Sunday, May 8th, 2016 – Sermon on John 17:20-26

You can listen to this sermon here.

John 17:20-26
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

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. Her audience of the prayer wasn’t God – it was the people.

Now, this may seem obvious, but it really is a simple ditch to fall into. For example, in church, when praying for someone, it can sound more like 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 a couple of years ago, Lauren and I were asked to say the prayer at our 10 year college reunion luncheon at St. Olaf. 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.” 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. To lose “sight of the fact that the true audience of prayer is God and not the congregation overhearing and joining in the prayer. To forget that the audience is God. Not the people.[1]

I’m not sure if you noticed but there is a lot of praying going on in our scripture lessons this morning.

In the story from Acts, Paul and Silas are singing and praying in prison.

The Psalm was a prayer because the whole book of psalms is a prayer book.

In Revelation, John of Patmos, at the very end of his letter to the seven congregations, at the very end of the Bible, he is praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

But out of these prayers today, the only one to make the same mistake as Lyla Garrity is Jesus.

Did you catch that Jesus was praying today? Here’s the scene: it is the night before Jesus’ death – Maundy Thursday – and, as Pastor Pam said last week, Jesus is still in his long, drawn out, Minnesota goodbye with his disciples. The car is warming up, his coat is on, everyone is standing at the door, and then… he starts to pray.

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.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

 He’s not simply praying for the disciples. He’s praying to them. Both He wants them to hear these words. That they are in God, and Jesus and God are in them. That they are called to be one just as God and Jesus are one. And most importantly, that God loves them, just as God loves Jesus. Like God’s very own child.

It’s a common mistake. To end up praying to someone. But it is a mistake that Jesus himself makes, so… maybe it is not such a bad thing after all. To not only pray for someone, but to pray to them and with them, 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 deal after all.

In fact, it can be quite a powerful thing, to hear someone praying for you in that way. To hear the words they want you to hear.

Back in 2009, I spent three weeks in Los Angeles for a Spanish Immersion class through seminary. For those three weeks, fellow seminarians and I lived and breathed Spanish language and Latino culture. Now at the same time, Lauren was in Geneva, Switzerland, also for a seminary class. We were literally half a world apart for three weeks. As you can imagine, it was hard to stay connected. We did what we could with email and phone calls, but it was hard.

Now, every day, I drove to class with the same two guys, Tom and Olaf. Now Olaf was a big 300 pound intimidating German man. When he ordered coffee at Starbucks, it was like a drill sergeant giving commands on the front lines of war. Despite this, he was a soft hearted and deeply loving man. One day, in the car, I was lamenting about how hard it was to be so far away and disconnected from Lauren. When we arrived at the church where our class was being held, Olaf got of the car, and in his booming German voice said, “Well, let’s go pray about this.” I know I was a seminarian and all, committed to this whole pastor thing. In fact I was being trained to pray for others but the moment Olaf wanted to pray for me, I was uncomfortable. Olaf marched Tom and I into the chapel, stopped in front of the altar, and reach out his hands. And there, with hands clasped, Olaf and Tom prayed for Lauren and me. And you know what? It did something to me. I felt like something greater than me was holding me up that day. I didn’t realize how much I needed someone to not only pray for me, but pray with me. So that I could overhear their words.

It can be a powerful thing, not to just pray for someone, but to pray with them – right then and there – with them listening in.

It can be a powerful thing. But why is it so hard though, too? Most of us just aren’t that comfortable doing that. Such praying has easily been my greatest growing edge as a pastor.

A couple of months ago, Jo Franklin and I went to a Stephen Ministry training in California for a week. And on opening night, as part of the introductions, the leaders of the conference told us to find someone we did not know. So we did.

But then, the conference leader said, “This is your prayer partner for the week. We want you to meet three times this week and pray out loud with each other.” And Jo and I panic a little bit in that moment. The thought of praying out loud with a stranger multiple times throughout the week was not an easy pill to swallow.

Praying with and for someone is not easy. And sometimes, I think it is because just that act of praying is not always easy. Because most of us, if we’re honest, have questions when it comes to prayer.

Sometimes when we start to pray, faith questions start to sneak in. Is there a God? Is there a God who hears? Is there a god who answers?

Other time ethical questions become the intruder. If my grandfather is living with torturous pain and can hardly move his body on his own. When all signs point to the fact he needs to die…is it alright to pray for death?

And sometimes, it is theological questions that hijack our prayers. If I pray for my sick child and they don’t get better does that mean that God didn’t hear my prayer. Or, if I pray for my sick child and they do get better, does that mean God would not have healed her without my prayer? [2]

These are all important questions. Questions we should wrestle with. But as I’ve struggled to pray with people, even as a pastor, what I’ve come to learn is that if I can just set those questions aside for a moment, and take the risk to simply connect with this person and say in a prayer what I want this person to hear, then there is an encounter with God in that moment that is like no other. And I’ve never once regretted praying with someone. But more times than I care to remember, I’ve gone home regretting the times I didn’t pray with them.

It is one thing to say that you will pray for someone. It is an entirely different thing for you to hold their hands right then and there and pray with them.

In the end, Jo and I were both grateful for our prayer partners and the opportunity to pray with them. It stretched us both in a really good way.

So this morning, as Jesus prays for his disciples, so that they can over hear him, I want to encourage us to start risking to do the same.

What would it be like the next time someone tells you something that would lead you to say, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers,”…what would it be like if you said, “Well, can I pray with you right now?” I suspect that people long to be prayed with more than we know. And it is not just something the pastors can do. You can do it too.

And if you’re not sure what to say, say that. Begin by saying, “Dear God, I don’t know what to say…” And then go for it. Because it is a powerful thing to overhear someone praying for you. It can be an encounter with God.

With that, I invite you to close your eyes. And listen to Jesus’ prayer again. Because it isn’t just a prayer for his disicples in the past. It is prayer for you too. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

As we turn now in our hymnals to number 814, this hymn is meant to be sung in repetition so that it can be a prayer prayed. So, as we sing, I invite you to follow along for the first two times through. But then, as you are able, I invite you to just close your hymnal or your eyes and just sing it as your own prayer. Let us stand and pray.

Amen.

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

[2] I got this from a sermon by Tom Long.

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2 comments on “Sunday, May 8th, 2016 – Sermon on John 17:20-26

  1. Oberneder says:

    Wow, that really spoke to me, you are spot on about prayer! Well said.

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