Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 23, 2004
The Gospel: John 17:20-26
Sermon: "Jesus' High Priestly Prayer"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 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. 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 that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 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. "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 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."
Jesus' High Priestly Prayer
Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 23, 2004
I love to be with the day school children in chapel on Wednesdays. We sing and we hear a story together. They get to light the candles and put them out at the end. The most fun I have with them is praying. This year we taught them the Lord's Prayer. Some of the pronunciations of the words has been interesting. For example, Our Fodder, who art in heaben, hallo wed or howard, be thy name. Thy kingdom come thy wheel be done, on earth as it is in heaben. Saying these words for our three year olds is quite a challenge.
The most interesting prayers we have are our intercessory prayers. We have told them we can pray for anything during this prayer time. During the year we have prayed for: mommy and daddy, sister and brothers, cousins, grandma and grandpa and friends. We have also prayed for animals, dogs, cats, bunnies, goldfish and a host of other living animals. In addition, to the living animals we have prayed for lost animals and for dead animals. Now, I expect that a child would pray for a pet they lost. It has been different to pray for squirrels they saw on their way to school. We have prayed for hamsters and rabbits that supposedly ran away from home. I learned later that they did not run away. Mom and dad buried them and did not want to tell them that they died. Probably the most interesting prayers have concerned television and movies. We have had requests to pray for sponge bob, godzilla, mothra, and even scooby doo. Sometimes they cross the line between fantasy and reality.
The one common thread for these children is that all of these things, family, friends, cartoons and even dead squirrels on the side of the road, are things they care about deeply. For most of us these are the kinds of prayers we offer. We don't pray to God about things that are not important. We pray about things that are important. We also are to pray for our daily needs and concerns. After all, Jesus did teach us to pray for our daily bread. Most of our prayers fall into this type of prayer known as intercessory prayer. In this type of prayer we pray for God to intercede on our behalf for someone or something.
In our Gospel reading this morning we see Jesus praying. In the first line we read that Jesus is prayed for his disciples. From this line we might believe that Jesus is offering an intercessory prayer asking God to intercede for his followers. However, we would be mistaken. This prayer is more than an intercessory prayer. It is much deeper and has incredible significance for us today.
We only get a portion of the prayer that Jesus has offered. The entire prayer is the whole of Chapter 17 in John. This prayer is offered at the end of the evening of the Last Supper just before they leave for the garden. It is the transition between the evening with the disciples and Jesus' arrest. Jesus' last act with the entire group of his disciples is to pray. He prays not for himself but for the community and its relationship with God.
In this prayer we notice three things. The first thing we notice is the depth of the relationship between Jesus and God. Secondly, we notice that Jesus speaks to God on behalf of the faith community. Finally, we notice that Jesus' prayer transcends the immediacy of the moment. He prays for the disciples at present. He prays for the disciples to come. He prays for the fulfillment of God's kingdom and our life with God at that time.
If we look carefully we notice that Jesus and God have a very intimate relationship. The entire prayer is like an intimate conversation. Jesus prays using the pronouns I and you. He addresses God as Father. The intimacy of the prayer shows us Jesus' closeness to God. Furthermore, Jesus is bold in this prayer. He has confidence he will be heard. He also has confidence in the promises of God. Throughout this Gospel Jesus has acknowledged that God gave, that God sent, that God loves. God has done these things not only for Jesus but also for the community of disciples. God gave them to Jesus. God sent them to Jesus and God loves them. Jesus boldly prays for them and knows that due to his relationship with God his prayer will be received and answered.
At this point, we should notice what Jesus prays for and on behalf of the community. Jesus' prayer is for the disciples to have the relationship with God that he has with God. He knows that God gave the disciples to him. Now, he offers the disciples back to God and entrusts them to God's ever-present care. He asks God to fulfill the promises by sanctifying the community of disciples. He asks that they be one. They are to be one in relationship with God, unified in relationship to one another and to God. We might think that Jesus is praying for the immediate group of disciples around Jesus. We might believe that he is particularly praying for those who will go with him to the garden. However, this thought is not the case. In the prayer, Jesus states specifically, "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one." Jesus prays for all of those who will believe in the future. This prayer is just as much for you and I as it was for the disciples 2000 years ago. This prayer will be for all those who believe today, tomorrow and beyond. This prayer has no end.
The fact that this prayer has no end brings us to the third point we should notice. This high priestly prayer of Jesus asks for unity. Jesus specifically asks that we all may become completely one with God, Jesus and one another. The central aspect of this unity is founded on the love of God. The time when this will occur is the end times. We will know the fullness of God's love and the fullness of God's joy as the entire community of God when the kingdom of God comes completely. At this time God's will, will be done. We will know the fullness of joy, the fullness of love, the fullness of peace. In short, we will be one with God the father as Jesus is one with God the father. We will be in that intimate relationship with God. There will be no pain and no sorrow. There will be the fullness of God's love surrounding us and flowing through us.
Too often I hear that we do not need to pay attention to the events and stories of the scriptures. I have been told that they have no significance for us today. The events happened a long time ago and they have no meaning for us in the technologically advanced, scientific world of the 21st century. Yet, for all of our advances I still see sickness. I still see hunger and poverty. There is violent and tragic death in our cities. Children are abused. We read of wars and rumors of wars. We have not changed much. This prayer teaches us that the scriptures are relevant to us today. We may not admit it, but we need God. In God, we find comfort from the problems that beset us. In God, we find peace for the ravaged world around us. In God, we find hope for the poor and weary among us. In God, we find the love that can unite us to do good works while we wait for the fulfillment of God' s kingdom. And when the fulfillment is upon us the prayer Jesus taught us to pray will be answered. Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is heaven. AMEN
Notes for this sermon were taken from "The New Interpreter's Bible”, vol IX, pp. 797-98.