I spent a bit of time asking Adventers this week about their favorite prayer in the Bible. Not surprisingly, the Lord’s Prayer dominated those discussions. In fact, the Lord’s Prayer so dominated those discussions that I had to remind some people there are lots of other prayers in the Bible. It could be argued, I think, that Abraham’s and Moses’ intercession with God on behalf of the righteous is a kind of prayer. Certainly, Hannah’s Prayer and Mary’s Prayer—known around here as the Magnificat, are a kind of prayer. There are lots of prayers in Scripture. And I get why most choose the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples asked Jesus, “How should we pray?” Jesus said “Pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven . . .’”. It’s sort of hard to reject a prayer taught by the Lord as the best prayer in Scripture.
As those conversations continued, though, I asked people how they would feel to know that Jesus prayed specifically for them. The looks I got are not dissimilar from the ones on your faces now. Yes, Jesus actually prayed for His disciples. Yes, Jesus actually prayed specifically for you and for me.
Turn to your reading from the Gospel of John this morning. Jesus understands that He will be leaving His disciples soon. But did you notice that Jesus understands that His disciples will also leave one day? Look at the beginning of the section in verse 20. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their word. How do you and I fit into this prayer? WE believed because of their word. Down through the ages, God entrusted that His Gospel would be shared. It made its way from the small circle of disciples all the way into the hearts and minds of those who shared it with you and with me! It is a crazy way to share such a unique treasure, but that is precisely how God chose to work. Fallible, impacted by sin, finite human beings like ourselves were trusted to share the Good News of Christ Crucified and Raised with the next generation. This repeated itself in our cases for more than nineteen centuries! Can you imagine? How many of us know our earthly family histories more than a generation or two back? How many of us, who are in to such things, can really push back past Ellis Island or the Mayflower? And yet we are clear fruit of Jesus’ prayer. We came to believe through the word of those who came before.
And what is Jesus’ prayer for all of us? . . . that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in Me and I in You, may they also be in Us. That Jesus would even consider to make such a request of His Father makes me wonder, for just a moment, if the Roman Catholics are not right about Him being an only child. Siblings seem to fight really well. I don’t know that my sister and I were ever truly exceptional at fighting, but we sure enjoyed getting the other in trouble with our parents for it. Heck, I would slap myself loudly and get her in trouble by yelling her name. If mom or dad only heard the slap, they assumed she really had hit me and punished her. I hear the shock and see your faces, don’t pretend like you never did such things with your siblings. And have no fear on my sister’s account, she gave as well as she got! The sad thing is that my sister and I really got and get along. The stuff we did to each other, for the most part, was more out of mischievousness than out of any deep division or battles. I know siblings whose actions toward one another would make Reuben and the other brothers of Joseph cringe, and they sold him into slavery and reported him dead to their Father! Jesus wants us to join Him in this great big family, AND He expects us to be one? Yes.
One of the mysteries of the Church is that our Lord God is a Trinity of Persons. We will spend more time in a couple weeks discussing that truth, but we should all know that there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. How they work together, how they hold together, remains a mystery to us, but we know that they are Three Persons in One Unity. That’s where things get really tough for us to comprehend. How can a Father, Son, and Spirit be separate but the same?
Those of us who follow Jesus, who claim to be His disciples, are called to mirror that same reality, though we only do so partially, as best we can in these sinful bodies in this sin-affected world. At least we do that well, right? For all our badmouthing of democrats or republicans and of how they have broken our political system, we Christians need to look at ourselves and remind ourselves of the disunity we have fostered. We hold meetings across denominations to discuss the rules and protocols of how we are going to meet. And we wring our disappointed hands whenever the subsequent meetings do not result in closer communion or willingness to work together. At least in our own denomination we excel in living out that unity for which Jesus prays, right? Wow! That earned some snorts! Think about that for a second, though. Our Lord prays to the Father that we might be one as He and the Son are One, and we snort and chuckle at our own behavior. Maybe it is no small wonder that our Lord prayed for us and caused that prayer to be remembered by those who heard it. Maybe it is no small wonder that the world around us rejects the idea that the Father sent the Son to redeem the world.
The unity to which our Lord calls us, it seems to me, is not particularly tough to grasp or accept. He prays that we might be unified so that the world may believe You have sent me. What should be the claim of all who claim to be Jesus’ disciples? We all claim to believe in the Trinity, right, or at least we did at our baptism or confirmation? We claim to believe that Jesus was and is the Incarnated Son of God who died, was buried, rose again from the dead, and will come again to establish God’s rule in totality, right? We claim that the Holy Spirit empowers us to do incredible works to His honor and His glory, right? And we claim that one day, when He returns, all His people will be gathered to share in His eternal rule, right? Sounds like the creeds, doesn’t it? But wait, we aren’t a creedal people. We don’t need or want litmus tests, do we? But if we are all called to witness to the world that the Father sent the Son, and that is the purpose of the unity He prays for, is it possible the creeds describe at a very minimum who were are and who we are called to be? And, looking at this prayer, do they not sum up quite well the reasons that we believe that the Father sent the Son? Do not the creeds express the intimacy which Jesus offers us, to which He calls each and every member of the human race?
