John 17:1-11, May 21st, 2023
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now this accounting of a prayer Jesus is recorded as having offered ‘for’ his disciples before he was unjustly executed. The writing is from the gospel according to John, chapter seventeen, verses one through eleven.”
1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
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.
“Having listen to the reading of our lesson today, let us now consider its meaning for us in our day to day lives here in our current time.”
There is so much misery and hardship in our world today, especially after the difficult years just passed. Poverty and hunger are on the rise. We hear of tensions, rifts and harsh disagreements between groups which need repair. Violence, racial discrimination, bigotry, and increased incidents of mass shootings are repeated ‘over’ and ‘over’ again. Nations pitted against nations and the tensions continue to increase. Cyber-attacks, gun violence, and economic unrest, each of these increase tension and discontent. Climate change is now a fact; but of course, we know facts are attacked every day. Lies and lack of integrity have become center stage. So, what can we do! How do we find relief and how do we become part of the solution, and not part of the problem through our lack of response?
Jesus offered up a prayer. Can our prayers bring about change?
Yet, many times we find ourselves wringing our hands together in frustration, and at other times shaking our heads, or raising our clenched fists behind closed doors, or behind another’s back because of chasms, ‘wide divides’ between us as citizens of the world. What can you and I do about all of this? Can there possibly be anything in this morning’s scripture lesson that can help us? Wouldn’t that be great! An answer to fear, anger, and distrust during worldwide crisis! Wow! That would be fantastic! Let us take a closer look and see if there is any hope contained in an old ancient writing, a prayer; a prayer offered selflessly for the good of others.
Jesus prayed. Surely that isn’t enough!
Our scripture is a portion of one of the final prayers attributed to Jesus during his ministry here on Earth – back in ancient times. It is a selfless prayer which sets an example for others to follow. He asks for their protection, they, ‘being’, his early disciples. This writing helps us realize that prayer is an important tool for us believers and for non-believers alike. Our scripture today gives us some real clues as to how we might use prayer to intercede for the needs of others.
Ought we not ‘mind our own business? Jesus often prayed for others.
Surely, we each need to have someone that cares for us enough to offer a prayer for us. I know my father and my mother prayed for me. My father especially! You see he was a very religious man. He believed strongly in the power of prayer. I knew this growing up as he would always take time to pray and read devotional books to us children, especially when we sat down to eat a meal together. He liked long prayers too! We… we use to joke, as children, that the food would get cold on the dinner table in the evenings, while Dad prayed on and on. Well, if it did and sometimes it really did get cold, it was well blessed! Jesus surely was pleased, I suspect!
Was my dad wrong to pray so much? Surely it didn’t make a difference.
Jesus prayed often.
I know that when I got out of the military and was having trouble adjusting to life without “all the negative habits or crutches” which I had developed while over in Southeast Asia. ‘My dad and my second Mom, Eleanor, prayed for me a lot.’ When I got back on my feet – I went to their Baptist church and learned a whole bunch of folks – I learned that they had prayed for me as well. Thankfully, they knew I loved God and had been reborn, so to speak, in the Spirit of God’s image… before they passed from this life to the next. My prayer is that I will continue to do for others – as they did for me. It did make a difference.
Yes, my dad, his church and my second mom – their prayers made a difference in me! Subsequently, we can say: prayers made a difference.
My mom prayed for me a bit too. She was a preacher’s kid and knew all about what preachers talk about and the stories, the accountings, and the lessons from the Bible. She was a bit more practical than my dad and looked for tangible results. Sometimes, as I have learned as an adult, one may have to wait a ‘really’ long time before such proof of a prayer’s worth or value can become tangible! My Mom had to wait a good long time before her prayers were answered, thereby surrounding me, and greatly enhancing my becoming a responsible adult. Ultimately and without a doubt, God was working in the background to answer my mother’s prayers. Way back when I was first getting ordained, I invited her to participate in the ritual of the ‘laying on of hands’ in the ordination process. You see, I was clear where much of the “Holy Spirit” had been stored in my family… and I wanted it to be part of the ministry that God was and has called me to!
Mom, like my dad, prayed. But did it quietly and was seldom seen doing so! Jesus said that private, selfless prayers were and are good!
