By The Rev. Sherry Deets
7 Easter – May 20, 2012
Our gospel reading from John today is known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer”. Let’s recall the context of this prayer of Jesus’. It is Thursday night in this part of John’s account, the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. He knows he will soon be leaving his disciples to fulfill his mission and wants them to be prepared. And so Jesus has been teaching his disciples across chapters 14-16 about his nature, mission, destiny, and about their role and future in all of this. Now, in chapter 17, he prays for them.
And what does he pray for? Not that it will be easy, notice that. He knows it won’t. This world is captive to a spirit alien to God’s spirit. It is animated by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial love. Jesus — the one who came to bring abundant life, does not run away in the face of danger, and lays down his life for the sheep – he offers an alternative spirit and reality. This is the reason the world (kosmos — John’s word of choice for the spirit and power that is hostile to God’s good intention to love and redeem all) it’s the reason the world hates Jesus and will hate those who follow him. So Jesus doesn’t pray that it will be easy, but rather that God will support the disciples amid their challenges and that they will be one in fellowship with each other and with Jesus and the Father through the Spirit.
But Jesus doesn’t only pray for his disciples back then. If we read just a little further, he says: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21a). So who are “all those who believe in me through their (the disciples’) word”? Yeah, we are. That’s right, Jesus, on the night before his death, prays for us. It actually depicts a very tender moment. Jesus prays for us; he prays that we might be embraced by God’s protective love as we continue life in this world.
The part that strikes me the most are his words: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one”. And so, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world. Most of us who follow Jesus nonetheless feel the tug of the world, calling us to make its values, not God’s, the place on which we stand. But when we work at the spiritual disciplines and invite Christ into the very center of our lives, our predominant experience is that of joy, peace, spiritual power and a sense of sufficiency.
It will be more important to help our neighbors than be successful. Relationships with people will matter more than material things. Our language will be the language of love and unlike the world in which we live we will make sacrifices and align ourselves with the oppressed.
It is a tremendous challenge and few will be able to embrace it. It will be easier to give in to the ways of the world and look, talk, act and feel like everyone else. And yet, Jesus is counting on his followers to “keep the faith,” and be a presence in a world where some remain connected to the kingdom of God.
Jesus gives us a message on how to survive. First he stresses “oneness.” The only way to withstand the fierce elements of the world is to stay together. Disunity is our greatest threat. When we think of threats we usually think of terrorism, disease or lack of employment. But, Jesus says our greatest threat is divisiveness or disunity. Without “oneness” we will perish or become “worldly.” In other words he reminds his followers to maintain a relationship with God, with Christ and with one another. Relationships are the key to survival. Just as those with addictions need a support group, people of faith need to stay connected to the church.
In March, 1984 there was a malfunction at the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Northern California. It triggered a chain reaction of events that darkened the lights for millions of people in six Western states. The blackout occurred at rush hour which caused hundreds of traffic jams in all the major cities. The trouble originated in Round Mountain, California substation, about one hundred miles south of the Oregon border. A circuit breaker tripped and circuits all over the West automatically shut down to protect themselves. One little circuit breaker, tripped in a remote rural area, hundreds of miles away, changed the lives of millions of people. How dramatically that breakdown symbolizes the interdependence of our country’s power, transportation and even food production systems. We are one people in more ways than we think. What affects one, can affect all.
The unity of the church is no different. The good one person does makes the task easier for us all. God’s people, wherever they live on earth, are linked into a grid of community interdependence from which we can never escape. The more we are one, the more we will be an effective church in the world.
And speaking of our interdependence and connectedness as we still have to live in the world – each of our individual skills or gifts can be used to enhance the kingdom. Some are more visible than others. Some are very subtle. For example: Idlers of a seacoast town watched the village smith day after day as he painstakingly wrought every link of a great chain he was forging. Behind his back they scoffed at such care being taken on such an ordinary thing as a chain. But the old craftsman worked on, ignoring them as if he had not heard them at all.
Eventually the chain was attached to a great anchor on the deck of an ocean vessel. For months it was never put to use. But one day the vessel was disabled by a breakdown in its steering apparatus while nearing the coast in a storm. Only a secure anchorage could prevent the vessel from being driven onto the rocky coast. Thus the fate of the ship and hundreds of passengers depended on the strength of that chain. No one knew of the care and skill that had been lavished on each link of that chain by an obscure smith who was only doing his best. The chain held, both the ship and its passengers and crew were saved. A man from a “different world” had saved the day.
When we think of the Lord’s Prayer, we of course think of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and that we say each week. But there’s a way in which this scene gives us another Lord’s prayer, the prayer our Lord prayed — and is still praying — for us: that we might find the strength we need and be one. That, I think, amazing.
So after all this, I am asking all of you what you want Jesus to be praying for you right now. We don’t get any sense that we’ll be taken out of this world, or that all our problems will suddenly vanish, or that being a faithful Christian will be easy. But in light of that, what do we want Jesus to know, what do we need, what do we want Jesus to pray for? Is it patience to be a better parent or friend? Is it encouragement amid a difficult chapter of our lives? Is it courage to stand up to a bully in the classroom or befriend a friendless kid at school? Is it joy in the face of the loss of a parent or the end of a relationship? Is it hope when we feel like we’ve got no options left? Is it companionship at a time of loneliness? Is it healing of body, mind, or spirit? Is it forgiveness…or the ability to forgive another? What? What do you want — what do we want — Jesus to know about and pray for?
Think of one word that captures what you want Jesus to pray for and carry that word with you throughout the week. Pull it out from time to time during the coming week to remind you that Jesus knows your need, that Jesus cares about you, and that Jesus is praying for you just as he did back then. Always, Jesus is with us – to the end of the ages. Amen.
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