Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jesus' Telescoping Prayer

Scandia Lutheran Church, Averill, MN
Easter 7/May 8, 2016
Installation of Daniel Stauffer, Diaconal Minister
John 17:20-26

20 "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 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. 24 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. 25 "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 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."

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

This gospel lesson from John 17 is, for you and me, something of a flashback.  Movies and TV shows make use of this device—the flashback—to allow the viewer to step back in time, return to an earlier moment, and live in that moment once more, with the awareness of how the story ends.

So this morning, as we continue basking in the light of Easter--we flash back to the night before Jesus died.  We listen in on what Jesus was saying to his first followers—but we listen now with Easter ears that have heard how Jesus would not be held by death, how Jesus would arise from the tomb, how 40 days after that astonishing event Jesus would ascend to God’s realm, where Jesus now occupies the seat of authority over all things, still interceding for us, still cheering us on, still pulling for us as we complete our earthly journeys.

So as we flashback in this gospel reading from John 17, we notice the kind of language Jesus is employing here, on the night when he was betrayed.   

Earlier in this long discourse with his disciples (a discourse that extends from John chapter 13 through John chapter 17), Jesus had offered his disciples information about what was about to happen to him and to them.

But when we come to Chapter 17 Jesus moves from information to intercession, and that’s what we hear in our text for this morning.  

We hear Jesus praying.   Rather than telling us what we better be doing, Jesus prays for what will be happening as he takes leave from his disciples.   This long prayer of Jesus begins in the first verse of John chapter 17 and ends with this morning’s reading.

In the first part of this prayer in John 17 Jesus prays for himself—not the kind of agonizing prayer he offered later in the Garden of Gethsemane--but rather, with eyes wide open and head held high, Jesus prays:  “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…” (John 17:1)  

In astonishingly paradoxical language Jesus faces the cross not as a dark, dreary instrument of shame but as the means whereby he, Jesus, will glorify his Father whose love for sinners knows no bounds.

Next Jesus prays for his disciples, in the verses immediately preceding this morning’s gospel lesson:   “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one….I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one….Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  (John 17:11, 15, 17)

Knowing that he will soon be leaving them,  Jesus prays for his closest followers as a mother might pray for her children.  Is that not how many of us remember our mothers on this Mother's Day?   Mothers are persons who never stop fussing and fretting over us, for as long as we live--watching out for us, praying for us that all might be well in our lives.

Then, in the third part of Jesus’ great prayer—which is our gospel lesson for this morning—Jesus’ prayer “telescopes” through space and time to gather up you and me and everyone in the world who does not yet know Jesus and his love:   “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.” (John 17:20-21)

In these concluding petitions of Jesus’ great prayer, it’s as if time itself is telescoped ahead, to encompass all the centuries that have passed since Jesus uttered these words….reaching forward right up to today, drawing us in—we who believe because of the witness of Jesus’ followers down through the ages.

This is how Jesus prays this telescopic prayer—he prays in a manner so unlike our own approach to prayer.

Truth be told, many of my prayers never get much beyond little old me and my concerns of the moment.   And perhaps you find yourself doing that too.

But when Jesus prays, the prayer just keeps growing, expanding, reaching, telescoping beyond himself… if in ever-expanding concentric circles, like a stone dropped into a quiet pond.  

Jesus prays for all he’s worth….for himself and the saving work he will soon perform on the Cross….he prays for the first circle of witnesses to that astonishing miracle of mercy….but then Jesus keeps praying outward beyond the first disciples to include all the succeeding circles of testifiers, gathering up the likes of you and me who continue to point to Christ in an indifferent, hostile world.

This is how Jesus prays….he prays a prayer big enough, wide enough, deep enough to gather into its telescopic perspective everyone who has ever lived and who will ever live….praying that all of them, all of us, would be enfolded in the rich, rich love of the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

All of that is happening here in this morning’s Gospel lesson.

And it’s not just happening here at Scandia Lutheran, but this telescopic prayer of our Lord Jesus is reaching out right now into all communities of Christ around the globe.

That sort of puts everything into perspective this morning, doesn’t it?

Here we are in this lovely country church building….just a handful of us….but bound together in the love of God with folks in every other place of worship that is "open for business" this Sunday morning….the fullness of God’s love—the love the Father has for the Son, in the power of the Spirit—the fullness of God’s love is always expanding through space and extending through time…..spreading out, seeking out everyone.

This is why we’re here today. 

It is why you have called Dan Stauffer to be your preacher, your minister of God’s mercy, your prayer leader in this household of faith.

It is the “Johnny one note” theme of every hymn, every scripture reading, every sermon, every prayer, every celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, every act of gathering together and being scattered again into God’s world.

Jesus’ telescopic prayer blows wide open our imaginations—so that with Easter eyes we might see just how deep and wide and far-reaching our life and our love in Christ truly is.

Jesus’ prayer opens our imagination, even as it propels us back into the world, to seek out and draw into Christ’s loving embrace everyone, absolutely everyone, destined to be united in the only thing that lasts:  the unfathomable love of the Father for the Son in the power of the Spirit, always, always for the sake of the whole world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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