Sunday, June 1st, 2014 – Sermon on John 17:1-11

John 17:1-11
1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

In the television show Friday Night Lights, Lyla Garrity is a 17-year-old, high school cheerleader whose parents have recently decided to get a divorce. Now, in the midst of this turmoil and chaos, she has also recently found Jesus. You know the type. She was newly baptized and she’s on fire for the Lord. She spends her free time putting flyers for her church on people’s windshield and leading a prayer meeting before school.

As I said, her parents have recently decided to get a divorce, but Lyla’s mom has already started dating again. And on this particular night, her mother’s new boyfriend is over for dinner. Lyla’s younger brother and sister don’t seem to mind it, but to the viewer, there is no doubt about it. Lyla is not happy about what is happening between her mother and this new guy.

So after the food has been passed around and everyone is two spoonsful into their dinner, she arrogantly and rudely says, “Ahem, aren’t we forgetting something?” as she reaches out her hands for prayer. The family sets down their silverware, grabs hands, bows their heads, and Lyla begins to pray…

Thank you, Lord for this food we are about to receive. And for your wisdom, Lord. I pray that you will guide me and everyone at this table to help respect you and make good choices. For example to not take advantage of the vulnerability of a recently separated but not yet divorced woman. And in turn, to give others at this table the strength to remember that a mother of three should not be wearing skinny jeans. Amen.

Have you ever been in a situation like that? Where it felt like the one praying wasn’t so much praying to God as much as they were lecturing those listening to the prayer?

Now, even though Lyla was quite rude about it, she was making a pretty common mistake when it comes to prayer – praying to the people, rather than for the people. As preacher Tom Long says, this mistake happens whenever the one praying “loses sight of the fact that the true audience of prayer is God and not the congregation overhearing and joining in the prayer…Prayer is communication to and with God. Prayers are properly spoken to God, and God alone.”[1]

Now, this may seem obvious, but it really is a simple ditch to fall into. At times here at church, I feel tempted to pray for someone as if I am making an announcement about them, rather than actually praying for them. Lord, we especially pray for Joe who has just recently had back surgery, and who will be in hospital room 226 through Thursday, but he would rather not have any visitors at this time.

Or just yesterday, Lauren and I were asked to say the prayer at our 10 year college reunion luncheon that was being held at the college president’s house. Immediately after being asked, my first thought was, “Okay, we had better make this an awesome prayer so that we can impress of our classmates.” Which just goes to show that my focus was not on praying to God and for my classmates. But rather praying to my classmates and impressing them.

It’s a common mistake. In fact, Jesus, of all people, makes this mistake throughout the gospel of John. In many cases, Jesus’ long-winded prayers can seem more like teaching sermons for his disciples, rather than prayers to God. It almost seems like Jesus is intentionally praying to the congregation, rather than to God.

Which means, maybe it is not such a bad thing at all. To pray to the congregation. With the intention that they overhear the words that are being spoken. Sure we don’t have to be as rude and passive aggressive as Lyla Garrity, but maybe it is not such a big mistake after all. Which is good news because Jesus does it again in our gospel lesson for today.

Here’s the scene: it is the night before Jesus’ death – Maundy Thursday – and he’s been saying his goodbyes to all of the disciples. And then with everyone still gathered around and listening in, he starts to pray. Now, I don’t know if you actually heard or remember any of what Jesus said, because, as one person put it this week, Jesus in the gospel of John can often sounds like the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon – waaa wa waa waa, wa wa waa wa.

Jesus prays with such high and lofty words, that twist and turn, and curve in on themselves, it’s hard to keep track of what he is trying to say. But if we listen closely, just like the disciples did, we can hear that not only is Jesus praying for them…he’s praying to them. So that they might also hear. ““Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that (all people) may know you.” He’s teaching them as he prays. That eternal life is to know God. That eternal life isn’t about getting into heaven. It’s about knowing God. Here and now.

