Sermon for Sunday, June 2, 2019 – “Jesus’ Prayer for Us”

Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 2, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Did you catch it?

It’s easy to miss, but here in this prayer, Jesus is praying for us! He says, “I ask not only on behalf of these (his first disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”

That’s us! We’re here today because people told us the good news of Jesus. Those people heard it from folks before them, and they heard it from those before them, and on and on back in time – all the way back to those first disciples. We have come to faith because of their word. Which means, in this prayer, Jesus is praying for us.

And Jesus is praying for us when he has a lot of things on his mind! He prays this prayer the night he’s about to be betrayed, the night before he’s crucified when he’s at the table with his disciples. (I know it’s the Easter season now and not Holy Week, but in Easter the church does some flash- backs to stories before Jesus was killed.)

So, first, they share a meal, then he washes their feet, then Jesus gives them final instructions and says goodbye – in a really long speech that fills four large chapters in the Gospel of John. (So, the next time you’re getting impatient with a long midwestern goodbye, remember, it could be worse.)

After he teaches his disciples, Jesus prays. He prays for himself, the world, the disciples and for us.

The disciples get to hear Jesus’ prayer. He doesn’t go off to a secluded place to pray alone. They get to listen in. They get to hear his prayer for them and because they then pass these words on, we, too, get to hear Jesus pray for us.

We get to hear him pray that we would be one – that we would not divide, polarize, judge, discriminate and hate, but, instead, that we would experience and model loving community.

And, oh my, do we ever need help with this. There’s so much that gets in the way of us living as one. We fall into binary ways of approaching others – viewing people as either good or bad, right or wrong, gay or straight, sick or well, friend or enemy. Of course, we know the truth is more complicated than that. We are all created good and yet marred by human sinfulness. People aren’t just gay or straight, male or female. God’s good creation includes a whole spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. We know reality isn’t just black and white, either/or, yet we so often fall into these ways of approaching things.

I did this most Thanksgivings for a stretch. It was when my uncle was married to a woman who just drove me crazy, especially when she drank too much wine and started arguing politics. When this would happen, I’d start piling on the labels and judgements in my head or in whispered
conversations with my aunts and sister. “Why does she always do this?” I’d ask, ignoring all the times she wasn’t argumentative. “Oh, she’s so difficult, so judgmental,” I’d say, in a very “nonjudgmental” way. I tried to avoid her.

I don’t want to treat other people this way, but just about every Thanksgiving this would happen.

Fear played a part. I was afraid of what things were like for my uncle in the relationship. I was afraid my kids would watch her behavior and think it was OK to act the way she did. Selfishness played a part, too. I just didn’t want to put forth the effort. In my role as pastor, I work hard at relationships and communication; I seek to understand and connect across differences. Yet in my relaxed, downtime with my family, I didn’t want to have to expend the energy to do that with her.

Why can’t she just be more like the rest of the family, I’d think, falling into another one of the reasons it’s hard for us to live as one. We think unity requires uniformity – that people need to believe, think, look and behave the same way in order to be united.

My uncle and this woman are now divorced. Thanksgivings are easier but life in our polarized world is so hard, and the stakes are really high for so many. As challenging as I found this woman, I could mostly choose to avoid her. That isn’t possible for so many people who are the targets of hatred and prejudice. At worst, my Thanksgiving was a little less enjoyable. The stakes are so much higher when these divisions play out in national and global politics.

Yet beloved, we are not alone as we face these hard situations. Unity does not depend on our effort or good will. It is the work of God, the work of our triune God whose very being is a relationship, a community of three diverse yet united beings called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In God’s very self we see that unity does not mean uniformity. We see how very relational God is for God’s very being is relationship.

Our triune God is always working to draw us into God and into loving relationship with one another. Jesus came to reconcile us to God. Jesus crossed all boundaries and loved without limit, Jesus prayed for us.

And he didn’t stop with that prayer long ago. He went on from there to open his arms to all people on the cross, demonstrating a fierce love that is stronger than death. With his death and resurrection, Jesus showed that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that he cannot be stopped from working to reconcile us to God and to one another.

But Jesus didn’t stop with his resurrection. He then poured out the Spirit upon the church, the Spirit that allowed the first disciples to share about God in a whole multitude of languages giving unity while honoring diversity.

And now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen Jesus is still present with us in his body and blood. Here at the table he gives us courage, forgiveness, healing and nourishment. Here he reconciles us with God and one another.

Here he fills us with the power of the Spirit so that like those first disciples, we can have the strength, courage and help we need to be in relationship with those who are very different from

Here we are reminded that we are loved so that we may live out love for the world.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.