I’m Praying for Them (and for you!)

John 17:1-11

This is Jesus’ “Priestly Prayer.”  John doesn’t have a version of the Lord’s Prayer in his gospel.  This is the Lord’s Prayer,” according to John.

Don’t try to make intellectual sense out of what he’s saying.  Just let his words resonate in your feelings.  Feel the boundless love he is pouring out to his disciples.  They are eavesdropping on what he is saying to God, and they must be feeling Jesus’ love.  You and I get to eavesdrop as well.  Listen to Jesus praying to his Father,  and pay attention to how you feel.

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After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

“I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b]your name…, so that they may be one as we are one.

Can you feel the love Jesus has for his disciples?  It’s the same love he has for you and me, too.  Many of you can hear yourself being included when he says in verse 8, “They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”  Many of you understand that Jesus comes from and is sent by his Father.  You are part of the “they” that he’s talking about.

Let me read verses 9 through 11 again, and listen as though Jesus is praying for you – today – not just his disciples 2000 years ago.  I’ll change it a bit to highlight that he’s talking about you.  Pay attention to how it makes you feel to hear this.

I’m praying for [you! Father].  I’m not praying for the world but for those [sitting in this sanctuary this morning, whom] you gave me, because they are yours….  I’m no longer in the world, but [you, Congregational Church of Easton members] are in the world,…  Holy Father, watch over them in your name,, that they will be one just as we are one.

Can you feel the love?  Jesus adored his followers, and he adores you and me too!  If you’re like me, it’s hard to really believe this.       Why is it so hard to take this in?  Maybe it’s because we’re so hard on ourselves!

Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to change their personalities.  Thomas has a skeptical mind.  Remember his doubts?  Peter is brash and often speaks without thinking.  Jesus doesn’t ask them to change their quirks and idiosyncrasies.  He just asks them to receive his love.

We don’t have to change.  We simply have to receive what he tells us,   and what he tells us is that we are loved.  We are loved by a savior who washes the feet of his disciples and gives his life for them and for us. 

Can you take in that kind of unconditional acceptance and love?  It’s not easy to do.  It’s not easy to really trust that we are loved and adored no matter what.  It’s hard to affirm who we are as children of God so we can use that affirmation to support and love and affirm others. I think it’s because we’re so hard on ourselves.

Having spent a good deal of my life criticizing myself, I’m particularly sensitive to little things people say that put themselves down as I listenen to many of you I hear lots of little self-put-downs like these:  “I’m no good at that.”  “I’m not organized.”  “I could never do that.”     It’s not just the words themselves that I notice.  It’s the tone of voice.  There’s often a note of shame in the person’s voice.  They break eye contact and often look down.

It makes me want to say, “NO!”  There’s nothing wrong with you!  You are loved just the way you are!   I’m not sure what to make of the figure of Satan in the Bible, but I’m convinced that self-criticism and negative thoughts about yourself are the voice of the devil.

We don’t need to change our personalities.   Most of us do need to turn our way of thinking about ourselves around. “Repentence” means “turning around.”  We do need to repent in the sense of changing our mindset so we can take in and truly trust that we are loved just the way we are

Here’s what happens if we can trust that we’re loved and lovable. In my experience there’s a shift that happens when we trust the love of Christ. There’s a shift from the language of “I can’t” to “I can” or at least to “I’ll try.”  Taking in and trusting the love of God empowers us to act.

It also empowers us to move towards suffering rather than away from it.  The world is so full of suffering!  When you feel completely loved, you want everyone to feel loved.  So trusting that you are loved naturally makes you want to move towards suffering rather than away from it.  You naturally want to relieve whatever suffering you come across.  At least that’s what I experience.

I ran across a story about a simple woman who was able to receive the good news that God and Jesus love her no matter what.  It’s a story about a woman who must feel so loved that she naturally tries to relieve suffering when she sees it.

Mark Labberton is the President of Fuller Theological Seminary, and he talks about a woman he met during a trip to northern Uganda. He was visiting an area where a terrorist group, the Lord’s Resistance Army was abducting children. Here’s the story he tells:

The Lord’s Resistance Army Was up to its evil games, and children slept in “night commuter” camps to stay alive and to avoid being captured and tortured into becoming child soldiers This particular night, as every night, hundreds of children came to sleep together in the rough of an empty school.  Only one adult was present, a middle-aged woman, [who was] available to help and comfort any [of the frightened children who needed her]….  She explained that she came each night as a volunteer to help.

I asked her why she was doing this. She talked about the children’s need and her desire to do what she could under such difficult circumstances and in the face of such fears.  Still wanting to know more, I pressed, “But what motivates you to care?  Why do you do it?

she looked me up and down and finally said, “Well, I am what you call a Christian. I read my bible every day, and every week I go to a church where we eat something called the Lord’s Supper.  I can’t imagine doing those things all my life and not coming here.  Where else would it lead?

Where else would radically trusting that we are loved lead but to stay alert to people in our communities who are suffering?  Where else would totally trusting that we are loved lead but to do anything we can to relieve some of that suffering?  When we know without any shadow of a doubt that we are loved, the natural response is to follow Jesus’ way.  The natural response is to be caught up in the way of life Jesus led.

Let me conclude with a wonderful quote that talks about being caught up in Jesus’ way of life. Frederick Bueckner is a Presbyterian minister and author of over 30 books on the Christian life.  He writes:

Some think a Christian is one who necessarily believes certain things. That Jesus was the son of God, say.  Or that Mary was a virgin…. Or that all other religions are all wrong.

Some think a Christian is one who necessarily does certain things. Such as going to church.  Getting baptized….  Reading the Bible.  Doing a good deed each day.

Some think a Christian is just a nice person.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the father but by me”….   He didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was.

He didn’t say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could “come to the father.”  He said that it was only by him — by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way

A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it….

Let us pray.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you for loving us so much that we can stop being so hard on ourselves.  Thank you for loving us so completely that you set us on the path that Jesus followed.  Thank you, Holy God, for filling us with your love so that we overflow with love for everyone we meet. Amen.