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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Overhearing Jesus' Prayer

7th Sunday of Easter 2017
John 17:1-11; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

Sometimes, things we say are meant to be overheard by others. 
I think of the times when my children were small, and I would walk into a room and begin talking not to my child, but with the full expectation and intention that they would overhear me:
·         “Where is Billy? I can’t find him anywhere – he must have left the house! We had better send a search party to find him!” I knew of course that Billy was hiding safely behind the drapes, the toes of his sneakers poking out from beneath the fabric. I meant for him to hear me. Another example from those days:
·         “I think I heard noise coming from upstairs, but I am sure that can’t be any of our children! Because they know what’s good for them, so I know that when I go up there right now, I am going to find everyone sound asleep in their beds!” Again I spoke, intending for them to hear me, and hoping they got the message!
In our gospel lesson today, it is Jesus himself who speaks, intending his followers to overhear what he says and what he prays – to get the message.
As the time grows close for Jesus to be arrested and taken away, Jesus appeals to God on behalf of all those who will follow him, who will carry on in his name after he is gone. And so, on the occasion of Jesus’s last evening with his disciples, Jesus engages in what has been called a “heavenly family conversation” between himself and God.
We only hear one-half of this conversation between the Father and the Son, a conversation in which Jesus repeats what he has already told his disciples – that he will soon be leaving them; that he will be returning to his father in heaven; yet he will continue to love these whom he leaves behind, and he will not leave them either unprepared nor alone.
  His meant-to-be-overheard communication with God is a message full of hope, love, promise and truth for his followers. Jesus reveals those things that are closest to his heart – his care and concern for them, his love for them, and his determination that they continue to be united in belief and purpose. Not only united with one another but most assuredly, united with him.
Despite what they will soon witness and endure, through this prayer, Jesus wants his disciples to believe that God will be with them, working on their behalf.
Jesus repeats what he has already told them, just as a good parent repeats ad nauseum the messages their children need to remember for a good life or for safety: you are loved; you are worthy; work hard; tell the truth; be honest in all your doings; wear your seat

Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, but they will never be left alone, because God has ensured that after Jesus has been “glorified on the cross” and returns to his father in heaven, an advocate, his own Holy Spirit, will continue to protect, teach, guide, strengthen and inspire them.
So on this pivotal night, Jesus, who has so often modeled prayer for his disciples gives them this gift of overheard prayer.
His previous prayers to God have often been for guidance or strength for himself, but here is a wonderful example of intercessory prayer: Jesus prays for them, for us, for all who will follow.  
Despite all the other things that must have been taking up head-space for Jesus that night, his thoughts and concerns were for those he was leaving behind: “I am asking on their behalf,” he says. “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me because they are yours.” What a beautiful gift!
Intercessory prayer is powerful. It is pure gift and blessing for those who pray and for those being prayed for. How often have you heard someone say that knowing someone was praying for them helped them through a difficult situation? It happens all the time. Maybe it’s even been your own experience.
It is not unusual when I visit with someone who has been going through a difficult time of illness or loss, and tell them that the congregation has been praying for them and in fact we had prayed for them together, aloud, during worship, the response I receive is that in some way the person felt the prayer, and that it made all the difference.
So, what does it feel like, today, to know that Jesus is praying for you? What difference does it make in your life that not only are you being prayed for, but that our Lord Jesus is one who is doing the praying, and that the Holy spirit prays for you, in sighs too deep for words? How does it feel to know that no matter what your circumstance, Jesus knows it well and intercedes for you? How does it impact the work that we do in the name of Our Lord, to overhear this prayer and know that Jesus prays for this community?
There are many things for which Jesus prays on our behalf. Jesus prays for peace. On that night, Jesus prayed that people might continue to know God through knowing him, even after he would be gone from their sight.
Jesus prays for the healing of the world. And in today’s gospel text, Jesus prays specifically that these brothers and sisters, who believe in God and have become disciples of Jesus, will continue in relationship with the God and with one another, following the way of Christ.
Finally, Jesus prays for the unity of those who believe in him. He prays for those who will continue in his ministry, the ones who will share his name as he himself shares in the name of God. Jesus prays that we will be one.  
At the beginning of worship this morning, we remembered and gave thanks for Baptism. In a few moments, as we receive new members into our congregation, we once again recall and affirm that we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and that this faith, a gift given to us, binds us together and makes us one.
We will confess how, through water and the Word, through prayer and meal, the Holy Spirit draws us together, the Body of Christ in the Priesthood of all believers, and those for whom Jesus prays this prayer.
As Jesus brings us together he blesses us with different gifts, and joins us as one despite our different backgrounds and varied stories.  At the table, Jesus feeds us as disciples and apostles, joined together through the grace of God, and trusting more in the power of the Holy Spirit than in human willpower. “Protect them,” Jesus prays, so that they may be one as we are one.”
Think of all the significant and silly differences we experience in our life together – debates about war and peace, human sexuality, economic justice, the color of the carpet in the chancel, whether we worship God in one service or two. In every age, people have chosen to remove themselves from community over these and other matters. But Jesus prays for us – “may they be one as we are one.”
Think of all the not-so-silly struggles and challenges that the followers of Jesus face. The letter from 1 Peter is a reminder that there are many struggles that we will encounter. The apostle in fact calls this the fiery ordeal that confronts us coming from the world within and around us.
This week once again in very stark circumstances, Christians in Egypt were targeted for violence and death. We look around and we fear death of another kind may one day face our community as we see shrinking numbers in worship and experience a loss of cultural support and respect for religion.
In the prayer of the day today, we expressed the same kind of yearning reflected in Jesus’ prayer: “Unite us with Christ and each other in suffering and in joy, that all the world may be drawn into your bountiful presence.”
How powerful it is to know that Jesus has prayed to God on our behalf! There is no one for whom Jesus did not pray on that last night. Like the prayer of a parent overheard by the child for whom one intercedes, what this prayer reveals, is Jesus’ deep love for us all.
The great prayer contained in this gospel text today evokes longing in us to be fully “one” with Jesus, in the mystical communion of prayer so that his prayer of love for us becomes not a farewell but rather a homecoming.
Jesus prays that his followers, as diverse as we are will be one, not that they will all be the same. Unity is not the same as uniformity.
Our diversity of background and thought brings beauty to the tapestry of our faith communities. Finally, Jesus demonstrates, through this overheard message, what it means to cast all our concerns on God, because God indeed cares for us.
So here is the thing, and I look to the second reading for this where, the seventh verse reads, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” I think that along with the assurance that he himself cares and is constantly advocating for us, this is part of Jesus’ message to us as well.
When Jesus was troubled, what did you do? Pray. When Jesus was thankful, what did he do? Pray. When Jesus was weary, or frightened, or tired, he prayed. And when Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples to go to the cross, he showed them what it meant to cast all his concerns, all his anxiety, all his desires on God, knowing how much God cares for us all.
It’s a good message for the disciples. It is an essential message to us today. Whatever troubles you, whatever gives you joy, whatever it is that you need to be united as one with God’s purpose and in God’s love, trust the faithfulness of God, who loved us into being, to love you with the power that is God’s alone.

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