jesus spoke my name and told me what he wanted me to do. I was afraid. Pentecostals do not do ecumenism. He was patient.
I told him, “I can’t?”
He was persistent.
He told me, “Yes, you can.”
When I began, I would not have called many of you my friends. Still, I had heard from Jesus. I knew of his prayer for unity in John 17:21. My fears lingered. I did not know you. I had heard bad things about you. I had no personal relationship with you. I did not trust you. I did not love you.
Then, I began to meet with you and to listen to you. I began to understand you. I began to hear your heart. We became friends and I learned to trust you. In fact, today, I would say that I learned to love you.
Now, I find myself speaking up not only for the Pentecostals that I represent, but at times, when you are being criticized or marginalized or persecuted, I find myself standing up for you, speaking on your behalf, and defending you. I have become one with you!
These changes did not happen overnight. They came as I followed Jesus into our meetings and I began to see him in you. That is how I fell in love with you.
Christian unity begins when we become friends. Friendships open us to love. Love opens us to unity. This week, as we pray for Christian unity, let us ask the Lord to help us set aside our fears and open us to friendships that express our love, as he has loved us.
Photo with permission of Vatican Media (©Vatican Media): International Catholic - Pentecostal Dialogue (June 1997). Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. was the Pentecostal Co-Chair of the Dialogue and is pictured to the left of St. John Paul II. Dr. Robeck's wife, Patsy, is first from the left, and Lay Centre director, Dr. Donna Orsuto, second from the left, was an observer at the meeting.
Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (2018 visiting professor) is an ordained minister for the Assemblies of God. He serves as senior professor of church history and ecumenics and as special assistant to the president for ecumenical relations at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has served on numerous bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogues, and currently co-chairs the International Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue.