May 28, 2017
“A Savior’s Prayer”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6I 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. 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.”
Edward Stierle had been told he was too short for ballet. He was around 5 foot seven inches. When he told his father he wanted to take ballet, his father said, “No, No, No. Are you crazy?” His mother got a second job cleaning a church in order to afford the gas to drive him to where his ballet teacher lived.
At the age of 18 he was invited to join the prestigious Joffrey Ballet Company.
He had already choreographed a solo for Mozart’s Requiem and the Joffrey ballet asked him to create a full-length ballet.
Just before he turned 19 Edward was diagnosed with HIV. Many dancers around him were dying from AIDs so he knew what his future looked like. He named his ballet “Lacrymosa” which is Latin for “weeping.”
His sister Rosemarie says that the dance he choreographed was motivated by these questions: How do you leave the people you know? How do you accept death? Edward choreographed one more ballet and died three days after it premiered at Lincoln Center. He was 23.
How do you leave the people you know?
I was thinking about this idea of endings as I packed up my own office, taking down the sweet little drawings that children in the church have given me over the years, colored on the back of bulletins, and putting away t-shirts from mission trips, and looking back through a pile of business cards different people have given me over the years, remembering each person.
I think this had to be foremost in Jesus’ mind as he was preparing not only to leave behind his friends but to also face the suffering and death that he knew was coming.
How do you leave the people you know and love?
What are the last things you say and do?
Edward Stierle created a dance, Jesus planned a meal.
One of the downsides of the Revised Common Lectionary is that by necessity it has to divide up biblical texts into choppy little blocks.
So this morning we only get half of Jesus prayer and we get this half prayer separated from the context in which Jesus says the prayer.
If we were to sit down and just read this little piece of the story we might imagine Jesus praying alone. But the scene was quite different.
We are in the gospel of John. The other three gospels are called the synoptic gospels because their views of Jesus are similar and many of the stories are the same.
But John is something different and we know this from the very beginning.
In the very beginning verses John described Jesus as God’s Word which always has been and always will be: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it . . .
to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace . . . No one has ever seen God.
It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke where Jesus signs his own death warrant by overturning tables in the temple as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are streaming into Jerusalem for the Passover, John put this story at the beginning.
Disruption will be the pattern of Jesus’ ministry – disruption of Nicodemus’ ideas about what it meant to be faithful and love God, disruption of all social boundaries in talking to a Samaritan woman, disruption of the rules by healing people on the Sabbath, disruption of the execution of a woman accused of adultery when Jesus says to the crowd, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Disruption of death itself by raising Lazarus from the dead.
It was shortly after Lazarus’ resurrection that Jesus is anointed by Mary for his coming burial and rides into Jerusalem one last time.
So starting at chapter 13 (and going all the way through chapter 17) in John’s account of Jesus life we have this window of how Jesus’ says goodbye to those he loves during one last meal together.
What are the final things Jesus says and does?
He washes their feet, each one, even the one who is about to betray him, even his enemy.
And his gives them a new commandment, of the greatest importance to all his followers there and all his followers to come: love one another.
Jesus says, just as I have loved you, love one another.
And Jesus tells them he is leaving them, but that God will always be with them in the Spirit.
And he tries to tell them that there will be rough times ahead.
They may love in Jesus’ name but the world will not always love them back.
Jesus knew there would be persecution and heartbreak and betrayal and suffering.
He tells them they will be kicked out of their house of worship, that they may face death and those that kill them will think they are doing the right thing.
Jesus tells them that he has more to say and they have more to learn but they cannot bear to hear it all now.
He tells them there will be weeping, but rejoicing will follow.
And he ends the meal by praying for the people around him.
So when Jesus has said everything he needs to say and done what he needs to do to show them what is most important, he prays for them. This is the final thing.
In John’s gospel we don’t have the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew and Luke’s account of Jesus life. This prayer is a little different. Jesus prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
He prays for their protection.
He has told them to love and he has told them that the way of love will not always be on easy one. The way of love involves heartache and frustration and humiliation. But the way of love is worth it.
Brian McLaren, in his book “The Great Spiritual Migration” talks about how the church in which we grow in faith together should be a school of love.
He writes, “You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoy, offend, frustrate, encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you not to love them.
You can’t learn the patience that love requires without experiencing delay and disappointment.
You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness.
You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heartbreaking and unquenchable need.
You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict.
You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation.
You can’t learn the determination that love requires without opposition and frustration.
You can’t learn the endurance that love requires without experiencing the unrelenting seduction to give up . . .
This difficult way, this way of love and suffering, this way of Christ is unavoidably the way of the cross.”
Jesus prays for those he loves to be one, just and Jesus as God are one in love.
There are many ways that we are different.
We have different political views and that is a very real challenge,
we have different life experiences, different jobs, different ideas about how to read the Bible, different ideas about what churches are for,
we have different ideas about how to take care of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Our differences are many.
But Jesus prays for us to be one in love, just as Jesus and God are one in love. In Spanish, there is a statement: “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” A united people will never be defeated.
The challenge to be one, to live in unity, is a great one, when there are many things pulling us apart. This is our challenge and our blessing as a community of faith, to learn together what it looks like to love another like Jesus loved us, to be one in love. This was Jesus’ parting gift, his last prayer for the people he loved. Amen.