Search This Blog

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Unlikely Response to Fear

          I don’t know about you, but the first time I read through these lessons, (Jeremiah 10:7-13; Psalm 67:7-18; Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39) there was one overwhelming reaction that I had to them – despair. These, my friends, are tough readings! In fact, I have to tell you, my first thought was, what a good week this would have been to have brought in a guest preacher. How to address these challenging texts?
But then, I kept coming back to them, and I was reminded how God’s promise and encouragement seep through the words of even the most challenging texts. Isn’t it just like God to challenge and teach us through this living Word of God.
In the gospel text today we read about some of the challenges and threats that may afflict Jesus’ disciples. Following Christ is risky. As Jesus points out, all kinds of distractions and dangers await. Discipleship sometimes, though not always, feels like a one step forward, two steps back kind of proposition. It takes vision, trust and courage to be a disciple of Christ. It takes endurance.
Three times in this short gospel passage, Jesus says, “do not be afraid.” That is the dominant message here. Do not be afraid. No matter what fate awaits those who follow Jesus’ call to follow him, to witness and serve in his name, Jesus’ compassionate, persistent message is, “have no fear.” Jesus knows the power of fear. Jesus knows how squeamish fear can make even the most faithful and devoted of Jesus’ followers.
We, too, are well acquainted with the power of fear, because it affects all of us at various times and in the various spheres of our lives. Let’s face it: Fear drives our economy, fear can and often does impact and influence our political process – just think of the headlines and political claims that dominate every news cycle during election years, for example – so many of them, driven. by. fear.
There are times when we might fear for our loved ones, or for our jobs. We might fear for our health or for changes taking place in our lives; we fear where the future will lead. We might fear the rise of crime in the streets and in our schools. We fear that war will never truly cease.
The problem with fear is that it cripples those caught in its crosshairs. Fear can silence us even when we know we should speak. It causes stress and stress affects us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Fear keeps some of us from sleeping well at night, adversely affects our focus, and can overtake our decision-making and limit our creative processes.
A few years ago, after I had been taking voice lessons for a year or so, I was scheduled to sing a beautiful song from the Messiah called “Come Unto Him” during our church’s annual Advent Lessons and Carols program. I had been singing and preparing this song for months, and I knew it better than I knew about any other song or hymn in my repertoire. It was, however, the first time I had really sung a solo in a program like this, in many, many years.
The afternoon arrived for the service. Rehearsals went smoothly. In fact, in rehearsal, my solo went beautifully - better than it had ever gone before, my voice strong and clear, those high notes perfectly in tune. Following the rehearsal and before the service, we shared a wonderful potluck meal, and then it was time for Lessons and Carols to begin.
As I sat with the choir waiting to sing my solo, though, nerves began to set in. My heart started to race and pound. My breathing changed. I felt all sweaty and overheated. Fear began to overwhelm me. When I finally got up to sing, I took a deep breath, opened my mouth - and barely a sound came forth.
I wish I could say that soon, the prayers I was desperately praying for my voice to immediately come unto me, worked and suddenly my voice was healed and restored, but no. That is not the case. Instead, it felt like a heavy damp cloth had been thrown over my vocal cords. I tried to push, to sing through the restriction, but nothing worked. It’s possible that something I ate or drank during the meal affected my vocal cords, but I doubt that was it. I think it was fear that took my voice away.
That’s how fear works. It might cause our heart to pound and even to beat faster, but it also constricts blood vessels, so the work of our heart becomes less effective. Fear makes us uncomfortable, it makes our breath hitch as classic “fight or flight” physical changes and reactions overtake us. Suddenly our ability to think, to act, to problem solve all vanish. Fear makes our voice change and shake, and sometimes, it mutes them.
Such paralyzing fear can steal our joy and be the death of discipleship.
What is it that drives our fear and keep us from participating fully in the God’s mission? How might fear mute our proclamation of the good news of mercy and grace that we experience at the hand of God; what makes our hearts beat ineffectively? What keeps us from shouting from the rooftops, the wonder of God’s creative and redeeming love? Does fear limit our capacity to embrace, and to fully follow the cross of Christ?
For many of us the fear of conflict or the risk of judgment can stifle our voices. Gone are the days of a Christian society that supports church activity and involvement. Gone is the cultural support for claiming allegiance to church institutions or to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gone is the societal practice of honoring adherence to religious activity or worship.
