Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Who Does Jesus Pray For?” Sermon 05.20.2012

John 17:6-20 • May 20, 2012 • “Who Does Jesus Pray For?”

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen. As a pastor, I get asked one question more than just about any other. It’s this – “will you/can you pray for me?” Of course my answer to that question is always yes, but most of the time I will also say to the person asking me to pray for them, if they will pray for me as well.

Whenever I think of prayer, I think of my grandmother. It’s always important for her to know that I pray for her. And it’s not necessarily just because I’m her grandson and she knows I love her, it’s also because I’m a pastor and she thinks I have a closer connection or wifi signal to God as I offer prayer for her.

I think prayer is one of the most misunderstood aspects of our life in Christ. I also think that if we believe that pastors have some special connection to God hearing our prayer that is better than everyone else, we may never get any closer to understanding the significance of prayer in our own life of faith.

John 17 is one of the most dense and challenging pieces of scripture there is. There is no way that I’m going to attempt to uncover all of the nuances of this chapter today. BUT – what I hope to do is highlight a few parts of this final prayer of Jesus that have spoken to me for many years and continue to speak to me today.

It’s important to understand a little about the context of this prayer that we hear Jesus offer. The 17th Chapter of John takes place in Jerusalem shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion. Many believe it is probably in the same room where the Last Supper was held. Jesus last prayer in the other gospels takes place in the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus being alone. In John 17 Jesus is not alone and this is not a private time of prayer. This prayer was written not only so followers of Jesus centuries later could read it, but also so followers like us could hear it again and again just like the first time Jesus offered it in the presence of his disciples.

So who is Jesus praying for?

John 17:6-8 (NRSV) 6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;  8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

In the first section of this prayer, Jesus is offering prayer for his own mission and ministry in the world and thanksgiving for how his relationship with God has shaped this mission. One of the most significant struggles that I have with prayer is the pressure that I feel to sometimes be something that I am not in my prayer life.

You know the kind of prayer I’m talking about? Just follow these 7 steps of prayer or pray in this specific way. If you do that, you’ll behave and look and feel more like the Christian you’re supposed to be. We become so focused on doing something or becoming some sort of super-hero prayer warrior that we fail to simply be followers of Jesus who pray. I’ve always wondered how the people who want me to pray in these systematic ways know what kind of Christian God is calling me to be?

For Jesus, prayer is a gift. And the best part of this gift is relationship with God through Jesus. No one specific prayer formula is going to work for everyone in growing their relationship with God. Our prayer life is not dependent upon the techniques we use when we pray.

John 17:9-19 (NRSV) 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  12While 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.  13But 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.  14I 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.  15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

Starting at verse 9, the second section of this prayer, Jesus is offering prayer for the community of followers – those God has given to Jesus. He is offering prayer for protection and unity for that community.

Do you believe that God is protecting you? Do you pray for protection – for yourself or someone you love? Have you ever prayed for unity – whether with yourself or with others? I mean, what do you think the world would look like if the nearly 40,000 Christian denominations that exist today were really and truly united as one as Jesus is praying for in John 17?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, one of the reasons why I love this chapter in John’s gospel is that it is a powerful reminder for all of us who seek to follow the risen savior Jesus. A powerful reminder that Jesus not only prays for himself and his mission, but also for his disciples and the entire church. The church – for you and me. I believe that is still true today. The relationship to which you and I are invited to participate in with God through our savior Jesus Christ is very intimate – prayer is a significant piece of living in this intimate relationship.

So, who does Jesus pray for?

John 17:20 (NRSV) 20“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 be united as one.”

Jesus does not just pray for the disciples Peter, James, and John.  He also prays for saints like Augustine, Benedict, Francis, and Theresa. He brings Calvin and Wesley, Luther and Whitefield before His Father, as well as Billy Graham and Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Pastor Bruce Laverman states about Jesus’ prayer, “Here Christ is praying for you and for me, and for all his disciples who would follow Him into the lost and broken world of the 21st Century so loved by Him.”

That’s pretty clear in Jesus’ words in verse 20 isn’t it? “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 be united as one.”

German theologian Karl Rahner wrote an essay in the 1960’s called “Pray Daily Life!” Rahner’s words connect our own prayer life with Jesus’ prayer life. Rahner wrote “…everyday life becomes in itself prayer. All our interests are unified and exalted by the love of God; our scattered alms (offerings) are given a specific direction toward God; our external life becomes the expression of our love of God. Thus our life takes on a new meaning in the light of our eternal destiny. Make everyday life your prayer.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what do you want Jesus to know? What do you need Jesus to know? What do you want prayer for, not just from your pastor or a close friend? Jesus prays for you. What do you want Jesus to pray for?

