May 28, 2017
“Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” “ that they may know you, the only true God.” “ Holy Father, protect them.” In our gospel reading this morning, we get to listen in to the prayer that Jesus prayed the night he was to be betrayed; the night before his crucifixion. John gives us several chapters of his final words to the disciples and then this prayer, often called “The High Priestly prayer”.
At one time during his ministry, the disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus taught them The Lord's Prayer. We have taken the Lord's Prayer, intended as a guide for how to pray, and made it a part of our liturgy. But truly, it was taught so that we'd know a basic format to pray.
It is hard for me to recite from memory and think about the words. And that's why I will sometimes change the words a bit when we read it at session meetings. It is easy to pray this prayer from our heads and not our hearts, we know it so well. But it was the only prayer Jesus taught us. Generally speaking, no one memorizes and recites this prayer we read today from the upper room. Can we can look at this prayer recorded for us in John and use it as another guideline for prayer; find another basic format to pray? It is similar to the Lord's prayer, but different enough that we find another choice from which to pattern our prayers.
I see three basic points in this prayer, and my three statements at the start of the sermon give us those points. The passage began, “Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,” It is interesting to note, first, that Jesus didn't bow his head to pray. He looked up to heaven. I'm not sure how we came to bow our heads in prayer. It may be the example of the sinner in the synagogue, who prayed “be merciful to me a sinner.” with his head bowed. We are all sinners, we come to God with deep reverence and awe. But remember too that we are invited to enter into conversation at anytime and anyplace. We are co-heirs with Jesus. As he came into God's presence freely and openly, so may we. Sometimes we limit our intimacy with God by being too formal. Prayer is talking to God; no rules, formality is not a requirement.
But as we work a an effective prayer life, it is helpful to have guidelines. As the Lord's Prayer begins by honoring God, so does Jesus in this prayer. He speaks of glorifying the Father...you could say hallowing his name. We are to come to the Lord in prayer aware of God's holiness, God's greatness, God's glory. But as we acknowledge this, we are invited to be ourselves. It is a powerful, glorious God to whom we speak; we speak not as insignificant creatures, but as children. In our Bible study this week, Max Lucado shared the possibility addressing God as “Daddy” when coming into prayer. That's quite a contrast from creator, king, all-powerful ruler to Daddy! And as I type this out, I begin to understand why prayer can be difficult. How do we relate to this wide range of relationship? I think Daddy helps, and then the glorifying of the Lord should come in how we live out our relationship. Pastor Anne Apple writes in The Christian Century, “To glorify God is to take rest in the blessing that comes when we put others before ourselves, to serve strangers by shining the light of the world into the shadow of all-consuming darkness. To glorify God is to risk opening our hearts by living into oneness with Christ Jesus.” Jesus seems to suggest this idea in his prayer when he says, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” We glorify the Father by finishing the work we have been given. Our work is putting others before ourselves, shining God's light in the dark places, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our church is currently involved in a couple projects shining God's light in the dark places. The CCC is preparing to shed light on the darkness of abuse and neglect of the vulnerable ones in our community. We have received a $4000 grant which will be used to bring, God willing, Patty Wetterling in to speak to how we best protect our children. It is a dark world for the vulnerable children. Bringing light is our work in Christ.
We are raising money next week with our dunk tank. Proceeds go to the MAM committee to continue to provide housing for families who are temporarily without a home. The PW sends needed personal supplies to the needy in Africa. The Sunday School supports a child through Tabitha's Heart. Ways we do our work in Christ.
These are good and important, but we are called to make this prayer of Jesus a part of our day to day life. Our work in Christ is serving others. It is putting your spouse's needs before yours. To go the extra mile with a student who you are working with. To share what you have with someone in need. It is much easier to look out for number one; it takes more energy to serve than to be served. But that is what we are called to do...and it is through prayer that we are energized to glorify God by serving the world.
