EAVESDROPPING ON JESUS
John 17: 6-19
Privacy is an important matter to most of us, isn’t it? At certain levels of our government, it is believed that no work can be carried out without the benefit of a secure and a soundproof space. Just last week I watched a news story about people flying drones with cameras attached to them, aiming the attached cameras through the windows of people’s homes. Certainly confidential conversations are important in both personnel issues and personal issues. The safety of our nation is at stake if security leaks or cyber-criminals share top-secret information. We even trust that our phone calls and our Internet connections are secure, when in fact they may not be.
With all of that in mind, I still call this message “Eavesdropping on Jesus.” In this case, however, somehow we are given the privilege of hearing encouraging things, guiding things, and uplifting things that Jesus says about his disciples in a prayer. In our house, and in the house in which I grew up, the main bedrooms were upstairs. I can remember sitting on the stairs at night, sometimes with my sister, and hearing the things Mom and Dad were saying downstairs. Sometimes they had concerns about us; other times they were proud of us! And we got to hear it … by eavesdropping. My phone has an app on it to turn my phone into a mirror. So while I’m downstairs at night talking with Mary Ann, I have held my phone up at just the right angle to see either our grandson Calvin or Shane sitting there listening! If we say guiding or encouraging things about them, they pick up on it! Today it is apparent that Jesus knew what he is praying to his Heavenly Father, and that others might hear his guidance and his affirmation!
Lets begin with the kinds of prayers one can pray. Remember it with the acronym: ACTS I: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, and Intercession. All prayer is made up of one or more of these kinds.
Last week the Communion prayer, known as “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving,” was not a meandering prayer but an intentional one, recalling the Judeo/Christian roots we have in the Passover Seder and the historical ways God saved people from Exodus to the Gospels.
Up until 1962 in the Roman Catholic Church, priests faced the altar in their church, repeated the Mass in Latin, prayed for the people, then ate the bread and drank the wine on behalf of their parish. So it is that Christians have called Jesus our Great High Priest and have called his prayer in today’s gospel lesson Jesus’ priestly prayer. Why? Because Jesus is taking on the role of our priest: going before the throne of grace, pleading our case before his Father in Heaven, and making a sacrifice to pay the price for our sins. The sacrifice was of the Lamb of God, who is, unusually, the same as the priest. On our behalf, Jesus is praying for us, pleading for us, and paying the price for our sins. He and the Holy Spirit are called Advocate and Counselor; these are courtroom terms; Christianity is filled with them: judge, witness, guilty, and ransom to name a few. Jesus prayed for his followers like a priest.
But Jesus did more than pray for them: Jesus visited them, cared for them, and healed them. Today I hope you can see the connection Jesus wants his followers to make between our prayers and the care we show for others. Each Sunday we pray for enough people to fill a letter sized prayer list with single spaced names. Do we pray fervently? I think many here do; in our Lent Wednesday night services we even called every name out loud in the service. We need to pray for others; but we also need to care for others. If I visit someone, it is most always appreciated. But there are just so many hours in the day to get to all who are in need. If you visit someone, people often think of it as an unearned blessing: “someone cared enough to visit me.” Many in our Disciple classes have committed to intercessory prayers and support. Sometimes a call or a card is all it takes. Others among you have offered food, or rides, or to sit with a loved one. These can be godsend ministries.
So we know the power of prayer. But what might you pray toward the end of your life, the way Jesus was doing? What might you write down so loved ones could know your feelings and receive your guidance? Here is an example: Theologian Henry Nouwen returned from visiting his father one year and stopped to have dinner with one of his friends named Nathan. “During the meal, Nathan asked [him], ‘Where and how do you want to die?’ He raised the question in a gentle way. It was a question that came from [his] awareness that [he] was soon going to die. The awareness prompted us to ask: “Are we preparing ourselves for death, or are we ignoring death by keeping busy? Will our death give new life, new hope, and new faith to our friends, or will it be no more than another cause for sadness?’ … Nathan’s question brought me face-to-face with a great challenge: (said Nouwen,) not only to live well, but also to die well.’” [OUR GREATEST GIFT, Harper, 1995] How do we come to terms with our own death? What can we do to prepare ourselves and help others with that day? 1) We turn to a sacred moment, described first in John 17: 11: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.” So at first Jesus offers a prayer for protection, knowing there are evil ones everywhere. But this request had a purpose: so that they may be one as we are one. Jesus wants his disciples to be of one mind and one purpose, not broken into religious factions that have conflicts with each other. What Jesus asked for is not a reality in our day. We can do better, not being the same—because we are all different—but honoring our unity in our differences. Then we could respond to Jesus’ prayer for us. 2) Then in verse 17 Jesus prayed this: “Sanctify them in the truth.” Sanctification is a big word; it means, “Make them holy.” An old hymn had the words “Take time to be holy, speak oft with the Lord.” I always thought of God as holy, and people as human. But I learned over the years how you can be holy, and I can be holy: it happens when we agree to take our lead from God and not from the world. It happens when we follow Jesus and not the latest star in our culture. It happens when we decide to be a light for the world rather than letting the activities of the world put out our light. So Jesus is praying for his disciples to be “sanctified,” to be set apart as a light for a darkened world; to be leaven for the world.
Hearing what Jesus hopes for us, I’d like for God to protect you and to protect me. But further, I’m willing to participate in the sanctification process; God can make us more holy only if we agree to be transformed by Jesus’ teachings and God’s Spirit. I’m willing. How about you?
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 13, 2018