Instead, external demands on our time – and our many and varied commitments may make it feel risky to place priority in time consuming religious activity, and even riskier to testify to our faith experience and beliefs. Jesus reminds us that adherence to the gospel and following in Christ’s footsteps will not always be easy.
In our gospel text today, Jesus acknowledges the power of fear. He acknowledges that faithful proclamation and practice of the gospel will put the disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. Jesus acknowledges that those fears are not unfounded but are very, very real - And yet, Jesus says, “do not be afraid.”
Seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it?
And yet, my brothers and sisters in Christ: this phrase, “do not fear, do not be afraid”, is a characteristic hallmark of Good News throughout Scripture, in one form or another appearing some 365 times. Anytime a messenger of God begins a message with the words “Do not fear” you can be sure that good news is about to come…but you also know that there’s a reason you’re being told not to fear in the first place: the messenger knows that, all things being equal, fear is warranted here. So, 365 times throughout the scriptures – the equivalent of one time per day each day of the year, God sends this message – do not be afraid. Even though it is more than likely that on any given day, 365 days of the year, somewhere, something is happening that would cause any reasonable person to be afraid; still, Jesus encourages his disciples:  “do not fear”… .Rather, fostered by Jesus’ instruction “do not fear” and equipped with the promise “you are of more value than many sparrows” and “I am with you always, to the end of the age”, we are bold to face these challenges, and so many more, not with fear but with excitement and anticipation for the new God can and will bring.
Jesus invites his disciples instead to have courage, and to know that their courage is rooted in God’s promise. For we worship a God of resurrection and life. And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we—and all creation—will also live with him. Jesus went to the cross so that God’s promise of everlasting life, and of new life through baptism would be secured. God’s love has dictated that the kingdom of heaven was inaugurated with the coming of Christ and sealed through his death and resurrection cannot and will not be threatened by any of the powers of the earth. And so, Jesus encourages us, do not be afraid to speak, to follow, to hope, to live this faith – instead, proclaim the gospel “in the light and from the housetops” because this proclamation is the most powerful tool we possess against fear and the powers of the world.
Jesus promises that nothing can take away God’s promise, no one can drive away God’s continuing presence, and nor dim God’s ultimate protection. God alone has power over our body and our spirit. God is present in the world in mercy and compassion and will never leave our sides.
Friends, Paul reminds us in the epistle reading today, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in newness of life.” Let us boldly remember, therefore, Jesus’ encouragement, “do not fear” and may God strengthen us to not fear the challenges that surround us, but to enter them with confidence and joy, not on our own accord but on account of Christ who lives within us. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Three's Trouble

Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Ps 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
Today we celebrate what is known as Holy Trinity Sunday - a moment in the church year in which we celebrate the gracious gift of God’s three-fold presence in human life; we rejoice over God’s benevolent existence and creative activity throughout the entire cosmos. Today we take time to acknowledge and praise God for God’s presence in trinity from time immemorial. And because we are human, we are often compelled to try – and we inevitably fail – to come up with the best way to precisely describe and explain who the trinity is and how the trinity works.
As Lutherans, we claim a Trinitarian identity. We gather together each time we worship in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. After the gathering hymn the worship leader greets everyone gathered together with what is known as the apostolic greeting - “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” - those same words we just heard coming from the second reading today. And you return the greeting. We make the sign of the cross upon ourselves or acknowledge the signing, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Together with most other Christians, we confess God in three persons - trinity. There is a “Trinitarian shape” to our faith. Yet, if someone came up to you and asked you what God – as - trinity means and how God in trinity works, what would you say? How would you explain this one-God-in-three-persons reality without committing heresy? Let me warn you that many theologians and scholars throughout the ages have tried – and most have failed to do so.
Here are some common analogies that most of us have heard or even used ourselves to try to explain the Trinity – and here are the problems with them:
Who here hasn’t witnessed the water as being like Trinity explanation – you start with a piece of ice, right? Then you heat it until it melts forming liquid, and continue heating it until it makes steam. One substance, three forms – solid, liquid, vapor - just like the trinity – right? Bzzzzzz! Wrong. That explanation is too much like the heresy called Modalism, which the early church condemned. It says God isn’t really one God in three distinct persons but merely reveals himself in three different forms. Not good.