The second petition, Jesus prays that we may have the knowledge of God. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Do you pray for a fuller knowledge of God? My understanding of one reason Jesus came to earth was to show us, to teach us about God. Who God is, what God wants, where God dwells and why God cares about us. Jesus the Son reveals God the Father. He said, “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;” Ultimately, Jesus teaches us that knowing God is the key to eternal life. Knowing God, having a relationship with God. Relationship is a word that is used often in talking about us and God. We learn in Sunday School that God knows everything about us. But in order to have a relationship with God, we need to know about God. That knowledge comes primarily from the scriptures, particularly the life of Jesus. Bible study, sermons, books are ways we learn about God. And it is possible to learn a great deal about God...but there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. We study to learn about God; we spend time with God in prayer to know God. And as Max Lucado pointed out in our study on Wednesday, it helps to know “the Pilot”.
C. S. Lewis writes about prayer and about answers to prayer. Listen to what he writes about what prayer ultimately is: “Prayer is... a personal contact between an embryonic, incomplete person (Ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision of God its bread and wine. In (prayer) God shows Himself to us.” So we see that prayer is critical is developing a relationship with God which Jesus tells us is the key to eternal life. Are you spending time in prayer with your Father? Do you believe what Jesus says about the importance of prayer?
Hugh Price tells a story called “The City of Everywhere”. In it he tells of a man arriving in a city on the train. As he walked about, he noticed everyone was barefooted. He asked one fellow, “Pardon me, but don't you believe in shoes?” “Sure we do.” the fellow replied. “Well, why don’t you wear them?” “Ah, that's the question, isn't it,” came the sardonic reply. He continued on, at his hotel, he asked the desk clerk, “Don't you know about shoes?” “Of course I know about shoes!” the man replied. “Then why don't you wear them?” “Ah, that's the question, why don't we?” Then he wandered outside in the snow and every person he saw was barefooted. He stopped a woman and pointed out that shoes would protect her feet from the snow. The woman told him, “We know all about shoes. See that building there, it is a shoe factory. Every week we gather there and hear the foreman tell about shoes and how wonderful they are.” “Then why don't you wear shoes?” “Ah, that's the question, why don't we?”
Hugh price concludes, “Don't we know about prayer? Don't we know what it could mean in our lives? Then why don't we pray? Ah, that's the question, why don't we?”
It isn't enough to come to “the shoe factory” (to church) and hear about prayer. We need to pray in order to know God. We can know lots about prayer, we can talk about the power and importance of prayer, so why don't we pray more?
On to our third point, Jesus prayed for protection for his disciples. “Holy Father, protect them.” We have all lived enough to know that being a follower of Jesus does not guarantee that we will be protected from all the troubles this world may bring. Some troubles we bring on ourselves by life choices; some are out of our hands. But suffering does come to all of us. Peter acknowledges this in his epistle. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings.” Fiery ordeals will take place, but perhaps that is not the protection Jesus was praying for. Our final line is key, “so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus prays that nothing will separate them/us from God. That’s the kind of protection we are talking about; nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We pray that God keeps us close.
Three ways our prayer life can be strengthened—prayers of praise for God. Prayers for knowing God; improving our personal connection with God. And prayers for the protection of that personal connection. This is by no means the only guideline we are given, one of several but maybe one that will help you pray better and more.
One thing I should point out, Jesus prayed this prayer for us here today. Before the end of the prayer, He says this in verse 20, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through there word.” Wow, Jesus prayed for us. And now we are given the opportunity to enter into the presence of the Lord and creator and ruler of the universe. It is an awesome opportunity but also a responsibility we have been given.
If you believe in prayer, don't be like those shoeless citizens who believed in shoes but didn't use them. Use the power of prayer for your spiritual growth and for your personal needs and even your wants and desires. Jesus came that we might know God and God's love for us. He came that we would be in relationship with God in Christ. Devote yourselves to prayer that you might know and grow in relationship with our God. Amen.
Hymn: Take Time to Be Holy 392 HLC