Today is the last Sunday of Eastertide, a time when we review the events of Jesus’ ministry and look forward to the birthday of the church at Pentecost which is next Sunday. Being the last Sunday of Eastertide, we hear some important last words of the prayer that Jesus offers for his disciples, and for us.
Today’s tender gospel passage, John 17:1-11, is the first part of what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It ends his farewell speech to his disciples at the table of the Last Supper. The prayer serves as a turning point toward the crucifixion as Jesus says, “the hour has come” in the first verse. As Jesus looks back on his ministry, he knows that there is no going back. The prayer is Jesus’ final blessing, his almost-last words for his closest followers. In the first part of the prayer, he prays for his disciples, and then he expands the prayer in verse 20 to include “those who will believe in me through the ministry of the disciples”. In doing so, Jesus reaches across the boundaries of time to unite us with him in his glory, a transformative glory that comes from effort and suffering, and love.
Glory is an attribute of God that is mentioned over and over again in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for glory is kavod, which comes from a word for the fringe on a priestly robe. The psalms for example, are filled with references to God’s glory, often displayed in power, might, and majesty. In the person of Jesus, we have been granted a glimpse of God’s glory, but not as a distant glittery glory, but in a glory made manifest in suffering, service, and love.
Today we want to focus for a few moments on prayer, but not just as any prayer, we are focusing on a prayer from the lips of Jesus. Our lesson from John’s gospel is often referred to as the “real” Lord’s Prayer. Christ prayed for his friends and he prayed for us. And that prayer is powerful.
Tony Campolo tells an intriguing story about being in a worship service where a man prayed a very pointed prayer for a friend:
“Dear Lord,” the man prayed, “you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. He’s leaving his wife and kids. Please do something to bring the family together.”
Amazingly, as the man prayed, he repeated the location, “the silver trailer down the road a mile.” Tony wanted to say, “KNOCK IT OFF, FELLA. Do you think God’s asking, ‘What’s that address again?’”
After the prayer, Tony preached, and then left to drive home. On the turnpike he noticed a hitchhiker and decided to give him a lift. “My name’s Tony,” Campolo said, “What’s your name?”
“Charlie Stoltzfus,” the hitchhiker said.
Campolo was dumbfounded. It was the young man for whom the prayer had been offered. Campolo got off at the next exit.
“Hey, where are you taking me?” asked the hitchhiker.
“Home.” Campolo said.
The hitchhiker stared in amazement as Tony drove right to the young man’s silver trailer. That afternoon, that young man and his wife surrendered their lives to Christ. And today that man is a preacher of the gospel. (“You Can Make a Difference.” TODAY’S CHRISTIAN WOMAN. Nov./Dec. 1988)
Another touching story about prayer is in a scene from the film, Shadowlands, based on the life of C.S. Lewis. Lewis has returned to Oxford College from London, where he has just been married to Joy Gresham, an American woman, in a private Episcopal ceremony performed at her hospital bedside. She is dying from cancer, and through the struggle with her illness, she and Lewis have been discovering the depth of their love for each other. As Lewis arrives at the college where he teaches, he is met by Harry Harrington, an Episcopal priest, who asks him what news there is. Lewis hesitates; then, deciding to speak of the marriage and not the cancer, he says, “Ah good news, I think, Harry, good news.”
Harrington, not aware of the marriage and thinking that Lewis is referring to Joy’s medical situation, replies, “I know how hard you’ve been praying. . . Now, God is answering your prayer.”
“That’s not why I pray, Harry,” Lewis responded, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time. Waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.” (From the movie Shadowlands, copyright 1993, Savoy Pictures, Inc.)
Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me. Prayer is not a message scribbled on a note, jammed into a bottle and tossed into the sea in hopes that it will someday wash up on God’s shoreline. Prayer is communion with God. We speak to God, but God touches, embraces, shapes and changes us. Whether we pray for rain or pray for sunshine, our prayer is answered, because in the act of praying we receive the gift we really seek, the gift Jesus gives us, intimacy with God and connection to all the other believers who have come before us and who will follow us as disciples of Jesus.
Back in 1957 the First Brethren Church of Sarasota, Florida, had a ground breaking service. But instead of bringing a few special shovels for a few special people to use in the ceremony, they brought an old one-horse plow. Recalling the words of Jesus, ‘Take my yoke upon you’, they borrowed an old yoke and two stalwart laymen were hitched up. But the two were unable to pull the plow. Then the members of the Building Committee were put on the rope, but even they could not move the plow. Other church officers were added, including the Sunday School teachers, but still the plow did not move. Finally, every member of the congregation present took hold of the rope and with every member pulling together, the plow moved, and the ground was broken. (source unknown).
Jesus is praying for us. He is asking God two things on our behalf. First of all, he is asking that we shall be strong. I don’t know about you, but that is a prayer that I need daily. And secondly, he is praying that we will be united. That is one prayer we could help answer ourselves. We could start by praying for our friends. We could also pray for our church. Finally, we could pray for ourselves, that we will truly be strong and that we will always love one another.
Let us pray for our needs, the needs of the church, and the needs of others….