Welcome to worship for the Seventh Sunday in Easter with Pastor Erin Evans and Lennie Jansen presiding. Beautiful music is provided by Ed Kapsha and the CLC Choir.
Gospel: John 17:6-19
[Jesus prayed:] 6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
This is the OTHER Lord’s Prayer. The rambling and repetitive one. The one with emotional pleading and sighing and urgency and passion. You get the sense the Jesus disciples are meant to overhear him, but the tone sounds private and a bit like Jesus is pouring his heart out. The Lord’s prayer that we learn as children and recite each week during worship is balanced and coherent. This prayer of Jesus is a plea for help.
Two things always strike me when we get this prayer each year on the seventh sunday of easter. The first is the important idea that Jesus prays for us. Not just that Jesus Prays, that Jesus has a conversation on a regular basis with the Father, expressing his connection to his Father and the relationship that they have. But that Jesus Prays for us – that right – not just his disciples gathered around him. Because 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). That’s right, Jesus, on the night before his death, prays for us.
And what does he pray for? The same things — that we may find God’s support and encouragement and that we may be one in fellowship with each other and God. And, of course, these two things go together — as we gather together to hear God’s Word and to remind each other of God’s promises, we are not only drawn together in deeper fellowship but also find the strength and courage to face the challenges that come from living in the world and bearing witness to a life of grace, abundance, courage, and love that is ours in and through Jesus.
When we think of the Lord’s Prayer, we of course think of the prayer he 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, is unbelievably cool.
Being one, unified body, is a tall order, and one the church still hasn’t gotten right since the day Jesus started praying for it. What might it mean for us if we took Jesus seriously? – if we really took Jesus’ prayer in, really believed that God’s children are one because God is one, that the unity of Christ’s Body is a consequence of Christ, rather than the end goal toward which we strive, but most often fail?
We talk about unity as if its something that we can achieve, as if we can pretend to like each other and tolerate each other so that we can look like we’re unified. But Christ’s prayer points us towards something different. Jesus has made us one – as he is one with the father, so we are one, through the body and the blood of Christ we are one, through our baptism into Christ’s death, we are one. What if our starting point was not brokenness and divided-ness, but wholeness and oneness – how might we live our lives differently? How might we treat others differently?
“What if we took as our starting point that we are members of the Body of Christ, not because we achieved a goal but because of who Christ is and what Christ has done? It just might give us courage to be honest about our differences, since our connectedness with others is based not on what we think or what we do, but on who and whose we are.” (Sarah Dylan Breuer)
The other things that always strikes me about this reading from John’s Gospel, is that all these things that Jesus Prays for, all that he begs God for, all those dreams he haas for his disciples and all who believe because of them – well, did it all come true? Did God protect all of them? Did God keep them from the evil one? Was only one lost? The one who was destined to be lost?
Depending on my level of jaded bitterness, I can firmly answer those three questions with a resounding NO! There are a lot of God’s children that I think could have used a bit more protecting. From abuse, from violence and war and persecution. The evil one is always at work, especially among christians, telling us that we’re not safe and protected and we need to circle the wagons to protect ourselves from the one we should fear. And was only one lost?? The church has lost many, after years of irrelevance, or looking the other way when abuse occurs, we have lost many when we give pat answers to the real struggles people have experienced, or made rulings to determine who is in and who is out, and who is worthy of god’s love and blessing.
Does that mean that Jesus prayer didn’t work? Ugh. The million dollar question. Which leads us to ask, ok, then HOW does prayer WORK.
I knew a pastor when I was growing up who had a lot of the little gifted plaques in her office. Well meaning gifts from parishioners or other folks to share a grateful response to her ministry. At some point, someone had gifted her a small plaque that had the words “Prayer changes things” painted on it. And at some point in her ministry, she had scratched out the word “things” and wrote in “us” with a sharpie. Prayer changes us. That’s how prayer works. Because if prayer is like Jesus models for us, a continuous deepening relationship with the father in which we can express our heartfelt pleas and deepest fears and worries – then that relationship is built into trust, and trust becomes faith, and faith leads us to live differently and changes us.
It has been a season of worry and fear in our country, and rightly so. There has been much to fear, and many things to worry about and that has resulted in us taking drastic action to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Our prayers did not take away the corona virus, but our faith and our love of our neighbor changed us, so that we could respond with what science and statistics could give us to keep the most vulnerable in our communities safe.
And as we return to some semblance of normality, we are changed. Maybe in some ways for the better, but in other ways we have been separated for so long our community needs time to heal from the trauma we have experienced.
The pandemic affected each of our families differently. An analogy I spoke about at length this past year with my former congregation was born out of one of our bible studies when a guy mentioned, well, as far as this pandemic is concerned, we’re all in the same boat. And another women spoke up quickly, to say oh, no we’re all in this storm, but everyones boat is very different in how they ride this storm out. Many families have lost income and employment, others remained in the work forces with added concerns and stress. Some families lost loved ones, and had members sick with the virus, while others were untouched or even insisting that it “wasnt that bad”. Families with young children were stuck at home together, yearning for just a little alone time, while single people and especially elderly adults were isolated and lonely.
May we lean into our oneness in Christ, while listening to our different stories and perspectives. May we keep the lines of communication open and honest with God our Father and with one another, and may we be changed and transformed by that communication. Amen.