HEARING JESUS’ PRAYER
John 17: 1-11
A pastor from San Antonio Texas wrote about the time he came to his office only to be greeted by a handful of phone messages he needed to return. He began at the top of the stack and started working his way through them. After returning several of the calls, he came to one that just had a telephone number on it. He dialed the number, and the voice at the other end of the line answered: “Holy Ghost.” Immediately he thought “This is just what I’ve always wanted: a hotline to the Holy Ghost!” Then her realized he had reached the Holy Ghost Fathers, a Roman Catholic order in San Antonio.
There are plenty of times I’d like a hotline to God, to get instant answers! Sure I have a direct line; I can go to God in prayer but the answers come more slowly. I remember a time when a TV preacher told the viewers across the airwaves that God told him personally that he would call him home if his supporters did not send donations totaling 8 million dollars! That was Oral Roberts in 1987. A Time magazine article asked the question “Was Roberts extorting his viewers and using [God] as his accomplice?” You may not believe what happened unless you remember it. Oral Roberts’ received 9 million dollars!! Whew! The Lord did not call him home. But by 2007 the school announced that they were an astonishing 52.5 million dollars in debt.
I don’t know anyone who has a “hotline” to God. We have a God who listens in to our prayers. Some wish that prayer, like a vending machine, could put a way to their money in the plate and get to ask God anything, such as: “What is Heaven like?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Instead God has determined that we can best find his will by searching for it and praying for it like Jesus did when he prayed: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, just as it is in Heaven.”
So how do we connect with God when we don’t have a hotline of some kind? Christian singer and songwriter Cynthia Clausen has an idea:
A rocky road, a heavy load, got you wonderin’ if you’ll ever get over.
Your journey’s slow, your faith is low, and you’re wonderin’
who will take the time to get you back on your feet, turn your bitter to sweet. Jesus knows all the burdens that you bear. He will take the tim to care.
Anybody got a heart that will not mend?
Are you trying to live a life you just can’t defend?
Are you in a battle you just can’t win?
Anybody got a problem they can’t solve?
Anybody got a hole in their resolve?
Remember in His hands the world revolves.
Bring it to Jesus.
So again this week we look at Jesus through the heart of John, the writer of our gospel today. He is loving, caring, and compassionate. And today we find out something astounding: Jesus prays for his disciples. We find his prayer in John 17. There is something very sacred—something holy—about not just hearing Jesus teach about prayer, but hearing our Savior pray. Listen to this: Jesus says to his Father “You have given [me] authority over people to give eternal life to all you have given to me.” So this, I believe, is not only a prayer for the Twelve, but a prayer for all the faithful. Listen to what Jesus prays, on behalf of his followers. First, he prays, “Holy Father, protect them (in the name you have given me) so that they may be one, as we are one.” [Verse 11] Oneness is a theme repeated several times in John’s Gospel. Jesus tries to get across that he and the Father are one, and that he wants his followers to be “one” too. In other words, when one rejoices, all rejoice! When one hurts, all hurt. When one dies, all grieve and support one another. It also means that, together, we seek to have the mind of Christ, asking in our daily lives, “What would Jesus do?”
Second, Jesus prays that his Father, “Protect them from evil” or “from the evil one.” That seems to be important to Jesus: he knows how powerful temptation can be, and knows how far people can fall if they listen to a voice other than his. In other words, he is praying that Satan does not dominate our thinking, call our focus away from God, or win our allegiance from God. I know of people who are so afraid of being tricked by Satan or being approached by Satan that all they do is think about Satan and how to avoid him. But if all their energy is poured into avoidance, how is there any energy let for praise, and love, and adoration? Don’t spend your life looking over your shoulder for Satan. Instead, look inward, or outward, or upward seeking the face of your Lord! God can get no glory when your time is eaten up with fear or panic. Jesus has already prayed that you be kept safe from the evil one. Give thanks for Jesus’ prayer, affirm it in your heart, and then spend your life glorifying God, not falling into Satanic traps. Jesus tells us why: “So that we might have his joy in all its fullness.” Not running in terror, but living with joy. Yes in our world that features terrorists, we need to be wary; but not obsessed. That is Jesus’ prayer for his followers; to be kept safe from evil. We know that because we got to read it thanks to John.
An outstanding young law student who was interviewing for a summer clerking position with a law firm had just completed the last of several interviews. He decided to accept one position in particular even though he had several attractive offers from other large and prestigious firms. When asked why he picked the one he did, this was his answer: “This was the only firm where the partners talked to me about how much they enjoyed the practice of law and their firm. Most of the others just focused on their benefits and their retirement packages.” Could people make choices about joining a church the same way? Could they join our church because they feel the Spirit moving here and sense our enthusiasm? Wouldn’t that be a better criterion than: “This looks like a good place to have a funeral?” Do people join churches just for the benefits (salvation) and the generous retirement policy (eternal life?)
Finally, Jesus asks his Father to “Sanctify them in the truth.” A strange phrase, right? The original Greek word means, “to set us apart for a task; to consecrate or make holy.” We are set apart to be change agents of the world, not to let the world change us. We live IN the world but not OF the world. We are the ones whose prayer lives should not only be about asking for needs to be met, but asking God what we can do to help make this world into the Kingdom of God. We are given a task, equipped to do it, and asked to carry it out. There is a plan for your life and my life if you hear it and seek it! Seek it in prayer. And remember, even as you are praying, Jesus is praying with you and for you. You are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 28, 2017