Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 1, 2003
The Gospel: John 17:11b-19
Sermon: "Jesus' Prayer for His Disciples"

The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley

The Gospel:

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

John 17:11b-19

Jesus' Prayer for His Disciples

Seventh Sunday of Easter - June 1, 2003

One night a father heard his young daughter speaking, although she was alone in her room. The door was cracked just enough so that he could see that she was kneeling beside her bed in prayer. Interested to find out what subjects a child would bring before God, he paused outside her door and listened. After tuning in to her speech he was puzzled to hear her reciting the alphabet: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G …" She just kept repeating it. He didn’t want to interrupt her, but soon curiosity got the best of him and he broke into her prayer, "Honey," he asked, "what are you doing?"

"I’m praying, Daddy," she replied.

"Well, why are you praying the alphabet?" he asked.

She explained, "I started my prayers, but I wasn’t sure what to pray. I decided to just say all the letters of the alphabet and let God put them together however he thinks best."

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like you just didn’t know how to start your prayers?

Walk into the Church – find your designated pew or spot
You look at your watch to see if you’ve given yourself enough time to talk with God before the priest enters the sanctuary or the processional hymn
You kneel or decide your knees are bothering so much that you just sit…then close you eyes, and think “now what do I say to God…” 
Your mind wonders, or sometimes you have come in with a list, or sometimes you turn to the bulletin for a source of inspiration or a person or event to pray for, sometimes you think about all the stuff you have to do and hope God hears it all to help you with it—I mean what a better prayer than my practical needs meeting the spiritual dimension

At times, I think we’re a lot like Charlie Brown who on many occasions expressed difficulty getting his act together. So, what does he do when he can’t handle it anymore and life doesn’t seem to have any purpose or meaning – he goes to Lucy’s psychiatric booth (and you know that he’s got to be pretty desperate to go over to Lucy’s)? The dialogue goes like this:

Charlie says: 
Lucy you’re going to have to help me out. 
I don’t know anything about my life, 
I don’t have any meaning and purpose in it 
You’re just going to have to help me put my act together. 

Lucy looks at Charlie with her typical sarcastic expression and says:
Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair on a ship.
Some people take their deck chair to the back of the ship, and they unfold it and they sit there looking at where they have been. 
Other people take their deck chair, and they unfold it, and they put it on the front of the ship to look and see where they are going. 
Now, Charlie Brown, life is simple, where is your deck chair? 

She looked at him in desperation, and frustration was on his face and Charlie scratched his head and said, 

Lucy I don’t know because I have never been able to get my deck chair unfolded. 

The Gospel today helps us unfold the “deck chair” of a prayerful life. Jesus shows us how he prayed, and models for us how we ought to pray.

What is prayer? 

Prayer is simply responding to God in thought and in actions, with or without words … a conversation with God in Holy silence.

God offers himself in our silence and welcomes us to lay our brokenness before Him, our hurts, our sorrows, our joys.

We see two important aspects of Jesus’ spiritual formation: he goes to a quiet place (the mountains, behind a shut door, out from the distractions of life) to spend time talking to His Father and to spent quiet time listening to him.

Jesus’ prayers were not canned – but arose out of His life: 
When He needed to be alone – he prayed
When He was with his friends – he prayed
When He was in crisis, as he hung on the cross – he prayed
Prayer was a normal part of Jesus’ life

Prayer ought not to be an exceptional activity for any of us as well, but a normal part of our daily lives. Whatever may come in life’s journey – the good, the bad, or the ugly – it should bring us to prayer. 

Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote a wonderful and powerful meditation on prayer entitled: “In Silence, He Hears Us, He Speaks to Us”. Before I begin, I want you to get yourselves comfortable in your pews, close you eyes and really hear her words: 

The most important thing in prayer is silence. Souls of prayer are souls of deep silence. We cannot place ourselves directly in God’s presence without imposing upon ourselves interior and exterior silence. That is why we must accustom ourselves to stillness of the soul, of the eyes, of the tongue.

God is the friend of silence. We need to find God, but we cannot find him in noise, in excitement. See how nature, the tress, the flowers, the grass grow in deep silence. See how the stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence. 

The more we receive in our silent prayer, the more we give in our active life. Silence gives us a new way of looking at everything. We need this silence in order to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and what He says through us.

Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In this silence He listens to us; it is there that He speaks to our souls. And there, we hear His voice. Interior silence is very difficult, but we must make the effort to pray. In silence we find a new energy and a real reality. God’s energy becomes ours, allowing us to perform things well. There is unity in our thoughts with His thoughts, unity of our prayers with His prayers, unity of our actions with His actions, our life with His life.

Our words are useless unless they come from the bottom of the heart. Words that do not give the light of Christ only make the darkness worse.

Moments ago we heard the Gospel read, known to many as "the high priestly prayer," John recites for us Jesus’ prayer for the disciples. We can never know whether or not John actually heard Jesus utter this prayer for his disciples. But, it remains a powerful prayer for us and to those in our world who are still not rushing to hear of God's saving love.

Jesus who would no longer physically walk with his disciples in their earthly ministry, asks the Father to be one with them as He was one with Him. No longer being with them, he asks His Father to sanctify them in the truth of His Word, so that they would be prepared to accept the cross and joy of their ministry --- a ministry that had begun with Jesus now rested entirely upon the shoulders of the disciples. Everything now depended on their faithfulness. 

There is an ancient legend that when Jesus arrived in heaven that the angel Gabriel asked what plans he had made for his work to continue. He replied that he had left it all in the hands of the disciples. "And if they fail?” asked Gabriel. And Jesus replied, "I have no other plans." 

Anglican Bishop Stephen Charles Neill once wrote that the Jesus’ priestly prayer brings together a three-fold relationship between The Father, The Son, and the Disciples. 

He said that they are intricately entwined with one another…creating a holiness in which the biblical sense of love can be understood: It comes through a personal relationship with God. 

A relationship not expressed in terms of rules or ethical formulas: rather, a love that is totally self-committed --
one to another -- in fulfilling the purpose of God. It is a relationship that can best be described as a seamless robe which does not lend itself to any kind of analysis – rather - it is understood in the relationship, a personal relationship, to those who He loves and serves. 

“…a seamless robe which does not lend itself to any kind of analysis – rather - it is understood in the relationship, a personal relationship, to those who He loves and serves…”

There’s a delightful story about a man’s daughter who had asked her local parish priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. "I guess you were expecting me," he said. "No, who are you?" 

"I’m the new rector at Saint John’s," he replied. "When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up." 

"Oh yeah, the chair," said the bedridden man. "Would you mind closing the door?" 

Puzzled, he shut the door. 

"I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter," said the man. "But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the priest talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.” 

I abandoned any attempt at prayer," the old man continued, "until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, "Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, "I’ll be with you always." Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now." 

"So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm." 

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, and returned to the church. 

Two nights later the daughter called to tell him that her daddy had died that afternoon. 

"Did he seem to die in peace?" he asked. 

"Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, In fact, beyond strange--kind of weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed."

Always pray and not lose heart, Saint Luke tells us.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to them, Saint James proclaims.

This is the confidence which we have in God, the author of First John wrote that if we ask anything according to His Will, He hears us.

We have been given the gift of God’s eternal love…

We have been given the reassurance that he with us and hears us…

All it asks of us is to believe His Will and speak from the heart.

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