7th Sunday of Easter
May 13, 2018
John 17: 6-21
Feeling a little dizzy? This passage is a hard read, as it circles around the same themes and repeats them, seemingly endlessly. Reading John’s Gospel is not an easy task, so at the very beginning this morning, I want to give you a little context.
First of all, you already know that this Gospel was written very late. Some of the issues that had prompted the writing of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke, don’t seem to be the same as we find here. Jesus strides through John’s Gospel with confidence that he is on a mission from God, and he is clear from the very beginning about what that mission entails. In the first part of the Fourth Gospel, called the Book of Signs, Jesus performs amazing actions, miracles, really. He sees them as signs of the power of God embodied in himself, and expects that they will open the eyes of those who witness them, so that they can believe that God is present and that God cares about what happens here on earth.
In the second part of the Gospel, called the Book of Glory, Jesus heads toward the cross. He calls the work he is about to do ‘being glorified,’ and being ‘lifted up.’ It will be the final victory of love over all the powers that cause the failure of humans to thrive. Jesus seems so majestic in John, so sure of God’s power to heal the world. It is in John’s Gospel that Jesus states, “It is finished,” and dies.
There is no Last Supper in John. Rather, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, teaching them that serving is the ultimate expression of God’s care. There is no Gethsemane in John. Rather, Jesus prays for his disciples and all the people who will hear of God’s overwhelming love for them through the message that they bear. Chapter 13 begins this section of Jesus’ farewell in the story of washing their feet, and in Chapter 14, he promises them that he will send his Spirit to them when he is gone. In Chapter 15, the vine and branches metaphor reassures them that the power to do all that is required of them comes through the connection they will continue to have to God’s love through him. And now in Chapter 17, he prays for them. The Lord’s Prayer is also missing from John’s Gospel. Instead we have this, Jesus prayer for his disciples and for us. In Chapter 18, the story of his arrest and trial and crucifixion begins.
So let’s take another minute to look at what he prays:
- He recognizes that they are God’s, given to him for the time being
- He recognizes that they have believed everything he has taught them
- He thanks God for them, and how their faith has been his glory
- He prays that they will continue to be protected as they go forward in their mission
- He prays that they and their work will be blessed
- He prays for all who will hear the witness of believers down through the ages
- He prays that all believers will know that first and foremost they belong to God
- He prays that the disciples and all believers who follow will be one with each other, with him and with his Father
Did you know that Jesus prays for you? When you are scared, Jesus is praying for you. When you don’t know what to believe, Jesus is praying for you. When you hurt, when your spirit is crushed, when you feel worthless and frustrated, Jesus prays for you. When you can’t believe that God really loves you, or that your life matters at all, Jesus prays for you, wanting you to trust that you are exactly who you are meant to be as Jesus’ own child. What is your experience of someone praying for you? Has there been a time in your life when someone prayed for you? Stop for a minute and think back to a time when you know that you were prayed for. You can just think of it, or write down on your bulletin who it was who prayed for you. We’ll wait for a few minutes so that you can remember, and feel again what that was like. (90 seconds pause).
When my mother was hospitalized with a spinal cord accident, she asked us to e-mail everyone in her address book to let them know what had happened to her and to ask for their prayers. The response was immediate. Through all the fear and uncertainty and rapidly changing decisions that needed to be made, we had daily reminders of all the people who held her and us in prayer. I have never experienced anything like it. It felt like a life-jacket, holding us up and together as we floated in a raging storm. I hope you also have had the experience of knowing that you are held tightly in the prayers of someone who pours out their love for you in their prayers for you. You are reminded that you matter. You are reminded that you are not alone. You are held tightly in the center of people’s hearts when you most need to know who you are and where you fit in the world.
So when you turn desperately to God in prayer, remember that Jesus prays with you. When you need to know who loves you, remember that Jesus prays for you. When you need to know who you are and whose you are, remember that Jesus prays for you. And all the prayers that are lifted from your friends and loved ones join with the prayers of Jesus, to keep you safe in God’s arms and rooted in God’s love. Amen.