The Jesus Prayer
John 17: 1-11 & 12-26.
Sometimes preparing a sermon is a bit like being a detective.
It is about looking at the passage, seeing all the clues, and then asking the right question that leads you to a path that moves you towards the right answer.
When I was young I loved detective programmes.
I loved the deductions that took place. Of working out all the stories of all the people and trying to work out which ones were telling the truth, and which ones were lying.
And sometimes trying to work out what a passage in the Bible is meaning to us, is trying to work out the right question to ask.
A wee while back the worship team sat down and discussed this passage.
And two things stood out to the group.
This passage talks a lot about glory. What is that meant to mean? What does God’s glory look like?
And although that seemed to have some kind of academic interest...it didn’t get the group excited.
What got the group excited was verse 9.
Jesus has been talking about his mission to the disciples, making the ways of God known to them. And then he says this...’I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me, for they belong to you.’
And the question that kept on coming up was...’Why isn't Jesus praying for the world?’
That one question raised so many questions in itself.
Does Jesus not care for the world?
But didn't Jesus come to save the world?
Does Jesus now think that the world isn’t important?
Is this a model what we should be following?
If the world is lost, then why bother with it?
This is possibly Jesus’ most important prayer. It is his very last prayer before he is sent to trial. And in it Jesus seems to be saying that unless you are a disciple then your not worth praying about.
Think about that...
Think about those children starving because of droughts in Africa...should we stop praying for them?
Or those throughout the world that are suffering because of war zones. Over half the population of Syria is in exile because of the civil war in that country. Should we stop praying for that country to find peace?
The turmoil in South Sudan, the ongoing strife in Israel/Palestine, our own country as it prepares to vote for a General Election and how that will affect the country for the next five years with all the social housing problems, the problems of how to pay for social care, the Brexit negotiations...should we stop praying for these people?
What about those we know personally who are in hospitals, or those going through divorce, or those struggling with debt, or those who are housebound, or those trying to cope with anxiety...should we stop praying for them if they are not church goers?
Does that seem right?
Does that seem like Jesus?
And yet this passage is very clear...
’I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me, for they belong to you.’
And you know the conclusion we came to...we didn’t come to a conclusion.
We couldn't work it out.
Which is the way it is sometimes.
Now the worship group weren't all that bothered about it because their main concern was...thank goodness it isn’t any of us that needs to write a sermon on that passage.
But I still did.
So I had to struggle with the passage.
And there is a message in that itself.
We live in a very instant world.
And because of that we get very irate if things aren’t instant.
Often we just don’t bother if things aren't handed to us on a plate.
A couple of weeks ago Roseanna and I were in a restaurant just getting a coffee and a hot chocolate. And we went in and they places us in a wee booth. And then they left us. For about ten minutes we sat there waiting for them to take our order.
After ten minutes someone came along and took our order for 1 coffee and 1 hot chocolate...and then we waited anther half an hour for the order to arrive.
And one of us got very agitated.
Now as it turns out there was problems in the hotel concerning peculators and stuff and that was why they were struggling.
But Roseanna got fed up.
She didn't get fed up with the staff, she got fed up with me.
She got fed up with me because I was getting agitated that the order was taking so long.
Her comment was, ‘We came in here to spend time together. But you’re not here. You’re having imaginary conversations with the manager.’
And she was right.
The object of the day was to spend time together, and we had the chance to spend time together and I wasn't taking it. For forty minutes I spent waiting and fuming for a hot chocolate that wasn’t coming. And I could have spent forty minutes staring lovingly into my wives eyes. I forgot that relationships take time. And often even when we are not rushed, we act as if we are.
If we want to get to know God better we need to spend time with him. And sometimes that means struggling with texts, because it is in the struggle that we understand more. And we loose out if we just skim over texts, say to ourselves, ‘That’s too hard’, and then move on.
So my struggles with this text.
My struggles eased when I stopped asking the question, ‘Why is Jesus not praying for the world?’.
And I started to wonder on the opposite question, ‘Why does Jesus need to pray so much for the disciples?’
Well that bit is obvious.
Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. In a few moments Judas will appear and let the guards know which one is Jesus. At that point the disciples will run. The next thing they will know is Peter telling them about following Jesus to where the trial was taking place. About seeing Jesus tortured by the Romans.
Peter will confess that he denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would. About the crowd shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
Then John will tell about being with Mary and the other women as they watched in silent witness as Jesus died. About the words that Jesus spoke on the cross about forgiveness.
They will hear about Judas committing suicide.
The women will tell how they weren't able to prepare Jesus body for burial but that the body was put in a grave and is now guarded by the Romans. If they try to get near to Jesus’ body then they might be arrested, tortured and killed themselves.
If the disciples are to survive that then they will need the help of God, they will need prayer. And the weird thing is when they need that help the most, the one place they won’t look for it is God. If anything they will believe that God has abandoned them.
But where will they find hope if they don't find it in God?
Now isn't that a question?
Where do we find hope if we do not find it in God?
And I don't think we do find hope.
I listen to a lot of radio programmes on mental health and the number of times they talk about self medication. About not finding solutions, but just trying to deaden the symptoms with alcohol, or drugs, or meaningless relationships, or even just keeping ourselves so busy, so occupied, that we try to forget we have no hope.
I think that’s a huge temptation in folk.
Especially in today's society we can create so many distractions, have so much entertainment, that we never need face what is really destroying our soul.
We create such a beautiful surround for ourselves that we never need admit just how lost we are.
We create a wonderfully ornate prison for ourselves, so that we don't need to see that we are not free.
And that was a temptation even in Jesus’ time, even to the disciples at this time.
The Gospels tell us that at one point Peter says, ‘I’m going back to the fishing’ and the rest of the disciples just follow. Peter is going to occupy his mind just keeping as busy as he can, and hoping the fear and the shame and the guilt and the pointlessness of his life just disappear.
They will look for hope in the world, and they will find no hope.
In the end that is why Jesus prays for the disciples.
If Jesus prays for the world then there is still no hope.
But if Jesus prays for the disciples, and the disciples get through what is ahead of them, using God’s strength, feeling God’s power, knowing God’s love and care...then not only will the disciples get through the days ahead, they will become the hope for the rest of the world to discover God’s help.
The world could never be the hope for the disciples, but the disciples will be the hope of the world.
Which brings us to here, to today, to now.
Because Jesus doesn't just pray for the disciples then...’I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe because of their message.’
Jesus not only knew what those original disciples were facing, he also knows what we will be facing. He knows what is ahead for us.
He knows there will be times of struggle.
Times when we feel it is too hard.
Times when we are so uncertain, times when we may even think that God has abandoned us.
And he knows that in those times we will be tempted to look for hope in the world.
But there is no real hope in the world.
And he knows we will be tempted to hide like the disciples did...but the problems won’t go away.
And he knows we will be tempted to just keep ourselves busy as the disciples did...but the problems won’t disappear.
Our only hope is the strength and the power and the compassion of God.
Our only hope is the forgiveness and the redemption and the purpose of God.
Even now, Jesus is praying for us.
Even now, Jesus is bringing our names to his Father and offering us what we need.
And the wonder is, we know that it works.
Because those first disciples were able to face all their grief's, their fears, their guilt and regrets. Those first disciples were able to conquer their shame and their terror and their insecurities...and they became the hope of the world.
They touched the lives of those around them and those around them found hope.
And generation by generation that hope has spread.
Until this day, when you have heard this message of hope, ‘No matter what you face, God is with you.’
And with that message you can have hope.
With that message you become the hope of others.
For if you have found hope, true hope...then so can they.