Easter 7B: Thoughts & Prayers

Readings

  • Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
  • Psalm 1
  • 1 John 5:9-13
  • John 17:6-19
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

There is a phrase that is showing up more and more on social media that is causing some deeply polarized reaction: “Thoughts and Prayers.”

At first, it seems a simple enough statement – especially t0 those in the know of what it means.  I have been interested to see increased reactions to this phrase – all the positive and negative.  Many of the arguments I am hearing now, I have heard before, because the bulk of the reactions have to do with the nature of prayer.

I like to talk to people about prayer – what is it to them; when was the last time they prayed; when was the last time they asked someone to pray for them?  You know, those typical ‘pastory’ questions that tend to make people uncomfortable.

The truth is I have always been concerned with the nature of prayer.  And one of the ways I learn what I think is by hearing all the different opinions people have about a subject.

Conversations about prayer makes people uncomfortable.  When I visit with someone, I will inevitably ask them if I may pray for them and with them.  I get more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’ – the same is true if I ask a person if they would like to be added to our parish’s prayer list.

There are a number of reasons why people say ‘no.’ There are people who don’t want to appear weak and in need; people who don’t want others to know that they are struggling.  There are people who don’t think they will have the so-called ‘right’ words to say; people who are intimidated by speaking to God out loud in front of other people.  There are people who would rather keep their prayers to themselves – a conversation with God in their heads that might be more thought than prayer.  There are people who believe that if God knows our hearts and minds, then there is no need to name anything in prayer.  And there are people who believe that prayer doesn’t accomplish anything – it’s purposeless and doesn’t result in any of the things that direct action does.

I don’t always have the answers to confront these ideas and feelings and beliefs about prayer.  There are days that I’m not particularly inclined to prayer.  Days when I don’t want to feel vulnerable.  Days when I can’t find the right words, or any words.  Days when I question what impact my insignificant prayers are having in the world.  And some days I don’t pray.  But, most of the time, I try to carve out a little space for prayer because I do know this: prayer is not entirely about me.

“God commands us to pray, God promises to hear us, and God gives us the words. Notice that in all of these God speaks! God commands, promises, and gives the words. God’s words initiate and enable our words.”[1]

Prayer is God-commanded.  Prayer is God-enacted.  Prayer is God’s breath and life bringing us all together into the truth of God’s unity and keeping us in the Word of God.  Prayer is worship – prayer gathers us, prayers inspires the Word of God in us, prayer feeds us, and prayer sends us out.

Through today’s gospel lesson, we learn that gathered in that upper room, after a the meal where Jesus shares what it means to eat at the Lord’s Table, Jesus preaches and teaches the disciples a number of things that they need to know.  And after he said all those things, he began to pray.  Right there, out loud, for himself, and on behalf of all those gathered with him.

And we get to hear it.

The 17th chapter of John is a dense and rich prayer about Jesus and God and the disciples.  It is a prayer that shares echoes of the Lord’s Prayer in a way that highlights the unity that God wants for a world into which this heavenly Parent sent a Son.

Jesus prays to God to keep the disciples in God’s name.

Not so that when they die they will be with their buddy Jesus in heaven, but so that they will be one as Jesus and God are one.[2]  One in God’s name.  A name that “represents the character of God, it means virtually the same as “the word”, “the truth”, the gospel, and distills down to love, for God is love, a love that expresses itself in grace and mercy.”[3]

And, Jesus prays to God to not take them out of the world that God so loves, even as they can no longer belong to it, but to protect them.  To keep them safe from evil – those temptations and aggressions that work in opposition to what the God of love wants for the world.

Some beautiful and moving thoughts and prayers from Jesus for the disciples.  Especially when we know what comes next – arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

But, this prayer is so much more than that.  If we read just a few more lines, we hear:

20 “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. 21 I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” [John 17:20-21a, CEB]

Jesus thoughts and prayers are with all Christians.

Jesus thoughts and prayers are for all of us.

Jesus is praying that we are kept in the truth of God’s eternal gracious loving mercy, and that we will not be overcome by the powers of darkness.  Jesus’ prayer is sending us, alongside the disciples gathered in that last supper room, out into the world to share completely in Jesus’ joy.

A joy that sees Jesus

“Sent into the world, the world that in John’s gospel appears to be organised in its opposition to God! Sent among his own people, but his own people failed to recognise him! Yet still he comes!
The word became flesh and lived among us!
He lived teaching of God’s love in word and action. He cast out demons. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He restored community and renewed people’s lives. He questions worldly authorities, be they religious or political, and pointed people back to the world’s creator, the one whom he called Father.
Jesus’ life is an expression of God’s concern for the world and all people, and despite ending in rejection and death, God’s love rises above the worst that the world can do when Jesus is raised from the dead.”[4]

When we lay claim to the label of Christian, we are drawn and gathered into the life and ministry of Christ.  We risk hearing God’s Word calling out to us and feeding something of God deep inside of us, and sending us out into a world again and getting uncomfortable again.

