Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

May 17, 2015

John 17: 6-19

“Prayer Makes a Difference”



Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter 17, verses 6 through 19.

6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

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If I started our conversation with a personal question to each one of you here this morning, I suspect I would get your attention.  Since it is still early and most of you are not excited about publicly discussing your personal lives, I will not ask you to answer out-loud.  (Although, it is shocking to know what things folks reveal about their personal lives on the internet, especially on face book!)  But, setting that quirk of Twenty-First-Century human nature aside, I do want you to consider the question(s) I put forth, and I strongly urge you to reflect on it or them and, with God’s help, possibly making a change in your life in order to modify your response to the question(s) I shall propose.  Now, I do not promise to stop with just one question this morning, so stay alert!  For each question may need your attention and private response.

I ask you, how is your prayer life?  In order to answer that, you need to realize that your prayer life is a measurement of your relationship to God.  If you have no prayer life, then, you are not having any conversations with the God of your understanding.  Seriously, have you ever been in relationship with anyone without having a conversation with that person now and then?  My relationship with the neighbor across the street is very minimal as we have never spoken; we wave now and then and that’s it!  Now the fellow next door that is a totally different story.  We say good morning to each other virtually, every day.  We chat about the weather, the politics of our community and the health of our wives and family.  We share thoughts on how to care for the vegetation in and around our yards.  We give each other pointers and we even are willing to put out each other’s trash cans or put them back in place after the trash company does its pick up. That’s what I call a relationship, and it takes some level of conversation.

So let me ask you another question: What kind of relationship do you want to have with God?  Casual, serious, intimate or just a distant relationship where you wave to each other on Sunday mornings?  Most folks I have known, over the years, do want a relationship, of some sort, with God.  In the military, it is said, that even an Atheist will call out to God when the bullets start flying, and the Agnostic will set aside their demand for proof of God’s existence, and offer up a quick request when faced with a life or death situation.  Let me assure you, when I do a memorial service, and I have done a great many over the years, everyone expects me to lead them in prayer.  Never has anyone said to me, don’t bother to pray pastor, it won’t make a difference.  Rather, at such sacred times, family and loved ones want to be reassured that God is merciful, kind and generous and will be with, and is with, their loved one.  So, I ask you again: what type of relationship do you want with the God you have come to know or desire to know?

While we ponder these questions let’s take a look at how others have used prayer.  Let’s first look to a few biblical figures.

Throughout the ages we have heard of people offering up prayers to God.  Starting in the book of Genesis, Abraham was known to negotiate with God in prayer.  Jacob on the other hand was more of a wrestler when he conversed with God.  King Solomon was seeking wisdom when he prayed.  The Apostle Paul dared to speak boldly to God!  Whereas Jonah was more inclined to beg for God’s mercy ‘out of the depths’ of his struggles.  The book of Job is filled with his prayers of confession.  In today’s scripture lesson we find Jesus offering up a high priestly prayer for the people.  Specifically praying for the church, and beyond today’s reading: Jesus prays for unity.  Jesus offer’s up a lot of prayers in the New Testament.  Of course, there is his discourse on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter six.  Tell me, do you ever listen to the words of that prayer when you say it?  I know most people say that prayer, but do you listen to the things being offered up and asked of God in that prayer?  Do you know the instructions of the prayer?  Gee, maybe I could give a sermon just on the Lord’s Prayer someday.  Oh that’s right – I have.  Are you getting the point?  There is a lot to consider in that one prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.

Jesus was known to pray in various and many different settings.  He prayed for God’s power when he raised his friend Lazarus from the grave; he prayed to his Heavenly Father for deliverance from the cross, and he prayed for submission as he gave up his Spirit on the last day.  The Disciples, his Apostles they learned to pray from the example set by Jesus.  The Apostle Paul was always calling on Jesus and his Heavenly Father.  Seems Paul was always in trouble, getting arrested and being put into chains and sent to local prisons and jails.  (Of course, you knew that he wrote letters from prison?)  Gee, maybe we need to talk more about that on another day?!

