The various gospel readings for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth Sundays of Easter are populated by an amazingly diverse group of metaphors by which we come to understand our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Vine and branches; sheep and shepherd; sheep and gate; sender and receivers of the Spirit.
The most common metaphor, which also shows up in the epistle readings from time to time, is that of familial love between parent and children. In 2009, John Rollefson suggested to readers of Homily Service that the most common explorations of the parent/child metaphor tend to be somewhat infantilizing. He urged that preachers, at least on 5 Easter of Year B, might want to give the parent/child talk a rest, and concentrate instead on the image of adult friendship which comes to the fore in this week’s gospel.
...the image of friend, and particularly the mature friendship between a parent and an adult child, is one that more adequately comprehends our human experience of faith as well as God’s expectations of us as mature children loved by and loving of our heavenly Parent/God.
Is it too much of a stretch to think that the church itself as Jesus’s continuing band of disciples might profit from adding the metaphor of friendship to its various “models of the church,” as Avery Dulles once termed them? At least it provides an alternative to the too often cloying metaphors of church as “family” or worse, “family system,” which seem to dominate our practical theology. A fellow seminary classmate recently sent me the results of his sabbatical project, in which he surveyed and interviewed his fellow alums regarding the impact of friendships on their ministry. Particularly striking was the strong yearning on the part of his colleagues in ministry for friendship and yet a strong sense of their being underachievers in establishing and enjoying a wide and deep network of friends. His strong conclusion was that learning to nurture friendship is a practice that pastors need to master for their own professional and personal well-being.
Do you find it difficult to move beyond the parent/child metaphor in your preaching?
John Rolefson (2008): 17 May 2009; Easter 6, Homily Service, 42:2, 150.
John Rolefson is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)