Seventh Sunday of Easter - The Sunday after Ascension Day
May 28, 2006
The Gospel: John 17:11b-19
Sermon: "Prayers Like a Child"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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.
Prayers Like a Child
Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 28, 2006
On Wednesdays during the school year it is my pleasure to hear the children pray aloud. They have a wonderful way of praying for exactly what is important to them. As you can imagine they typically pray for mom, dad and family. The list often includes grandparents as well. In addition to family the children pray for their pets, those who are living and those who have died. We have heard prayers for stuffed animals, toys, and cartoon figures that the children sometimes believe are real. I believe this year we heard a prayer for Godzilla. We have also heard prayers for protection while they are playing. Finally, we have heard prayers for the environment and for God's help with natural disasters. One child prayed every Wednesday for the people who suffered from hurricanes last fall. The teachers and I wait patiently for each child to finish their prayers. Sometimes the list is very short, and sometimes it is long. They always pray about what is important to them. They believe, with a childlike faith, that God hears each prayer. They believe God will answer their prayer. What faith they do have?
Sometimes I wish we could hang onto that simple faith and belief. Age brings circumstances in our lives. The circumstances bring good times and hard times. We tend to get jaded and we wonder if God hears our prayers. Let's be honest, sometimes we wonder if God is really there.
Now, I'm not saying that we don't believe in prayer because down deep we do. If we didn't we wouldn't be here. We certainly wouldn't have the prayers of the people. We wouldn't pray diligently for those who are sick and ill. We may not know who they are, but we know they wouldn't be on that list if they didn't need our prayers. We also wouldn't pray for our servicemen and women. We wouldn't pray for their safety and for a quick return home if we didn't believe God might help them. We wouldn't offer thanksgivings for birthdays and prayers for the dead, if we didn't believe God would hear our prayers and respond.
Of course, there are three responses God can give. God can answer our prayers exactly the way we ask. In other words God can say yes. God can say no. Perhaps our prayers are not in our best interest. Finally, God can say wait. There is nothing wrong with the prayer. The timing for the answer is not appropriate. We might not be ready to hear it or accept it. Sometimes accepting wait is harder than accepting the yes or the no.
One of the amazing things to me is that we don't often think about Jesus praying. We think about The Lord's Prayer. We think about it because it is the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. We might think about the prayer in the garden the night before he died. Who can forget those words, "not my will but your will be done." We don't tend to think about Jesus praying in too many other circumstances. Yet, the scriptures tell us Jesus prayed everyday. He would go off by himself and pray. After he fed the five thousand he sent the disciples across the lake while he went on the mountain alone to pray. In the Gospel of John we see Jesus praying before he goes to the garden. Jesus prays for the disciples.
In this prayer, Jesus prays for those who have been with him. He prays for their protection and he prays for them to be one. They are to be one as God the Father and Jesus the Son are one. He prays for his joy to come upon them that their joy may be complete. Isn't it amazing? Jesus is about to be arrested. Judas is on his way to get the Temple guards. Jesus knows the end is near and he prays for the disciples. In the prayer he asks for protection, for oneness, and for joy. He wants them to be safe, to love one another and to be joyful in their new life with God.
Why would Jesus pray for these three particular things? I don't profess to know all of the reasons, but a few reasons are clear. First of all Jesus prays for protection because he understands the world. The world does not understand God and the world's ways work counter to God. Jesus came as a servant to all. Yet, we try to climb the corporate and social ladders. Jesus came to bring peace with open arms and the world tends to respond with closed fists and anger. Jesus knows the disciples will need protection in this crazy world. Anyone who follows Jesus will need protection from the authorities that claim power in the ways of the world. For if the world catches Jesus' message then the whole structure will be turned upside down. Countries would not push to be economic giants at the expense of others. Political parties would work with one another to solve issues instead of working for the betterment of the party. Those who have will be open to share with those who don't. Those who are powerful will become powerful servants and not powerful on the backs of others. Yet, the world is not at this point. Jesus is well aware that what will happen to him can happen to those who follow him. It did happen to many of them and it can happen to us. The world of their day turned against them and the world of our day can turn against us. So, Jesus prays for their protection. Jesus prays for our protection as we continue to work with God to change to world.
Secondly, Jesus prays for the disciples to be one. They are to be one as Jesus and God are one. After Jesus ascended into heaven, it didn't take them long to have differences of opinion. The differences of opinion and interpretation are going to occur. The question is did they stop loving one another? Did they allow their differences to tear them apart and cause them to stop loving each other as God and Jesus love. The answer of course is yes. They did. I wish I could say that those divisions have ceased this day. Yet, we still have divisions that separate us one from another. Some of the divisions are ridiculous. Some of them are important and need to be resolved with time, thought and prayer. However, we should never stop loving one another. The worst witness the church can bring is division. When we divide, even if we can't agree, then we show ourselves caught in the ways of the world.
Finally, Jesus prays for the disciples to experience joy, complete joy. This joy is not the kind of having a party. It is not New Year's Eve or a graduation party from high school or college. It is joy of another kind. It is the joy of knowing that God's will has been done. It is the joy of knowing that we have done our best in following God's will. We might not have done it completely right, but we did our best. We did our best to follow God.
If we take a moment and look at this prayer it is really fairly simple and direct. It is a beautiful prayer for the disciples, for us. I realize the words are quite adult. The thoughts are quite adult as well. Yet, the prayer in and of itself is very direct. Jesus wants us to be protected, joyful, loving and loved. We are not praying to Jesus; Jesus prays for us. The Son of the living God prays for God's creation. As we begin to come to a close of this Easter season, it is important for us to remember that the Son of God who died for us also prays for us. We truly do have an advocate with God the Father. We are God's children. So, as we offer our prayers this day, what are we saying? What are we asking? Do we believe, like little children, that God will answer our prayers? I hope each of us prays with the heart of a child so that we might feel protected, loved, loving and joyful. AMEN