17 Jesus … looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
… I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. …
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. …15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. … 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Romans 8:26-27, NCV
26 Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain. 27 God can see what is in people’s hearts. And he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for his people in the way God wants.
SERMON Prayer Connections
Among my many favorite passages of scripture, I am fond of Jesus’ discourse sharing his heart and trying to reassure the disciples as he spent one last evening with them before the crucifixion. It’s found in John 14-17 and ends with prayer, most of which we just read. This is Jesus’ farewell to his disciples, comparable to Moses speaking to the Hebrews before they entered the Promised Land, a place he could not join them.
This time of teaching follows washing the disciple’s feet and sharing the Last Supper. Judas has departed. Peter has been warned. Jesus has given them his new commandment, which is really a rephrasing of what he had already identified as the second greatest commandment from Leviticus 19. Now Jesus commands them, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Some scholars also see this as a corollary to the Golden Rule. All of this happened back in Chapter 13.
What will follow in Chapter 18 is Jesus’ arrest and trial. But in this chapter 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and for us. Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus prays, since rather than going somewhere alone, this time Jesus wanted them and us to overhear his words.
Dr. Gary Burge teaches this lesson in Deeper Connections: The Prayers of Jesus. His overview of the passage is that Jesus wants the Church then and now to succeed, to obey, to show love, to survive the world’s hatred, and to be one in and with himself, the Christ who is already one with God whom Jesus calls Father. I see two key themes in this text, unity and glory.
Burge divides the prayer of John 17 in 3 parts. The first 5 verses show us the relationship between Jesus and the Father. There is shared glory in exchange with each other. There has been a task given and authority to do it. That task is now almost complete. There is a desire for believers to see that glory and know that relationship eternally. There is the reminder that this shared glory has belonged to Jesus since before the world began. The task Burge identifies this way. Jesus let people see God in and through himself, reflecting God’s glory and giving God’s Word to them. In his death, Jesus will show his integrity and glorify God.
In the second section, Jesus prays specifically for the disciples with whom he has shared the last three years, teaching them about God and training them for ministry. He will no longer be able to protect them as he once has, so he asks God to protect them with his name. Proverbs 18:10 reads, “The Lord’s name is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and find refuge.” Remember, that a name represents the person. More on that in a bit. Jesus prays that these disciples will hold tight to his Word, to study and obey the teachings. He prays that they will be protected from Satan. Think how Jesus was tested by Satan as he began his own ministry; Jesus knew what the disciples would be up against as they began theirs. Jesus prayed that they would be sanctified which means to be made holy. The Holy Spirit would do this in them through the truth of God’s Word.
In the final section, Jesus moved beyond praying for those with him yet in the Upper Room. Now he prayed for those who will come to believe through their work, and that extends down to us. For the community of faith Jesus prays “that they may be one.” I remember from my study and internship in college that this has been a key verse for the United Church of Christ.
The unity of Christian believers is a major aspect of my work appointed to “ecumenical shared ministry” here. It is reflected in any Ministerial Association, shared missions, and the newly formed Pastors & Leaders Prayer Network here in Clinton. I can tell you from my own experiences that it is not always easy. We don’t always believe, practice, or pray for the same things. At times we may totally disagree with each other; we are still imperfect human beings going on to God’s perfection. The Holy Spirit is still working in us to sanctify and perfect us. We are not yet fully of one mind in Christ. But we reach for that goal by accepting each other in love, by working together, studying together, worshipping together, and praying together when we can.
This unity is also on my mind as we explore our options for the future. We are only one of many small struggling congregations here and everywhere. As Session plans for our congregation to continue into the future we know that may mean sharing space, sharing staff, sharing missions or study groups with other congregations. All of these possibilities fit so well with what Jesus prayed. If Jesus wanted us to be one in him to continue his work, then it makes all kinds of sense to work together.
Jesus never intended for Christianity to be as divided as we have become. When our diversity becomes divisive, it makes it hard for the world to take us seriously. Jesus wants us to work together and support each other.
I think of the words in “They’ll Know We Are Christians by our Love.” The verses suggest that we walk with each other hand in hand, work with each other side by side, and expresses that our unity is in praising Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our example of unity.
As some of us discussed this lesson we were reminded of two other studies we have done. In The Shack by Paul Young we loved a scene around the kitchen table where God as Papa, Jesus, and Suraya (Holy Spirit) are sharing devotions, which for them meant expressing their devotion and love for each other. Mac, who is the human witnessing this, is welcome to participate. He is part of the fellowship around that table. In The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr, we learned that the Russian icon for the Holy Trinity, in which they are also seated around a table, once had a tile that was a mirror. Viewers were to see themselves as part of the fellowship, invited into the divine relationship. In John 17 Jesus wholeheartedly expressed this desire on which these images are based. Jesus as the Son and God as the Father/Mother/Creator are in full spiritual relationship. They are one in each other, and the Holy Spirit is part of that unity which Jesus prays we will join and share.
Jesus also prays that we will see his glory in heaven and be with him forever as one.
Jesus is eager to return to heaven, but Jesus also wants us to have a “spiritual anticipation” as Burge puts it. Jesus looks forward to our own reunion and is “eager to join us” in heaven.