Or, take the example of the sun –star, light, and heat – The trinity is like the sun, right? Bzzzzz! That explanation falls into another heresy which states that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are simply creations of the Father, and not one in nature with God; rejected centuries ago as a heresy called Arianism. Also, not good.
Finally, we have the perfect solution - trinity is like a three-leaf clover. And the buzzer sounds so loudly it breaks. The problem with the beloved clover analogy is that it would seem to indicate that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each simply one-third of the godhead, and each not, as we confess is true, fully God.
Perplexing, isn’t it? As humans we analyze, seek to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, invent logical, demonstrable explanations and definitions for everything. And faith challenges those impulses. Faith isn’t logical, it isn’t explainable, and it isn’t quantifiable. In an attempt to fully explain the trinity, somewhere around the sixth century, the Athanasian Creed was developed. Perhaps you remember seeing it when we used the green hymnal. It was in there, and you may have even (rarely) recited it – most likely on Holy Trinity Sunday. Here is how this creed describes the Trinity:
          “…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity…For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one… The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated… The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite…Clear as mud, right?  
        Simply stated: There is only one God, made up of three distinct persons, who exist in co-equal, co-eternal communion as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
          Martin Luther claimed that while the name “Trinity” is not found in the Holy Scriptures, rather, is a term invented by man, the scriptures do in fact testify to the existence of the trinity. From our reading of Genesis this morning, to the Gospel text from Matthew where Jesus commissions his disciples to go to the ends of the earth baptizing people from all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; from the psalms to the writings of the prophets to the Gospels and Epistles, Luther finds evidence for the scriptural witness to this Trinitarian God.
          The problem is, that even in our most expansive ideology or language, even with our most progressive thinking, we are limited by our humanity to come to terms with, or fully understand the nature of God, or the very being of God. So, how can we unravel the tangled language and explanations of this Trinitarian supreme being? And what does God in trinity mean for us in our lives today?
          Theologian Miroslav Volf noted that “Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God.”
“Communion” is key to understanding and grasping at the centrality of the Trinity of our lives. God loves us so much, and is so desiring of relationship with us, that God reveals Godself in various ways, as creating and omnipotent Father, as the incarnated Son and as the sanctifying, empowering Holy Spirit, constantly working together to bless and redeem us through God’s mercy.
God manifests Godself daily in ways that speak of God’s continual, tirelessly creative activity in our lives and in our world. God simultaneously joins us in our pilgrimage on earth, joins us in our living. God is so intimately connected to us that God knows and feels our joys, our pains, our struggles and our victories. God works tirelessly to empower, console, to give and grow faith within us, and to bless us in our work. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are constantly building relationship with us and within us.
          Friends, the good news of this gospel is that there is more to God than we could ever understand. That is what divine mystery is all about. God cannot and will not be confined to our narrow understandings or words or ideas. Rather, God is constantly revealing Godself to us and relating to us in new and exciting ways, always engaging in the world around us. The good news of this gospel is that God cares about us so much that God is compelled to meet us where we are, and to fill our every need.
          The good news of this gospel is what it says about this loving God who is so relational that God provides for communion, assures that we will never be alone, places us in relationship with every living creature, and provides the blueprint for balance in creation. God creates not only dry land but also water; not only beasts of the field and cattle but also birds of the air and creatures of the sea. God creates not only light but dark, not only day, but night, not only the chosen few, but all nations. And when these things exist in balanced relationship to one another and to God, God declares, that it is good.  
It is in the sharing of community, that God is best blessed and glorified. In this place and around this table of grace, God sanctifies faith as a holy offering to God. God wills us to be fully in communion, with the Trinity and with all that God has created, including and especially one another. God fills us when we reside in relationship. It’s all about relationship.
 God made us to live in community. In the image of God we are created; male and female God created us to be with God and for God, with each other and for each other. God created us to be in diverse, inclusive, loving, abiding relationship. A community that walks together, supports one another, prays for one another; a community that says, “When you can’t walk, sing, pray, or even believe, we will do it for you, until you can stand on our own.” That’s what community is. That’s what community does. And God in Trinity strengthens, and inspires us to these works and others that are greater than any we can imagine.
And so, we take our analogies, however flawed they may be. We take our limited understandings and confess that while we may not fully comprehend, we believe.
