Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sermon, Sun 9 July: 'What Jesus prayed'...WMRBW wk45

READINGS/ Eph 4:1-16; John 17:1-26

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, Amen.

There’s a story told of a minister, whose kitten had escaped out the window, and, being a very nimble wee kitty, had managed to climb up a rather tall tree.
It found a nice-looking branch, high up, padded along, and promptly decided
it didn’t really like being there.
Unfortunately for the kitten, having tried to turn back, it suddenly realized it was stuck.
It froze in fear.
Heartfelt mews of alarm began to sound, eventually reaching the minister’s study.
The minister went outside, looked up at the kitten, sighed deeply, and,
rather than calling out the fire brigade, went to find some rope, and her car.
Making a loop in the rope, she flung it up, trying to lasso the branch, which she eventually did.
The kitten continued to mew pitifully.
Tightening the rope, the minister tied it to the car’s tow bar,
and began to move the car forward –
this, in the hope that the branch would lower itself enough to get the kitten safely down.
Gently, gently, the car edged forward.
Slowly, the branch lowered, and lowered.
So far, the plan was going well.
Just at the critical point, the rope suddenly snapped,
catapulting the poor wee kitten into the heavens and out of sight.
The minister looked on with horror.
Sadly, she muttered a small, helpless prayer:
‘Lord, I commit this kitten into your keeping.’
Feeling utterly dreadful, the poor minister spent the rest of the day searching
the village for the kitten, but, with no luck, alas.

A couple of days later, in the village store, the minister bumped into a member
of the congregation, who was buying cat food.
This was rather unusual, for the woman was well-known for hating cats
and would certainly never entertain the idea of keeping one.
The minister, curious, asked about the cat food.
And the woman replied,
‘Ach, minister, you won’t believe this but I’ve been refusing to buy my girl 
Daisy a cat even though she’s been begging for one for ages. 
The other day, she was on again about getting a cat.
Finally, just because she was so persistent, and, in the hope of getting a little peace,
I said to her:
“Daisy, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.”
She looked at me for a little while, and then, headed out to the back yard, 
got on her knees and began to pray for a cat.
And, well,’s the thing – 
she’d just finished praying, and, was looking up to the heavens when suddenly,
this kitten came flying out of nowhere with its paws spread out 
and landed right in front of her.
I could hardly not let her keep it, now, could I, with such a clear answer to prayer?’
The minister, wisely, said nothing, nodded, and headed back to her car.

there are many ways in which we approach God in prayer,
and there’s a variety of things that we bring before God when we pray.
Sometimes, it feels like we have a whole shopping list full of items –
we are burdened by the state of the world,
problems at home,
friends or family who are ill,
our own worries...
Sometimes, we feel weighed down by something we’ve said or done –
or not said or done...
which has caused hurt,
and so we feel the need to bring it to God, to say sorry,
to look for a way of bringing about reconciliation, a healing of hurts.
Sometimes, we feel blessed –
a moment of serendipity when out walking,
when everything is suddenly bathed in light,
and we pause with wonder at unexpected beauty and find ourselves in God’s presence
filled with awe and giving praise and thanks for creation.
Many ways to pray,
and many different reasons for praying.

Scattered throughout the four gospels, we find instances of Jesus praying:
providing the disciples with a template for prayer within the framework of the Lord’s Prayer.
And, perhaps the most well-known:
time spent in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God to take his cup of suffering away,
but, in the end, reconciling himself to what will happen to him the following day.

In our reading this morning, from the Gospel of John, we find Jesus at prayer –
the longest of all his prayers recorded in the gospel accounts.
It’s a prayer offered to God on the same night as his time in the Garden,
the night of his arrest,
the night before the events of Good Friday take place.

The prayer itself happens in the upper room where Jesus and the
disciples have just shared in the Passover meal together.
It has been an evening of instruction:
Jesus, sensing his time is near,
that his hour is coming,
is making sure that the disciples will have everything in place to aid their understanding of
who he is,
what his mission is,
and their own task as his disciples, once he’s left them.
Before the prayer, he has talked of:
leadership as service,
demonstrating this by washing the feet of the disciples;
he’s talked of betrayal and of his ‘hour’ soon approaching;
he has given them a new commandment:
to love one another, just as he has loved them.
He’s tried to prepare them for a time when he will no longer be with them –
that he must go and prepare a place for them,
that He is the way to the Father,
that they will not be alone –
for when he goes, then, God’s Spirit will be with them always –
God’s Spirit, who will bring them peace.
He’s encouraged them to remain with him:
he is like a vine,
they, like branches –
‘bear fruit that will last,’ he says.
He comforts them, promising that their grief will turn to joy:
that all is not lost by his going –
but, rather, the whole world will be gained.
And so the Teacher teaches them these last remaining lessons
over the table where they have shared in bread and wine together.
As he finishes, he brings the evening to a close by raising his eyes heavenwards, and praying.
And as he prays, so the disciples learn a little more of who he is,
through his prayerful and open conversation with the Father.

