Many of us have had the experience of someone or a group of people praying for us and for our particular circumstances to be changed for the better. I don’t know if you can remember the first time you were aware of this happening for you and what it felt like to be upheld in prayer. There is something about being truly in community and held safely by the community, enabling this to be done with love and affirmation.
We do this all the time for others, as we pray for loved ones and strangers. As we pray regularly, speaking with God, with thanksgiving, sometimes with urgent needs or for forgiveness; and also, often without words when our hearts are full, and we find ourselves speechless in the face of God. It is through this prayer we experience our lives being steadily and gently transformed. Our heartfelt prayer with gratitude and trust simply opens us up to God, saying: ‘Your will be done’. Our parish prayers are an example of community and personal prayer.
In this present time between Ascension which was celebrated on Thursday, and Pentecost which will be celebrated next Sunday, the worldwide Anglican church is praying in community as part of the global prayer movement, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ as we each pray each day for five people known to us to be graced with faith by God.
You and I also, are being called by name, being prayed into discipleship with Jesus on the Way as we lean into Jesus and make our daily commitment to follow him.
In this personal invitation, Jesus is praying for us and for all his disciples, so we may abide in God, just as Jesus does and as God abides in us. God knows us and loves us because we belong to God without limits, judgements or assessments of our worthiness.
In the gospel reading in John 17:6-19, Jesus is praying for his disciples just before their last supper together ends and he heads out to pray for himself and for the world in the gardens of Gethsemane. The prayer in which we participate with Jesus is intimate, loving and purposeful as he says his farewells to his companions through this open prayer to God.
We are being given some insight into what he was thinking in these final hours of his earthly life.
In this extraordinary, liminal time, as our worlds collide, we find ourselves belonging and abiding in God, one with God while remaining in the world in which we live, which is God’s creation and in which we are an essential part of God’s spoken Word.
We hold our breath as we hear Jesus praying for us as we step with him, through the Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth and Advocate into the heart of darkness in our lives, in our relationships and with the world around us, without fear so God’s light might shine while the darkness does not and will not overcome it.
In these, his final prayers, Jesus continues to reassure us by seeking God’s protection for us while we work humbly for our neighbours and for all of God’s creation creating unity, healing and peace. Jesus is praying for us as we are set aside to do God’s work, to be sanctified in the Word, in the truth with unending, overwhelming love.
Jesus’ prayers for us to God are not for us to be kept safe, nor for us to be removed from the world to be seen as separate or special, even though we are sanctified in truth, set apart by the power of God’s love and service. However, because we are precious in God’s sight and as we work in Jesus’ name, in truth and humility for all humanity and for God’s whole creation, our faithful service is our offering in joy and gladness as Jesus seeks all who respond to his invitation. Our sanctification in God’s holy work is completed in truth in Jesus’ name.
I am reminded joyfully of what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:
For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:23
This is an extraordinary statement of contentment and self-emptying to God. It is Paul’s lived experience of abiding in God, as Jesus prays this for us in his prayer.
Like all Jesus’ disciples including us, Paul was sent to witness to God’s love across the known world. We too do this wherever we are and in everything we do and say: to the powers and principalities of this world, to one another, in the supermarket, in our family conversations, in our working relationships, in our volunteering and in our constant work for gospel justice and peace.
True sanctification of course, is not permission for sanctimoniousness, and despite the hope of being set apart, claimed piously and self-righteously by some, the intent of sanctification is not about separation but about holiness humbly received with God’s love. This text calls for a willingness to persevere in gospel peace-making in the face of unresolved hostility and despite the constant push for consumption and selfishness, rather than for a well-meaning rush to worldly peace-making using the weapons of empire, with violence and oppression crowned with victory; claims of peace built on war. A claim with which we are all familiar and which never succeeds.
We already live in God’s kingdom where we are asked to choose between light and dark, between God and evil, between true peace grown through love, humility and without any power, violence or retribution. We are not called to use the powers of this world to achieve God’s purposes, but the power of Christ, with truth and love.
Jesus does not pray for us to be removed from this struggle. We are called in our vocation as disciples to engage with the hostility, violence and greed in Jesus’ Way. As Jesus was sent by God into the world, so Jesus sends us.
Our witnessing will likely cause the same divisions in our society and culture as Jesus did, but we are called as a community of people to be committed to more connections, not less.
We are called to resist privatisation of faith, and to be instead, a community of faith, to subvert and resist wholeheartedly the world’s desire to escape connections, accountability and community while exploiting God’s creation for cruel ends.
We are called to act as a catalyst within the world, within creation, to restore it for God’s purposes. It is because of this we know we belong to this world of God’s, to the world as it has recovered its unity in the Word through whom all things were made. This Word is Jesus, healing, loving and reconciling all things and all people into himself.
This is a wonderful prayer we hear Jesus speaking. It is worth reading again and spending time with it as we continue to bear witness in the world to the suffering and pain around us. However, just as we do for Jesus, so we do for others, giving it all to God with love and hope, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord. Amen.
The Lord be with you.