But in the meantime, Jesus requests that we love each other as a witness before the world. We are to exemplify not human love but of the love of heaven, the agape that is unconditional, selfless love, such as God has for us. Burge expresses what he believes the Church is called to be: a place where the reality of God is present. This is something he says post modernity longs for but doesn’t always find in the Church. This is also what Jesus is praying for wanting the Church to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the authentic presence of God. Burge says, “that is what humanity is looking for today.” But he also points out that seekers must grow in wisdom and knowledge, not just have the experience. To grow we must remain in the vine as in John 15, follow the Shepherd as in John 10, and return to Jesus’ teachings, the obedience called for in John 14.
We’ve explored what Jesus wanted for us as he prayed for the disciples and future believers the night before his arrest and crucifixion. Now let’s look at what else Jesus wanted to teach us about prayer in that final discourse. It includes staying connected in unity with Chris and talks about obedience and truth. We hear Jesus’ desire to share glory and what Jesus promises in his name.
Listen to these verses from John 14 (v. 11-14) 11 Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12 I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14 When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
As Jesus said to his disciples then, so he speaks to us now. Trust and believe that Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus who taught and preached, who stood up to authorities in this world and the power of evil, who healed the sick and cast out demons, who stood for both justice and righteousness, promised that we would do even greater things if we believe. Jesus said he would do whatever we ask, “in his name.” How is that possible? Because Jesus will be in the seat of heavenly power right next to God the Father. Why would Jesus do this? So that the Father can be glorified by what we do.
With such a powerful promise we need to consider what is meant by asking in Jesus’ name. I’ve said before I was taught this by Mrs. Krueger, my 2nd grade teacher, that we should always pray in Jesus’ name, but until wrestling with that phrase recently, I don’t think I had much more than a 2nd grade grasp of it. I was smart enough to know it wasn’t a magic formula as some might think. For me it was just a “‘sposed to.” It’s what I was supposed to say when I prayed, maybe not that different from learning the Lord’s Prayer without thinking too hard about it.
From Dr. Matt Williams’ lesson in The Prayers of Jesus, I learned the promise made twice in John 14, that Jesus will do what we ask in his name is repeated in John 15 and twice again in John 16. That makes it another major theme of the last evening’s teaching.
First, put this in the context of Jesus saying we can do greater works than he, because he will help us from heaven. Williams stresses that the works we are doing then should be in line with the work Jesus did. In other words, this promise is not about our selfish or greedy personal agendas. It is about continuing God’s work in the world. What Jesus said in John 14 is echoed in Ephesians 2:10, “God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.” Our prayers should be aligned with Jesus’ teaching and followed by our action.
Second, Jesus is promising to help us. Williams talks about his sons when they were little calling out to him, “Daddy, hep!” when they couldn’t reach something or couldn’t do something on their own. Now think about asking God for help, and God looking at us with a parent’s heart. When the request for help is to do something good, healthy, and safe, then a parent will respond with a smile and give assistance. But when the request is for something wrong, something that could bring harm, then the response is more likely a shaking of the head and the word ‘No.” When we ask for help with things that are pleasing to God, it will bring glory to God’s name. Consider this prayer from Psalm 79:9 “Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”
Third, it was common in Jesus’ day to pray in the name of a deity or even a demon. As we said before, the name represents the person. There was a belief that knowing the name and saying it aloud bound that being to you almost as a servant to a master. Myths, fairy tales, and even anime carry this theme. But that belief is not appropriate for Christians. I’m amused by the story Williams shares from Acts 19. There were Jews trying to exorcize demons “in the name of Jesus whom Paul talks about.” (v. 13) One demon responded, “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Jesus is the most powerful name in the universe, and to speak Jesus name is meaningful, but let’s be clear about who is the master and who is the servant. When we speak Jesus’ name it should be an act of worship to honor God and his Son, not seeking our own glory even when we are praying and acting for a good cause.
The main point of praying “in Jesus’ name” is that we must remain connected to Jesus. This is emphasized in John 15 with its vine and branches imagery. Listen to a few verses: 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything…7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit, and in this way prove that you are my disciples.” Did you catch the same promise of Jesus doing what we ask? But this time instead of the phrase “in my name” we have “if you remain in me and my words remain in you.” This is how Williams deduces the true meaning of “in Jesus’ name.”
If we stay connected to Jesus, through his teachings and God’s Word, and the truth brought to us by the Holy Spirit, then we will know what Jesus wants and our prayers will be aimed in the right direction. Williams explains it as being like having “power of attorney.” Praying in Jesus’ name is as if we are signing Jesus’ name to a check or a document. When someone is given power of attorney there is an expectation that person will use this authority with the best interest of the one who gave it. So when we pray in Jesus’ name, there is an expectation that we will have Jesus’ interests in our hearts.
As you continue to practice and grow in your own prayer life, consider the things we have talked about these past few weeks. Remember Jesus’ example in a lifestyle of prayer in an intimate relationship with God. When you pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, don’t just repeat it, think about what you are saying in each phrase. Use it as a pattern, and put your prayers in your own words. Be persistent in prayer, trusting that God does hear, does care, and does answer, but in God’s choice of way and time. Know that prayer isn’t about changing God, it’s about the relationship, and pray can change us. Know that Jesus has prayed and continues to pray for us, for the Church, and the Holy Spirit is always with us to help us pray when we don’t have the words. Remember that to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in line with what Jesus wants, and Jesus wants God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”