We ask this God in trinity to bless us when we welcome others in and when we open the doors of the church; when we remove the borders around “our” community by taking God’s Word, love, and compassion outside the assembly of people gathered here, and into the world, thus widening God’s community. We ask this Trinitarian God to bless our proclamation that it may be a true witness to the power of the triune God to many and diverse people and we pray God’s blessing on the mission of God in this place, that we may be equipped to serve as disciples and witnesses of God in all of the ways that God reveals Godself to us. In, through, and around all of this activity, we pray:
May the communion of the Holy Trinity inspire us and abide in us forever. Amen.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Dive-bombing Pigeons and loads of Hot Air

There is an indelible image that I carry with me. It comes from a description of the Holy Spirit which one of my seminary professors shared with my class early in my seminary career that has forever changed the way I think of the Holy Spirit. It is inspired by Greek vocabulary, the biblical witness, and our understanding of the character and nature of the Spirit of God. And here it is:
While we often think of the Holy Spirit in images of a soft white dove, lightly descending onto a scene, blessing its inhabitants with grace and peace as when the dove descended on Jesus at his baptism, and while we visualize the Holy Spirit as many artists have imagined and portrayed her in countless works of art, again as a rather sweet, radiant white, harmless-looking dove, there is another image that is likely far more likely in tune with the nature of the Holy Spirit.
So, when I read this account of Pentecost Day and what it was like in that upper room where the disciples were all gathered, what comes to my mind is the voice of Dr. Carlson, in Intro to New Testament Greek, translating this text and rendering this image of the Holy Spirit, now imprinted forever in my mind. Rather than a white dove sweetly descending on the disciples that day, the Holy Spirit enters that room as a dive-bombing pigeon, swooping into the room with force, accompanied by deafening sound and a powerful, hot wind, blowing new energy and vitality into these followers of Christ. This Holy Spirit with its power and force is able to do what disciples of Christ cannot do on their own – equip them for mission they can’t even imagine they are destined for.
While he was still with them, Jesus promised his disciples that he would send an advocate. He promised that he would NOT leave them alone. He promised that he will, through his spirit, equip, accompany and empower them for mission in the world. Those are promises that can only be kept through the powerful intervention and presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
When you come to think about it the dive-bombing pigeon may truly be the best way to come to full realization of how the Holy Spirit can inspire, empower and thrust us into the world and into the true mission of God as God intends it.
Debbie Blue, in her book, Consider the Birds, A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, makes this distinction: “The dove has come to seem banal and bland and cutesy as far as Christian symbols go. It has come to represent something polite and petite and pure. Maybe this has worked to deprive us of a more robust view of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it sort of limiting to imagine the spirit of God as something dainty and white?” Blue continues, “We are made of dirt, according to the creation account in Genesis. We are full of bacteria. We each carry two to five pounds of bacteria in our bodies – two to five POUNDS. We could kill a dove with one or two blows from the back of our hand. We need a spirit that can handle us.”[i]
We read Luke’s account from in the Book of Acts: Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability.” And the people who witnessed this, people of many tongues, who could suddenly each understand the disciples’ speech? What was their reaction? They were amazed and perplexed – everyone was. And why shouldn’t they be?
The dive-bombing pigeon image appeals to me because it truly is how the Holy Spirit has worked throughout the history of the church and especially on that day – amazing individuals with abilities they never thought they could possess, surprising the world with unexpected gifts, disturbing structures of complacency and division, and always, disrupting the status quo, serving as God’s presence breaking into the here and now in and through the Spirit’s impassioned work, through inspired acts of love, dramatic acts of faithfulness and devotion, and encounters of grace and mercy with unparalleled promise. Jesus spoke at the beginning of his ministry, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” the dive-bombing pigeon demonstrates to us that what God promises, God, in God’s abundance pours out, for the sake of the world.
Jesus came and stirred the fear and wrath and even hatred of those who were absorbed within the structures of human power and sin. But Jesus also showed us a new way to live – a new vision of the kingdom of heaven to focus our dreams upon – and a new covenant that included all people everywhere, a new commandment, to love as Christ loves, and a call to feed, clothe, shelter, forgive, pray for, accompany, and protect those who are placed along our path.
In his homily for Pentecost last year, Pope Francis, stated, “Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church….. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants that gift to reach everyone.” 