The prayer is broken into three sections:
first, Jesus prays for himself...
or rather, that, as he is glorified,
so God will be glorified:
that, at the last, the message he shares with the world is the message of God’s great love,
shown in suffering and in sacrifice...
and in the early dawn light, a message of resurrection and new life –
eternal life.

Second, he prays for his disciples:
as God as loved him,
so now, he entrusts the disciples to God –
places them in God’s hands to protect and to preserve.
He asks that the disciples may be one –
living in unity of purpose, in the Spirit,
just as Jesus and the Father are one.

And, drawing the circle of the prayer wider, Jesus prays for all believers:
for all who will be believers through the message that the disciples will share with the world.
All who will be believers:
those who come to faith on the day of Pentecost;
those who come to faith in the decades following,
as the young church grows and expands throughout the known world;
those who come to faith down through the centuries as that message is passed on,
as the story of Jesus is shared;
those who are believers even here, even now.
This is the part of the prayer where, effectively, Jesus is praying for each one of us.
And what is it that he prays for us?

That we, also, may be one –
just as he and the Father are one, just as the disciples are one...
That the Spirit of God would dwell within us;
that we would bring glory to God in and through our lives;
that the message of hope, and life, and resurrection, would so shine in us,
that we would be the good news – the gospel – in action, in the world;
that we would be God’s messengers of love, using our power in the service of others –
or, as Paul phrases it in his letter to the Ephesians –
that we would ‘live a life worthy of the calling’ we ‘have received’;
to ‘be completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love.’ 
To ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace.’
This peace, the peace that Jesus left his disciples, is also given to us,
who, like the disciples are called to believe in
‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all’
and to live that message with every particle of our very being.

It’s sometimes very easy to get distracted:
to lose focus on the large message of unity and love
as we go about our day to day lives -
easy to get the wrong end of the stick in a conversation;
easy to get drawn into an argument;
easy to start second-guessing what someone
may or may not be thinking and get it completely wrong;
easy to share a story about someone because it’s too good not to without checking the facts...
It’s easy to forget to say ‘thanks,’
or be so absorbed in something that you ignore those around you.
So many little ways to sow the seeds of disunity.
Yet, here, in this prayer, we see Jesus –
Jesus, who is praying for us,
praying that we might be one.
That, through lives lived in love, God’s love will be shown to the world –
just as in Jesus’ life, lived in service to God and neighbour
God’s love was demonstrated to the world.

Having sat at table with Jesus,
and had their feet washed by the One who was their leader,
by the One who Peter had earlier professed to be the Messiah – the Promised One of God;
having sat at table and watched as Jesus
took bread and broke it,
took wine, and shared it,
and talked of his suffering and death;
I wonder what it must have been like for the disciples to listen to Jesus praying at that table?
Having talked of leaving, did Jesus’ prayer, asking for their protection,
give the disciples comfort and peace to hearts that were growing increasingly troubled?
Later, much later, did they remember this prayer when they, in turn,
encountered suffering for daring to share the radical message of God’s love for all...
when, in living out their lives in love for God and neighbour,
they, like Jesus, found their hour had come?

there are many ways to pray,
and many different reasons for praying.
This prayer of Jesus is a great model for prayer, seeking as it does to give God glory,
and to pray that the message of God’s love be made known in the lives of those
who have taken up their cross to follow in faith.
It’s a selfless prayer,
a prayer that looks outwards, not just inwards;
a prayer expressing total dependence upon God for protection;
a prayer of concern and care and tenderness;
a prayer that acts as a call to unity to those who are listening.

Earlier we were thinking of bumper stickers – of the messages they give out about us;
what they tell others about us:
likes, dislikes, and so on.
As we read this long prayer of Jesus, we see his message loud and clear:
we see his concern that his followers be one –
united in their love for God,
united in their service to God and to neighbour.
As we do so, perhaps we begin to see those things in our own lives
that may need a little tweaking,
that need a little handing over to God,
so that we can better focus on being the whole people of God:
so that we’re singing from the same hymn sheet
and showing the world, through our unity and love, the glory of God...
who loves us and who is present with us always.

Let’s pray:
Lord Jesus Christ,
who prayed for your disciples
that they might be one,
even as you are one with the Father;
draw us to yourself,
that in common love and obedience to you
we may be united to one another,
in the fellowship of the one Spirit,
that the world may believe that you are Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.*
*written by William Temple (1881-1944)

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