Intimacy with God—It is a notion that makes us squirm, does it now? How many of us live in fear that we are really unlovable? How many of us, deep down, are convinced that we are the EXCEPTION to Christ’s promise? How many of us are convinced that our brothers and sisters gathered here could not possibly love the “real” us, whoever we think we are? How many of us really fear to know God because it would mean He knows us? It is a fear that Jesus knows. It is a fear against which Jesus speaks and prays in our readings today. If the only point of His coming was that we would be forgiven by His work--that would be a story for the ages. But Jesus promises even more! He promises each one of us who calls Him Lord a share in His eternal glory! The glory that You have given Me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as We are one. I in them and You in Me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. Wow! What a prayer! What a request of the Father! What does it mean?
Today we celebrate the Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost. It is a Sunday of transition. Thursday, we spoke of the changing focus of God’s action in the world. Jesus’ Ascension was not an addendum to the Gospel. It is every bit as important as His birth in Bethlehem and His death and Resurrection. Jesus left the Father and humbled Himself taking on human form. He lived, breathed, taught, befriended, and all those things we consider “being human.” Then, in fulfillment of the plan of salvation, He went willingness to the Cross. He laid down that life for all our sakes. And, for His faithful obedience He was raised from the dead and is now enthroned at the right hand of the Father. We might think of Jesus’ Ascension as His coronation and the beginning of His rule. And we live in that time where Jesus is preparing to establish His rule for all eternity. We can no more not think of Jesus not ascended as we can think of Him as not-incarnate or not-resurrected.
As a result, we might be tempted to think of this time as a time of sadness or aimlessness. But think on the promise of the prayer and the season. When Jesus walked the earth, where was the locus of God’s power and healing and teaching? In Jesus. Those who became the early witnesses of the Gospel came into direct contact with Jesus or with those who were in direct contact. Jesus tells His friends not to be sad that He is leaving, though. He is going to prepare a place for them and that He will not leave them comfortless. He promises to send the Spirit who will work through them to glorify Him. And He prays for them and for us! As crazy as it sounds to our ears, you and I have been called into an intimate relationship with the Trinity. You and I, and all those who claim Him as Lord, have been given the opportunity to become the loci of God’s redeeming power in the world, the feet of those who bring good news, the ones who have been empowered to do things even greater than our Lord! Each time we Adventers gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we give thanks to God for the saving work He has done in our lives and in the world, and we pray that we will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit to serve Him in unity, constancy, and peace. In other words, or maybe in just John’s words, we join our Lord every time we gather praying that we might be in Him, and He in us, working to teach the world that He was sent by the Father, not to condemn the world, but to love it and redeem it!
In one sense, brothers and sisters, our purpose is lofty beyond our understanding. Why does God choose to work through human beings like you and like me? Why does God consent to clothe in His glory? How can we rule with Him for an Ages of Ages? And what is the key that makes all these lofty promises possible? Given the stakes, you and I might judge God right if He gave the hardest final ever. If the reward is the greatest ever, should not the test be the most challenging ever? In one sense it was, but that test was taken by our Lord Christ. It was our Lord Jesus who was not tempted in the wilderness! It was our Lord Jesus who did not succumb to His desire that the cup pass from Him! It was our Lord Jesus who willed Himself to stay on that Cross for our sakes, even as we derided Him and challenged Him on whether He truly was the Son of God! It was our Lord Jesus who lived and died sinless, always about the will of the Father who sent Him. And we pass, because He passed. Just as we die in His death, we live in His Resurrection! Our Father in heaven sees Him in all of us who claim Him as Lord and us in Him. Righteous Father, the world does not know You, but I know You; and these know that You have sent Me. That is simple one of the benefits of the unity for which our Lord prays.
Brothers and sisters, are you living your life as if you are a manifestation of God’s love and God’s glory in the world? Brothers and sisters, are you living into the pray that He prayed for you and for me? So often, it is easy for you and for me to think of the Church as our Lord’s Bride. Heck, that has been the subject of Revelation these last few weeks, right? But the Bride is not just a thing. The Church is made up of lots of individuals, people like you and like me, people who are called to live a life reflective of the intimacy of the Trinity, people who manifest God’s glory and love in the world around them. By virtue of our Baptism, brothers and sisters, we have been offered the incredible opportunity to be heralds of our Lord. We have been given the opportunity to supply where there is need, to bring His Light where there is darkness, to bring His hope where there is sadness, and to bring His Life where there is death and destruction. As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. That, my brothers and sisters, is the prayer that God the Son prayed for all of us. That, my brothers and sisters, is the goal that ought to shape all we do, both as a body and as individuals.