The last time I spoke with my mom she was on her final journey, to the Hospice house near her home on Cape Cod. We talked for several minutes. I understood everything she was saying to me, but to those standing near her, she was not able to form clearly audible words. That miraculous ability to understand her has occurred several other times, especially when people I have been close to… have had strokes or are near death’s doors. I was the only one who was able to understand them. I tell you this to express to you how strongly I believe in the power of prayer and the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Between my father and my mothers, and my grandfather, and my uncle, I had a lot of exposure to prayer! I am sure I have spoken of this before; my grandfather Dixon and my uncle were both ordained pastors in the Congregational Church which became part of the United Church of Christ. They both took after my dad, they loved to pray, long prayers and at any and every occasion. I suspect that if I had been a bit older, more mature, or even had a passing interest in becoming a pastor while I was a young man, I would have paid more attention to all of that which they said. Despite my youthfulness and arrogant foolishness, I am still able to hold each up, as powers of examples, especially around the subject of prayer.
What I remember most about how they each prayed, was their sincerity and obvious belief that it works! That is a very important lesson for all of us to grasp onto. The quality of our grammar or the preciseness of the structure of our sentences will not impress God. Yes, those are good tools for communication with other humans. But our God, listens to our hearts, and not necessarily in English. You see… Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not a language many currently have much acquaintance with. So, when talking with God, be sure to have your heart in it and speak from that spot; mixing it with some faith that God will hear you, truly, that always helps!
Why do so many feel… that prayer will help us get through these difficult times in our lives? Why would Jesus make such a big deal about praying for others like his disciples? Clearly, he prayed out loud with his disciples, or we would not have this lesson passed down to us to read, regarding what he said in the prayer! Clearly Jesus thought it was important that we learn how to pray, how to talk with God. My faith, my experiences have affirmed for me that prayer makes a difference. It is apparent that many here today, online and living here in our beautiful sanctuary know this to be true as well. We can also say, with certainty, that there is ‘always,’ ‘always’ a change that comes about based on prayer. First and foremost, it will change you, the one offering the prayer!
You will need to trust that this is a well-accepted fact among those who have tried this! Personally, I have been working with this concept for a great many years and over time I have changed a great deal! There are many miraculous things that have occurred because of the power of prayer. However, I do not want you to focus on this too much. As most of the time, we shall find that God’s timing, in answering prayer, is not the same as our own. Likewise, what God believes, and feels is best for us…. may not be what we have envisioned either. This can lead to our pulling away from our relationship with God, as we humans, especial we Americans, we expect ‘instant’ results like we often get because of the modern technologies we have at our fingertips!
As we reflect on all that we ought to pray about – let us remain hopeful and faithful to our rituals of prayer, whether planned and written out or spontaneously spoken from our hearts. Joyfully, a great deal of the time things will change for those we pray for; yet there shall be times and moments when our prayers seem to go unanswered. That is the irony of prayer. Our talking to God about what we want, or feel is best for others may not be in sync with what God believes is best for our loved ones, or are friends, nor that of our neighbors. This is where trust and faith come into play. God is like a good parent. God makes the hard decisions as to what is the best answer. Also, we have been given free will, all of us.
Therein lies the dilemma.
Good parents give their children choices and too often we children make bad choices. And as a parent we know that children only learn if there are consequences to wrong or selfish choices. Yes, sometimes it is hard being parents and likewise us children know it seems harsh that we must pay the price for our bad behaviors and wrong choices. Yet, this is what being an adult is about.
Therefore, and consequently, as we look at all that needs fixing, or it would seem needs God’s intervention, are primarily things that are occurring because of humankinds’ poor choices, bad behaviors, and decisions.
Much is caused by our human nature, which has not changed much at all over the ages! That is a harsh truth! Clearly, as a people, we need to spend more time talking with God; both privately and out loud so that others can hear what we say to God. We are responsible to help the messages of Jesus – reach the ears of others. Our human dilemma revolves around our self-centeredness. Our “me first” mentality. When we combine these with human greed. Then add the thirst, the lust for power and control, these are central to the problems, problems which humankind faces. Let us not forget our fear driven actions and the anger that overtakes humankind – way too often.
Yes, absolutely, Jesus prayed out loud in front of his disciples so that they and likewise, we, we would learn how to selflessly pray for the needs of others. Try to imagine if everyone spoke with God like this! If we did then prayer would truly change the lives of millions, tens of millions and this could ultimately change how we approach the problems of the world.
Let us pray that this concept flourishes, increases and blossoms!