Texts: Psalm 68:1-10; Hebrews 4:14-16; John 17:1-21
I learned important lessons about prayer during my time as a chaplain in a VA hospital. I found that if prayer took you down to the floor to pray with someone who had fallen, that was just what you did. It was a good place to pray. I learned that prayer makes tears flow -- tears of remorse and tears of joy. And I learned that even when someone says to you, "I don't believe in all that stuff, but you can come in if you want to"; he is the one who would be the first to hold out his hands and close his eyes when I ask if he would like a prayer.
I also learned the blessing of being a pray-er, one who leaning on the power of the Holy Spirit stands with another to experience a sacred moment, an encounter with the Holy. I still treasure that blessing today -- praying with another and experiencing that sacred moment, that encounter with the Holy.
There is the kind of unity in those prayerful experiences that remind me of what Jesus says in the prayer we have read this morning -- as Jesus is one in the Father, he wishes for his followers to be -- one with one another -- and with Jesus and the Father.
Yes, there was in that hospital setting a unity in the Spirit, in the Father, and in the Son in those prayers between strangers who sought the presence and blessing of our Holy God.
Today, we meet Jesus again in the long goodbye to his disciples as reported by John. This is our third Sunday to spend time with Jesus as he says goodbye.
The night is growing late as we join the gathering in that room somewhere in Jerusalem on the night before Jesus would be crucified. The goodbye has been long and complicated, prompting many questions from the disciples and sometimes confusion and fear in the disciples.
Finally, Jesus prays aloud as the disciples listen. He has tried to prepare them for the day of his crucifixion. And he has told them that he would be raised in three days and that soon after that he would return in glory to his Father in heaven.
Now they hear his heart-felt words as Jesus prays for their protection. He prays for their unity. And he prays for the deepest of relationships for them with God.
Jesus wants the disciples to comprehend his deep love for them. And the best way to do it is to compare it to the love between Jesus and the Father. He wants them to hear from that prayer how much he loves them and how seriously he takes the task of equipping them for their missionary work.
We can take comfort in this prayer because it is not just for these disciples with whom he gathered on that night long ago. The prayer is also, as Jesus says very explicitly, "for those who will believe in me through their word."
As the first disciples go out into the world to gather more disciples, Jesus will watch, bless, love, and ordain their work and the work of their successors in the mission field, all the way down to our present generation.
Yes, Jesus reaches across the generations of people who will hear the good news and embrace it and live as Christians for centuries into the future. So as easy as it would be to read these deeply theological words of Jesus in the prayer and think the prayer does not have anything to do with us, we cannot do that.
This prayer in John 17 is all about us because we are hearing it today.
The prayer is for those who seek God in Jesus Christ, who long for a better understanding of what it means to follow, who want to serve the Lord in faithful ways, who yearn for a relationship with God that will give them confidence in his care for them.
This is the plea in the prayer made on our behalf that is the most profound for me. Listen to this: "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us." (verse 21) Jesus is petitioning for our participation in the very Godhead where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell in an eternal communion of love.
Richard Foster says in his book on prayer:
As beginners learning to pray, we are the center of our prayers. But then, growing as praying people, we "pass from thinking of God as part of our life to the realization that we are part of his life. Wondrously and mysteriously God moves from the periphery of our prayer experience to the center. A conversion of the heart takes place, a transformation of the spirit." This is, Foster says, "a wonderful work of Divine Grace." (15)
The promise is breath-taking.
And it is a promise. Jesus is our mediator. Jesus mediates for us in our life, makes certain that our prayers make it into that heart of God where God dwells with Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I think back to the beginning of God's relationship with the world, to the creation, where Jesus was with God and the Holy Spirit, where the triune God blew his breath and spoke his word and the world began to take shape.
This night of prayer in a room somewhere in Jerusalem is a time very much like that. It is a time of new creation in the giving of Jesus to the world, the giving of his very life so that the world can be made whole and be reconciled to God through him.
Jesus receives on this prayerful night in Jerusalem, the blessing of his Father before the day when he will meet his death on the cross. Jesus looks back; he looks in the present company of his disciples; and he looks to the future, even to our own time today.
As he looks to the future, he observes all the possibility of disunity within the world that is to come, including chaos in the church and in the world at large; and Jesus prays what any older, wiser brother would pray: Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (17-18).
And with that, Jesus blesses his disciples, including us, who struggle in this era to make sense of the world and to make new disciples for the One in whom we believe.
Jesus prays for strength for disciples to go with the word of truth everywhere even in places of danger but always with the protection of the Father.
In this prayer, Jesus assumes the role of prophet, priest, and king all at the same time, shepherding the disciples in his prayer to the Father, blessing them and commissioning them through the power of the Father's good will, and assuming the glory of his kingly reign as he prepares for death and return to the Father's presence.
And now I ask you: What prayers do you bring today? This is an excellent time to place your prayers before the throne of grace. Be bold in your requests. Pray for others. Pray for peace in the world. Pray for the world to be healed.
Jesus hears our prayers and presents them to his Father. How do we hope Jesus will pray on our behalf right now?
We want Jesus to watch over our church community and mediate prayers about our health and safety, our discipleship and our discipline. We want Jesus to help us to make the right choices about when to come back together as his people to worship in the sanctuary.
What do you give to Jesus for him to pray today?
Is it for patience? That might be my prayer today?
Or are you wrestling with a particular problem, one that is nagging you? Actually, that is probably one of mine today, too?
Let's hand over prayer requests to the chief of all who pray, this One who prays for us.
Hear again the joyful expression of faith given us by verse four from Psalm 68, which was read this morning: "Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds -- his name is the Lord -- be exultant before him."
We have reason to be hopeful and joyful today. And our hopes and joys are made more complete in the knowledge that our Savior Christ himself is praying for us today and every day.
In Ecclesiastes, we read that "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." (4:12)
What Jesus promises is even better -- a four-fold cord, a relationship for life that includes Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and us.
The promise is the certain and true word of God channeled into our heart so that we might share that word with others. It is given to us by our high priest Jesus Christ in a prayer that draws even us into the sacred, lofty space where God dwells. Amen.