“Abiding? It’s All About Connections” Sermon 05.06.2012

John 15:1-8 • May 6, 2012

“Abiding: It’s All About Connections”

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

A television reporter went to interview a successful entrepreneur in her community. She wanted to do a news story documenting his successful life in business and philanthropy.

The reporter’s first question was, “How did you do it? How did achieve such great success and wealth in life?”

“I’m glad you asked,” the entrepreneur replied. “Actually, it’s a rather wonderful story. You see, when my wife and I were first married, we started out with a small roof over our heads, some food in our cupboards, and five cents between us. I took that nickel, went down to the grocery store, bought an apple, brought it home, and shined it up. Then I sold it for ten cents.”

“What did you do then?” the reporter asked.

“Well,” the man said, “then I bought two more apples, shined them up, and sold them for twenty cents.”

The reporter was very excited. She was already seeing the Emmy award that was sure to come from her reporting on this human interest story.

“Then what?” she asked excitedly. To which the man replied, “Then my father-in-law died and left us a 20 million dollar estate.”

This news story kind of ended before it began, right? It was definitely not the ending the reporter was expecting? Me neither. But I did find it interesting that the entrepreneur was not afraid to share openly how his great wealth from meager beginnings came not necessarily because of his own greatness and ability. It came, more so, because he was connected.

I think that’s a little like our own journeys as people who seek to follow the risen Jesus. People who try to be children of God in this tangled up mess of a world in which we live. In this Easter season, it’s important that we remember that our life in Christ has little to do with how hard we work or how creative we are or how much money we make. Our life together in Christ has to do with how we’re connected.

I think a lot of us miss that. And maybe Jesus needed to use the metaphor that he uses in our gospel reading today, because people in Jesus’ day missed that connection too.

Being connected is important to all of us. It’s important in our family life; our school or work life; our social life. But how are we connected to God. Do you really believe and live as one who is in fact connected to God? There are seven “I Am” sayings or metaphors in the gospel of John. Today’s is the last one. Hopefully you remember some of the others. Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life”; or “I am the light of the world”; or “I am the gate”; or “I am the good shepherd” that we heard last week in worship; or the last one that we hear today “I am the true vine.”

I think what’s important for us to hear in all of these statements, is that they are active and the result of what God has done for us, not the result of something that we have done first in order for God to pay attention to us. We live in a world where we often measure success by working as hard as we possibly can. We behave as if God’s ability to love us is dependent upon how successful we are or even think we are at something.

As Pastor David Hockett said, “Because of our inflated sense of self-importance, Jesus’ words are an important reminder to the church (to you and me) that he is the vine, the source of our life together.”

If the focus of our life together is only about me and what I can do to make me the most successful me that God has ever seen, then I’ll be the first to admit that I am deeply offended by Jesus words in today’s gospel. Let’s face it – we live in a world with a false promise of our individual self and just how great we think our self is.

Being a follower of the risen Jesus Christ is much different than that brothers and sisters.  In essence, we are not branches that go at it alone and live without being connected to the vine. In fact, I believe that when we forget about our connection to the vine we quickly discover that the source of our life together is missing.

So how are we as the community of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church connected to the vine as Jesus calls it today? You and I are connected through the gift of God’s grace, given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of a savior named Jesus. In that connection, we are branches on this vine. And God’s work in and through, as branches of this vine, bears good fruit.

This past Friday, Good Shepherd joined the University of Mary and the North Dakota Highway Department to sponsor an event called Leadercast. Leadercast takes place live in Atlanta, Georgia and is broadcast at the same time to hundreds of locations around the world. On Friday, several hundred people gathered in Bismarck, over 120,000 people worldwide, to learn and grow as branches on the vine. Leadercast is a relationship that Good Shepherd celebrates with other branches on God’s vine like the University of Mary and the North Dakota Highway Department, who are not churches. And it bears good fruit.

The quilting ministry of Good Shepherd creates quilts that are given as gifts to families at every celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism in our congregation. Over 100 each year. They’ve also created hundreds of quilts that provide shelter, protection, and warmth to brothers and sisters around the world. Our quilting ministry has many branches connected to God’s vine that bear good fruit.

There are two mission projects that we are lifting up during the month of May – one in support of our Bible camp, Camp of the Cross and another to support the Central African Republic. We are branches of the same vine as our brothers and sisters at Camp of the Cross and in the Central African Republic. During the month of May, we are being invited to bear good fruit that will serve the needs of our neighbor – the good fruit in this these mission efforts might be a can of Chicken Broth, a box of Sharpie pens, or a roll of quarters in a tube of M&M minis.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are connected to God’s vine. A vine that is way bigger than anything we can imagine or anyone we see sitting near us right now. You and I are connected. And because of Jesus, the true vine, may we always be branches that seek to bear good fruit in all that we say and do. Thanks be to God for the gift of the true vine, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.