We have come to know that in this world the title of ‘Christian’ isn’t a VIP pass to earning respect and glory and power.  Christianity is vilified and critiqued, with good reason or not, as much as it is uplifted and celebrated – if not more.  Some of that hatred is justified.

“It is easy to water down the message of our faith and turn it into a model for social work without holding onto the fundamental truth that our actions are a sign and witness to God’s love for the world and the future promise for all peoples. Maybe it is because we don’t want to be viewed as Bible bashers or crazy people that we so often hide our faith. Maybe it’s because we simply want to be liked.
Yet our sending into the world is grounded in Jesus sending into the world, who through all his actions pointed at God and God’s love for the world: God’s willingness to forgive and to renew and to reconcile.”[5]

Whether or not the world we live in openly declares that God is dead, or that God never was[6], we are called to proclaim good news, to be evangelists, to speak out that God has lived among us, God still is, and we can connect to one another and to God through in a number of ways.  In gathering, listening and being inspired, feasting, and going out again knowing that Jesus’ thoughts and prayers are with us all.  All the time.

I discovered an object lesson, courtesy of the Rev David Lose that I wanted to share with you.  At the beginning of the service, you received a small card of paper, with some writing on one side.  Although it is a complete sentence on its own, for the purpose of this lesson, it’s an incomplete sentence.  “God is…”  Please take a moment to complete that sentence for yourself.

Now, turn the paper over to the blank side.  I would like you to write one word that summarizes and encapsulates all that you want Jesus to pray for for you.

You are invited to take that card with you when we are sent out from this place.  Please look at that card from time to time this week.  Especially when you feel a need to remind yourself that Jesus knows that need, that Jesus cares about you, that Jesus’ thoughts and prayers are for you.  I invite you to consider how what you have asked Jesus to hold in prayer shows up in how you described how God is for you.  See if it changes or if it is reinforced.

And, lastly, I want to invite you to pray.  Pray for yourself, for the people around you, for the world, for God.  Pray out loud – unafraid of what needs to be said or how to say it.  Pray by yourself or pray with others.  Pray for others, in their presence.  When you pray, don’t undervalue or “underestimate what it feels like for that person to hear it, to experience it.  And likewise, when people want to pray for you, take them up on the offer.”[7]  We might not know what thoughts and prayers are capable of doing, but we know that in God, all things are possible.

I look forward to hearing what you discover.

Let us pray,
Holy One-in-Three, Holy One in us, we hear your commands and we know your promise to hear us.  Empower us to live as you would have us live.  Gather us in.  Inspire your Word in us.  Feed us.  Send us with your gifts, in your joy, with the confidence that you are with us always.  We pray all this in the name of the one who taught us to pray, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Redeemer.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Mark Davis. “In, Out, and Regarding the CosmosLeft Behind and Loving It
  2. Bryan Findlayson. “One with the Father and the Son” Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.
  3. Rick Fry. “Cormac’s Road and a Final Prayerblogspot.ca
  4. Susan Hedahl. “Commentary on John 17:6-19” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading – May 24, 2009.  org
  5. Mary Jane Haemig. “Luther on Prayer as Authentic Communication” LUTHERAN QUARTERLY: Volume 30 (2016): 307–328 ©2016 Johns Hopkins University Press and Lutheran Quarterly, Inc.
  6. Karoline Lewis. “Prayers Needed” Preach This Week: Dear Working Preacher – May 06, 2018. org
  7. Peter Lockhart. “Sent into the WorldA different heresy
  8. David Lose. “The Other Lord’s Prayer” Preach This Week: Dear Working Preacher – May 13, 2012. org

This week’s image is entitled, “Seven Sacraments – Holy Eucharist II,” created by Nicholas Poussin, in 1647. 
The image is public domain, and is presented solely for education and admiration.  Reproduction from this page is discouraged. 
You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here
The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.

 


[1] Mary Jane Haemig.  “Luther on Prayer as Authentic Communication” LUTHERAN QUARTERLY: Volume 30 (2016): 307–328 ©2016 Johns Hopkins University Press and Lutheran Quarterly, Inc.
[2] D. Mark Davis.  “In, Out, and Regarding the CosmosLeft Behind and Loving It
[3] Rev. Bryan Findlayson.  “One with the Father and the Son” Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.
[4] Rick Fry.  “Cormac’s Road and a Final Prayerrickfry.blogspot.ca
[5] Peter Lockhart.  “Sent into the WorldA different heresy
[6] Peter Lockhart.  “Sent into the World
[7] Karoline Lewis. “Prayers Needed” Preach This Week: Dear Working Preacher – May 06, 2018. WorkingPreacher.org

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