There are all kinds of prayers, short ones and long ones.  My wife always wants me to say a short prayer, unlike my father who could stretch out a simple blessing over a hamburger at McDonalds for half the meal!  So you can either say: “Thanks for this meal, Dear God.  Amen”; or You go on and on thanking God for the bread, the milk, the butter and the farmers who harvested it and the trucker who… right down to your dear loved one who put the plate of food in front of you to eat.  (Of course, by then the meal is stone cold!)

There are sincere prayers, like this beautiful one.  As you listen to it allow yourself to simple let the pray wash over you; just relax and embrace it!

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!
That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek to comfort, rather than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
Amen. /Prayer of Saint Francis/

And there are needy prayers, like this one.  Yet, when one opens to its meaning, with honesty and a willingness to trust God, it is simply amazing what can happen!

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.  Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen. /Reinhold Niebuhr/

It has been suggested that each of us start writing down our prayers, prayers that we want Jesus to pray for us!  Consider sharing your prayers with one another.  Sharing our prayers could possibly unite us with one another.  Imagine if our president shared his prayers with other world leaders and they did the same.  Can you even imagine the possibilities of the conversations that would follow?  You see, prayers can be more than a conversation with God.  They can be the basis for getting into deeper relations with the people sitting around you today, here in this church.  Prayer could strengthen your very understanding of what relationships are all about.  Just imagine how pleased Jesus would be if he became aware of how his example was inspiring us young folks way out here in the twenty-First century.  Imagine what the next generations might achieve if we set a good example for them to follow.  You see, prayer makes a difference.  It changes us and it changes our understanding of the world around us.  I have tried it for myself and it has made a big difference.

In verse nine of our lesson for this morning we read: “I am asking on their behalf;” Jesus is saying what is called an intercessory prayer.  He is praying for someone else, he is praying for his disciples and all who have listened to his teachings.  This is something we can do as well.  We can pray for others.

When I was selling my home via what is called a ‘Short Sale” I was getting very stressed out.  This was just before I began working here with all of you.  I came to realize one day, I was not practicing what I was preaching.  Everything was about me and getting rid of that house, which had become an albatross around my neck, my heart and my sense of wellbeing!  I was literally getting hard to live with.  Ask Lois sometime her version of this time period.  As my selfishness permeated through my consciousness I began asking God for help.  I asked God to help me accept the status of my pending short sale.  I asked God to help me realize I was no different than hundreds of thousands of other home owners caught in the same predicament.  My dilemma would be resolved in its own time.  Daily, I began praying for the office workers that were handling the paperwork surrounding the pending sale.  I prayed for the realtor.  Then, separately, I continued my personal prayers asking for God’s guidance.

Then something miraculous began to happen.  I changed!

Once I was able to let go and let God, the realtor and the office workers do their work, I was able to start focusing on things that I could change.  I was able to summons up new courage and commitment to moving forward with my life.  People who have known me throughout saw the change and spoke to me about it.  Selfless prayer made a major difference in my life!  I strongly recommend it.  And yes, I feel much closer to God; we have a stronger relationship now!  (Oh, and yes my house sold, two weeks after I started preaching here at this church.)

Within the walls of this church have been said many prayers.  Each said for a different occasion and on different dates.  These prayers have strengthened our relationship with God.  Together, our shared relationships have also become stronger.  Today, we see the fruits of sincere prayer, intercessory prayer, prayers of thanks, prayers of confession and yes prayers of pain, prays of sorrow seeking safe passage for others and hope of renewal and healing for others.  We have prayed for the greater community outside these walls and prayed for the world.  We have prayed to strengthen the church while striving to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and offer shelter for the homeless.  No, we have not changed the world, yet in our efforts we have changed this church, strengthened it and we are making a difference to those we have touched with our love and compassion.  The rest we offer up to God in prayer.

Praise be to God!  Amen.

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