Let me suggest that today’s gospel lesson from John 17:1-11 should be read more often.
I know that most of us have a life of prayer. Be it regular, occasional, or during a kind of “911 situation”, for a Christian, prayer is part and parcel of life – Or it should be!
Of course, we pray to praise God, to offer thanks for food, shelter, and all the good things in life. We pray when we need to make a decision or when life hits us with one of those devilish curve balls for which life is known.
We pray on our own, with our spouses or children, with friends or coworkers. We pray here in church. And although these days are not as frequent as they used to be, we pray during a specially called prayer meetings.
In general, we tend to understand prayer as a sort of one-way street, expecting God to answer us through the inner small voice or, more often, through the circumstances.
But, let me ask you. How often do we recall that Jesus is praying for us? And I mean, for us – not as “I pray for the world” which Jesus said He wouldn’t do – but as individually as it can be?
Jesus prays – present tense – for us; for you; for me. As any English teacher would tell us, the present tense is used “to express habits, general truths, repeated actions or unchanging situations.” And whether Jesus spoke in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Spanish, or King James English, the idea is always the same. Jesus prays for us. Not for the world, but for us.
I believe that just such bit of information – knowing that Jesus prays for us – should be enough to transform the way we understand life, and our present circumstances. And even our own relationship with God.
Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays for you. Let that sink in.
In the Old Testament we recall the story about Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden. In a way, they were exiled. What happened since is that – in “revenge” or in plain ignorance – humankind has decided to exile God from His own world.
As “The Rebbe” (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson) wrote, humans “banished G‑d into exile. They have decreed He is too holy, too transcendent to belong in our world. They have determined He does not belong within the ordinary, in the daily run of things.”
Or as in our American mythology, God has been relegated to coins and bills. Or as a convenient rug-mat to shed upon Him all the ills and all the evils of this world.
However, here is the thing. Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays for you.
If so, a good question to ask is, what Jesus is praying for? That we get the right numbers for Mega-Million? That sickness and pain would go away? That I get the best boss – or you get the best preacher on Earth? What is Jesus’ heart’s desire that He devotes time to pray for us?
In our gospel, Jesus let us know that we may come to know God. What the Scriptures mean is way beyond being aware of God – having heard of him, so to speak. It is more than knowing in the realm of reason. Knowing God involves some form of a personal relationship.
Think about the person dearest to you. If I ask you “Do you know…” what do I mean?
That kind of experiential knowledge, which is intimate, which reaches to the point that no words are necessary, this is what God, in his love, offers us. And not only offers, but Jesus prays that we would take the offer.
“Father: I want them to be one, as we are one,” Jesus prayed. In other words, and using contemporary terms, Jesus is saying, “I wish they were to be so into me as I am into them”.
Now, this is the kind of prayer that we could attribute to anyone of us, the prayer of an ardent heart, “To know Jesus”. But here is the thing. This is God’s prayer. God is looking more than a handshake and a “See you next Sunday.” He’s really into you.
“Why?”, you may wonder. And that’s a fair question. Since early in the history of humankind, together with the sages we have been asking, “What are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? (Psalm 8:4).
In fact, human hearts or minds cannot make sense of God’s weakness for us. Other than to marvel that God created us, and that God loves us.
At a human level, and if I were able to give myself an honest look, I am not sure that I could love myself. And I am not talking about self-esteem. Who would love me with warts and all? Only God.
A God that is not waiting for us to put our act together but a God who decided long, long ago to love us first – before we could even utter a single word or do a good deed.
Such is our God. A God that prays for us. A God who literally went out of His way in order to bring us back under the shadow of His wings.
Yes – A loving God who loves us to no end. And yet, a God that doesn’t wish to keep us as his eternal chicks but, as St Paul puts it, that we should “grow to the full measure of the fullness of Jesus Christ”, (Ephesians 4:13).
For I know that, if so far you have been with me, some of you may be more than ready to blow the stack and cry, “This ‘Jesus loves me’ and “I love Jesus’ is nothing more than a cosmic belly-button-gazing scheme that drives people away from the ‘real’ problems of the world!”
“I don’t want any more of your “you-are-in-my-prayers-and-thoughts’ silliness!” “The world needs action!”
And you know what? I would say “Amen” to such complaint – “You are right indeed!” Just bear with me one more minute.
Today is the Sunday after the Ascension, the day that we believe Jesus actually bid farewell to His disciples and friends.
Both St Luke and St Matthew tells us that the disciples stood there up in the mountain, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You men! — why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly as he left. In the meantime, you’ve got a job to do.”
Jesus wants us – and I am using the verb “want” advisedly – to become one in Him and with Him to tackle God’s greatest purpose – to bring back together all things back to Him as He intended to be on Day One.
Yes, Jesus is praying for us so that we feel secure in His loving arms. But that’s not the end. If it were, our critics would be right, and we should be put to shame.
God wants us to come back to Him so that we may reach the point where we can say, “If God asks me to do it, I’ll do it. No problem! For Him – I’ll do whatever He asks. I’m all in!”
Methodist Pastor Dave Barnhart puts is this way, “God wants us to join with each other and with God in [His own] project of renewing and salvaging a broken world. And God is already doing it.”
And no. God’s love is not about bait and switch. God’s love is eternal, and in joining with Him in love, it is out of love that we should eagerly join in in the project of bringing a new earth and new heavens into being.
So, my friends – Jesus is praying for you. Now, the question is, “Would you say ‘Amen’ to his prayer?”