Today we celebrate Pentecost, and the reality that through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, unity is not the same as uniformity, and diversity does not need to bring division. The spirit that was poured out on the day of Pentecost as the disciples huddled in the upper room, came swooping in, burst through the walls of fear and limitation to be seen, felt and heard beyond those walls. That same spirit is still at work in the church today, is still meant to be seen, and felt and heard well beyond our walls and beyond those of us sitting here today. God’s presence is breaking into the now through the Holy Spirit, and the ongoing work of the spirit takes place through us.
And yet we acknowledge that the work is long and hard and it is far from easy. We look at the state of the church today, and we wonder, how can this little church, how can I make a difference? How can my voice be heard? We look around and we see a pretty homogeneous gathering in this room. How do we welcome and embrace the kind of diversity that the spirit calls us to?
So, I invite you today to read the faith papers of our confirmands, printed in the back of your worship bulletin and you will see the spirit at work. More than one of them state that they certainly feel the tension created by an increasingly unchurched society and pool of peers. They feel it, perhaps more than many of us who grew up in what we now affectionately call the “glory years” of the church – when religious activities and commitment were held in esteem by our society rather than being judged by it.
These young adults feel that tension yet are committed to claiming for themselves the gifts of the Holy Spirit of God in order to live lives of faithfulness and to work for the good of God’s holy church in the world.  In a short while they will stand up and affirm their baptisms and claim for themselves the faith of this church that is calling them - and each of us - to mission and ministry. They will stand here and lead us all in reciting the creed that confesses faith in the God who works through adversity, in unexpected ways, redeeming us fr
om our sin, and granting us new life. They will lead us as we profess our confidence in the Holy Spirit who grants us identity, who accompanies, empowers and unites us in our work and makes it a holy offering to God.
This Holy Spirit of God blurs the walls of difference we create for ourselves. Then she opens the door and lets in the unfit, the sinner, the blind, the lame, the poor, the sick, the weak and the meek. Rather than pure white innocence and gentleness, this dive-bombing spirit of God in fact makes of us a fuller, richer, more varied and blessed body of Christ, equipped for sharing our individual gifts, working together for the benefit of the church and the good of the kingdom of God, for God’s sake.

[i] (Debbie Blue, p. 6)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Quilts and Knitting Needles

John 17:1-11
A few years ago, when a friend of mine heard about some struggles I was having, she gifted me with this shawl. This isn’t just any shawl. It may look in construction like certain other knitted creations. I’m sure there may even be other shawls out there that look similar to this one. Perhaps there are scarves or small blankets knitted with the same kind of yarn from the same dye lot, with the same colors and patterns and texture. What sets this shawl apart is that it is a prayer shawl. With each stitch that went into the making of this shawl, came a prayer. The friend who made it knitted it in love, with thoughts and prayers constantly ascending, constantly floating heavenward, constantly encircling me as the yarn encircled the knitting needles. Those prayers connected us even as the yarn was knitted and purled in patterns of three, reflective of the Holy Trinity, row after row across the length of this shawl.
Many churches have prayer shawl ministries in which women and men lovingly and prayerfully knit together tangles of threads to form beautiful shawls or lap robes that are dedicated and blessed for the recipients. What I love about these ministries and about my shawl, is that long after the knitting needles have fallen silent, long after the last knot is tightened and the trailing yarns are woven into the finished shawl, the prayers and the thoughts that took place during their making continue to bless the recipient – in this case me – serving as a concrete, tangible manifestation of God’s care and the love of an individual or community who embody God’s healing grace for one in need. In the case of prayer shawl ministries, prayer shawls may be knitted, stitch after prayerful stitch, with the knitter never knowing who will receive the finished product or what that person’s particular need is. It doesn’t matter. God knows.
The gift of love contained in this shawl is reinforced visually. It is also tactile. It offers warmth. I feel wrapped in love when I drape the shawl across my shoulders. It serves as a reminder that I am not alone, that God cares for and accompanies me through each and every good day and bad day. It reassures me that healing comes in many forms, not the least of which, is compassionate prayer from another person for me – or from me for another person – or, as we see in today’s gospel, from Jesus – for all of us.
