Sunday ~ May 13, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
“I’m Praying for You”
Just a little bit of trivia before we begin: The historic motto of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, comes out of this chapter, verses 11 and 21 “that they may be one.” It reflects our denomination’s striving to be a united and uniting church. And as from the beginning when the four denominations came together united does not mean uniformity. That is we are not striving for all our churches to be and look the same. We are united in our belief in Jesus as the head of the church. As one UCC pastor summed it up accurately:
What if we all were the same? No variety, no diversity – we would be stuck with what someone else said is the right way and the only way to understand and worship God.
Actually, that will always be true to some extent – even with the UCC, except as we convince one another that it’s OK to get out of the boat and dance around with Jesus on the water, every now and then.
“that they may be one.”
The seventeenth chapter of John is actually a prayer and has been called the “high-priestly prayer” of Jesus. It has been suggested by many biblical commentators that this prayer, in the same manner as the “Lord’s Prayer,” is a model of prayer Jesus is teaching his disciples in this transitional period of leading from the culmination of his earthly teaching/healing ministry to the cross and resurrection. As with what we call the “Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus is being intentional is setting before them an example of how to pray to God and make intercession relevant.
But this prayer in John 17 is more. It is also a “farewell prayer.” It conveys Jesus’ concern for his disciples and their mission in the world, a mission that is to be modeled after Jesus’ relationship with God and the world.
Jesus prays for many things for his disciples. In the section preceding our reading for today Jesus prays for his disciples to know abundant (eternal) life which seems to have more to do with a full knowledge of the one true God than it does some place called we call “heaven.” “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (v. 3) (The third person voice here is interesting!)
He prays that God protect them and provide for their needs and that they have a oneness with God. “Holy Father,” he prays in v. 11b “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Jesus also asks that they be “sanctified in truth”, an interesting phrase. This could be understood as to be made holy but this would be an incomplete understanding and one that could lead certain believers to adapt a “holier than thou” attitude! The primary idea here of sanctified or made holy is one of being “set apart.” So what Jesus seems to be praying is that while the world may not accept his message through them, they are not to be “of the world,” that is caught up in the world, but to be “set apart” so that they may bring the good news to the world.
In the same way the mystery and power of Scripture is that it can speak a new word to us in our day as well as those first hearers it can be said that this prayer was not just for those of Jesus’ time but for his followers of every age. Indeed Jesus says in the verse after our reading for today: “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.”
Imagine Jesus is praying this prayer for you, for me, for us as a congregation!
And of course, it is Jesus, so he means it!
And this is where I make it personal!
In light of the far too many mass shootings lately a movement began that employed the phrase “When thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.”
A song that we sang for a couple of weeks spoke of this:
If We Just Talk of Thoughts and Prayers O WALY WALY LM (“Though I May Speak”)
If we just talk of thoughts and prayers
And don’t live out a faith that dares,
And don’t take on the ways of death,
Our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.
I understand and sympathize with this reaction. It is too easy to say the words “I’m praying for you” “I’m thinking of you.” and continue on with our lives with no real or lasting change.
I know, I’m caught myself in this before.
How many times have I been in a conversation with someone and they sort of add at the end of their conversation, “Please say a prayer for me”?
Have you ever been in such a conversation? A friend shares with you how things are in her life and then just before you part, she says, “Say a prayer for me.”
And did you?
Have you ever asked for prayer? Do you think that person really did pray for you? I hope so and I hope they did!
I am ashamed to say there have been far too many times in my past when I’ve had someone asked me to “to pray for them” and then proceed on with my day.
I know I’ve told you about the time many years ago when I met a woman in the hallway of the church Donna and I grew up in. Maxine, was a quiet woman, actually rather shy and a bit backwards socially, life was not easy for her. I was on my way somewhere, nowhere particularly important. As I passed Maxine in the hall I rather nonchalantly as a polite greeting said “How are you Maxine?” And she did what I was not expecting. . . she actually told me how she was doing and it wasn’t very well!
My point is that as with Jesus if I’m going to model his way of prayer for others, if I say “I will pray for you” then I better mean it and more, I better do it! And then in that prayer listen for God’s response and let this guide me, us, to more than words, more than nice thoughts, but into actions.
I can’t recall if Maxine asked me to pray for her that morning or if I said I would. I hope I at least thought of her after our conversation in the hallway. I must have, I still remember the life lesson God taught me through this simple humble woman’s honest response to my mostly offhand greeting that day.
So that today ,if you ask me and I say,”I am praying for you.” I am and I will be!
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