5/28/2017 Seventh Sunday of Easter The text is John 17:1-11.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our gospel for today is the first part of what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. So, it’s no surprise that today, I’m focusing a little attention on prayer in general. With that being the case, I just have to share with you a precious story about the subject I read years ago in the St. Mark’s version of the Emanuel News. No, it wasn’t a discourse on prayer, on how to pray or why bother praying. It appeared under the caption, “church joke.”
It was a story about a church in the Midwest on a Sunday in which one of the young children was “acting up” during the morning worship hour. The parents of the child did their best to maintain some sense of order in the pew but were losing the battle. Finally, the father picked up the little fellow and walked sternly up the aisle on his way out. Just before reaching the safety of the narthex, the little one called loudly to the congregation, “Pray for me! Pray for me!”
We all know that asking for prayers is no joking matter. When people ask for prayers it’s because something is happening in their lives or the lives of those they love. That’s why my cousin called me last me night and asked us to pray for her friend Debbie whose husband died unexpectedly yesterday. Her request came out of her love and concern for her friend.
Prayers come out of a genuine concern about personal health and welfare, or the health and welfare of loved ones, or the needs of people whom we may only know through newspaper headlines and TV news. Yes, most of our prayers are private, spoken in quiet places of the heart. But some prayers are meant to be more public, like the Lord’s Prayer, which is not only a request for God’s care, but also a profession of faith. And then there are the intercessory prayers, those that are the known as “the prayers of the church,” in which specific needs, like the one Shirley brought to me, are addressed.
In today’s gospel we have a portion of a public prayer. It is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, and it is his prayer for this little guy in the opening story, the one being dragged out of church for misbehavior. It’s Jesus prayer of all of us and for all who will follow him in years to come. It is Jesus’ last public prayer before his crucifixion.
The Harper Collins Study Bible makes the case that this prayer summarizes the entire mission of Jesus Christ. While I don’t know if I agree or not with the author’s conclusion, I do know that in this prayer, Jesus makes clear what he hopes for us and what he wants to have when it comes to an intimate relationship with God. Jesus wants us to have as close a relationship with God as he has with his Father, a relationship that is so close that the Father actually lives in the Son and the Son in the Father. Now, you can’t get any closer than that…than to become the dwelling place for God!
Obviously, this type of relationship is something that Jesus believes would do us good. He feels that we need it in order to reach our full potential as children of God and to live in unity and harmony with each other. What he’s asking for is a relationship that cannot be shed like winter clothing when things get hot. It’s not one that can be sold at a yard sale or given away, nor is it something that can be left behind when you move. This relationship is as informative as the past, as intimate as the present, as hopeful as the future. And in this relationship, we find the very definition of eternal life. For eternal life is not just some futuristic promise of an afterlife, something withheld from us until death. Eternal life is here…in the present, as God lives in us.
“This is eternal life,” Jesus says, “that they may know you and the one you have sent.” Knowing God is not just knowing about God, not just knowing church doctrine and belonging to the right denomination, and neither is it just knowing the Bible or Christians. Knowing God is having an intimate daily relationship with him. It is giving all that we have and all that we are over to God’s care and wisdom. It is a matter of trusting God more than you trust yourself or your dearest friends.
When we know God that well that we trust him above all things, AND we let God know us so well that we stand naked before him, no longer trying to hide from him our sin and need, it is then that we begin to know ourselves, not as others see us, but as God sees us and accepts us and redeems us. This, my friends, is where true life begins…it begins with God as the center of our being. And this, my friends, is where life eternal reigns. It reigns in the relationship that Jesus wants for us and came to give us, the type of relationship that Jesus has with his Father.
Jesus wants us to be empowered for living. He wants us to be free to take risks for the sake of the Gospel, knowing that God is with us and in us to support us in our efforts. He wants us to find joy in ourselves and others and to be in life-giving relations that build up and do not tear down. Jesus wants the very best for us and that very best begins and ends with a close, personal, intimate relationship with God, a relationship which mirrors the one he has with his Father.
We know that whatever Jesus asks, the Father will grant him. So this request for us will not be denied. The only barrier to it comes from us, not God. So, Jesus prays. Jesus prays…not just for the Father to grant us an intimate relationship with him, but for us, so that we might open our hearts to receive it and live in unity with God and each other.
This is no small prayer for a people who are stubbornly individualistic, who measure self-worth by comparing achievements and attributes over and against others. This is no small prayer for a people who are afraid to ruffle feathers, who are full of fear. This is no small prayer for a people who know about God and church, but who do not seek out the indwelling God for strength to endure crises in life and faith.
We know that God will grant Jesus whatever he asks. The question is – will we? Will we trust God more than anything and everyone else? Will we allow God to be the center of our life? Will we take the risk of seeing ourselves as we are, not through human eyes, but through the eyes of a God who unmasks our hidden fears and faults, and then clothes us with his grace? The Father will grant to the Son whatever he asks. And what he seeks is that you might be in unity with him and the Father and with each other, so that you might have eternal life and reach your full potential as God’s caring child in a fallen world.
May you be as receptive to Jesus’ prayer as this Father is in heaven so that God can give you the joy of knowing him as the source and strength of your life. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.