This is what we call intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer reminds us that healing also comes through accompaniment – when we walk with another in and through prayer. Because prayer was at the core of all that is incorporated into the design and creation of this shawl, I know that faith in Jesus and trust in his care and healing were knit into it as well.
I have since moved a distance from my friend. Yet even though I don’t get to see her anymore, her love and care stay with me through this gift. Her heart and her prayers continue to warm me. Her faith in Jesus continues to give me strength whenever I see the tangled loops and threads of this shawl.
You are sitting in pews surrounded by quilts this morning, and in just a few moments we will bless and dedicate the quilts you see scattered throughout the nave. These quilts, like the shawl I have here, are created works of love. The fabric has been measured and cut, and sewn and assembled to make these beautiful quilts through the quilting ministry here at Grace. Distributed by Lutheran World Relief, these quilts will warm not only the bodies but also the hearts of those who receive them wherever in the world they go. They will remain tangible signs of God’s love and compassion for those who receive them. They will go with our prayers, held together by stitches of unifying grace. Through them, God’s comfort and protection will reach out and touch hearts.
Those who have contributed materials, those who have given of their resources, and the hands that made these quilts have worked together in a ministry of love and care, embodying God’s mercy and love and grace. They didn’t know who would receive these quilts. We don’t know the recipients’ stories. That’s okay. It doesn’t’ matter. God knows.
Prayer is powerful. As we enter into conversation with our Lord, we enter into the very presence of the divine. As we pray over these quilts and dedicate them to the use of God’s children, we remember that through this gift people see and experience Jesus. They may not even know Jesus. Yet they will experience him just the same.
In our text today, we read some of the last words Jesus spoke in the presence of his disciples. They are not spoken to his disciples. Rather, they are words that Jesus delivers as he is preparing to leave his disciples, words directed to God, perhaps with the intention of the disciples hearing them as well.  Jesus speaks these words, words of intercessory prayer, on behalf of his own beloved disciples – and us. They are words knit together as Jesus’ compassion wraps the disciples in the tender embrace of Jesus’ love.
Jesus often turns to prayer in the gospels. As in the scriptures of old, as with the fathers and mothers of our faith, as with the prophets and evangelists, as with the psalmists, as with kings and princes, blind men and sinners, prayer is the primary way to communicate with God. In our gospel text today, Jesus models once again what it means to be in constant conversation with God. Jesus shows us what it is to take to God with all his thoughts, concerns, joys, sorrows, needs, fears, and desires.
And you know, I think Jesus must have been Lutheran. Because as Martin Luther once said we should “sin boldly” always, Jesus prays boldly – and invites us to do the same. In this text Jesus boldly begins by first declaring and establishing for those within hearing, his unity with the father. Then he prays on behalf of his disciples. Jesus prays fervently on behalf of those he leaves behind for now. He prays for those who remain in the world.
We hear Jesus ask for protection on behalf “of the ones God gave him” and, in verse 20, on behalf of the ones who believe on their account—Jesus is praying and asking for us, on our behalf. Jesus is also praying and asking with us. Know always and forever, when we pray, we do not pray alone.  Even when we don’t pray, don’t know how to pray, to put into words what it is we need to pray for, Jesus is praying for us. Because, Jesus knows. Jesus always knows, even better than we, what to pray for on our behalf. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a fairly powerful truth. To know that wherever we are, whatever we’re doing…whatever we are experiencing Jesus is there praying “Holy Father, protect them in your name”.
Each week in our announcements, we list the names of those we know to be in need of prayer, and we lift up many of those names in our worship. I know that many of you pray for one another regularly. Our intercessory prayers, the ones prayed for each other, for our country, and even for people you may not personally be acquainted with, unite us one with the other. United in this way, we are covered with God’s grace and care, to the glory of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is glorified when we come together in community to pray. Jesus is glorified when we turn to him in the dark of the night and pray. Jesus is glorified when we sit and silence and let the Holy Spirit wash over us in prayer. Jesus is glorified when we pray over yarns and threads and fabric, when those things are put together to make beautiful and warm and then serve to convey Jesus’ love and care for years to come. And just as the prayer shawl and these quilts are tangible witness to the love and prayers that went into their making long after the makers themselves have let them go, Jesus’ prayer in this text, stays with us.
May the Holy Spirit guide us as a community and as individuals, steeped in prayer through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we be strengthened through this ministry of love, and in daily devotion to the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.