A little later, he says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” And now Jesus is empowering them through is prayer. I am no longer in the world. But you are! You. The disciples of Jesus are still in the world. In this prayer to God, Jesus is sending a message to his disciples:My time has come. I am no longer in the world, but you are. And now my works are in your hands. Through this prayer, “Jesus is counting on us to be his presence in the wake of his absence.”[2]

So there you go. That’s what Jesus wants his disciples to overhear in his prayer. That he is counting on them – on us – to be his presence, in the midst of his absence.

How about that for a graduation speech, during this graduation season – Jesus needs you to go and be his presence in the world.

And here’s the thing: you already are. You already are being the presence of Jesus in the world. The only question is whether you choose to see it or not. Because when you can see it, it makes all the difference.

In one of the greatest commencement speeches ever given, the late David Foster Wallace begins by telling a short story. “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the (heck) is water?”[3]

As Wallace says it, the point of this story is “that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”[4] Some times we are oblivious to that which is most obvious. That which is most real.

He goes on to tell them what so often goes unspoken in graduation speeches. That most of our lives end up in the exact same place. That we will spend much of our life sitting in traffic, going to the grocery store, waiting in long lines, being sick of our jobs, and worried about finances. All of us.

As he says it, we will wake up early, go to work, come home, realize there is no food to eat, go to the store, where it is too busy and there are not enough checkout lines open. The person in front of you is arguing over whether she can or cannot use this coupon to get beef jerky, and the cashier is clearly over tired and over worked. And then when you finally get through the check out, the cashier says to you, “Have a nice day,” in a voice that absolutely sounds like the voice of death. And then you go home, eat, go to sleep, and wake up and do it all over again.

Which isn’t the most uplifting graduation speech. “Happy graduation. Welcome to life. It gets kind of old after awhile.”

But this is when Wallace says we all have a choice to make. “Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give (us) time to think, and if (we) don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, (we will) be (angry) and miserable (most of our life). Because (our) default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about (us). About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way.” And then our only goal will be to figure out how to get them out of our way.

So we can think like that, Wallace says. Or we can think differently. We can choose “to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as (we are), and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than (we) do.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at (the) dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down….You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.[5]

We need to be reminded, woken up to this reality. That every moment can be sacred ground. We need to be reminded of this, or else we run the risk of worshipping the wrong thing.

“If you worship power, you will always feel insecure and afraid. If you worship money, you will never have enough. If you worship intellect, you will convince yourself you are a failure. If you worship the body, you will grow to hate yours.”[6]

But to worship God makes all the difference in the world. This is what it means to worship God. To know that you live in a world that God created and loves. A lot. And that what happens here matters. A lot. And so you pay attention to it. To what happens all around you, trusting that every moment has the potential to be a God-moment. If we can stay conscious to the ordinariness that is around us, we will learn to see how sacred it all can be.

It’s about having abundant life… before death. And this is Jesus’ prayer for you. That you would be the one to help others see and experience that life before death. That you would be the presence of Jesus in the world, after he’s left.

It’s late. It’s after supper. And the time has come. And there is no doubt about it. Jesus is praying for his disciples. But he is also praying to them. He wants them to overhear what he has to say to God: All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.

Friends, Jesus is pointing out the water to the disciples. The most obvious thing and real thing that we, like those fish, can be so oblivious to – that we live and move and have our being in God.  And Jesus prays that we will remain awake to this reality. That we would know that we are the ones in the world. The world God loves so much. And that in seeing that and knowing that, we would then be the very presence of Jesus in the world, after Jesus has left it. This is our world, folks. And it is filled with such divine and sacred things that are so ordinary that we can become so obvious to it. Divine and sacred things that we do. Divine and sacred things that other do – all of which is the work of God in us. And it is everywhere. We’re swimming in it. May we have the eyes to see. Amen.

 

[1] Tom Long, Whispering the Lyrics, pg. 121.

[2] Karoline Lewis, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1996

[3] David Foster Wallace, http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

[4] Ibid.

[5] David Foster Wallace, http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

[6] Anna Carter Florence, Lecture at Festival of Homiletics, 2014.

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