In a funny turn of events, though we are in our last Sunday in the season of Easter, tonight we encounter Jesus at table with his friends right before his arrest, praying for them.
We’ve jumped back in time to focus on this little prayer that Jesus says for the people he will leave behind:
“I ask not only on behalf of these,(he prays) but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.
I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
I imagine it sort of like the prayers I say for my family before I have to go away to a conference or something: Please let them be alright, be with them as they make their way through this week. Keep them safe and help them to do the work that they need to do, be with their teachers…..”
Jesus is praying for his followers that they would know God, remember the God that they encountered through Jesus while he was there, with them. He’s praying for them in the world, that God’s love would surround them as they go out into the world to share that love.
I have always prayed – there is actually no time in my life when I did not pray: even when I was in my 20’s and really angry at God and the church. But generally my prayers were relegated to times when I was in a plane taking off or landing (which are in my opinion the doggiest times to be in an airplane), when I was sad or scared.
I gave thanks to God when I had each of my children, that they were here and perfect and beautiful.
But only recently have I begun to pray with regularity and not just because someone has asked me to pray for them. Which by the way, I always found sort of confounding because although I am ordained, I have always had to work very hard at my relationship with God and at prayer.
There have always been far better, more connected, spiritual people around that I was certain would be better at praying for really anything, than me.
But for the season of Lent this year, I decided that I was not taking my responsibility to pray regularly, seriously enough. And so I started praying the office of morning prayer. So every morning I get up and I pray the office, read scripture, recite a psalm and pray for the people and the places that are on my heart. And it has changed me. I remember the people in my life who have asked me to pray for them and hold the people and the interactions that I anticipate in my day. It has changed me.
Former Bishop and my friend, Jim Cruickshank used to say: be careful what you pray for because prayer works.
And it turns out he’s right.
Prayer opens our hearts and allows God in. Prayer can help us to be mindful of the people we encounter. Prayer invites our intention towards people who need it
The trick for me, and I think I have said this before, is that sometimes when I pray for something or someone, there is a particular way that I hope that things will work out for them, or me or the world.
And my plan almost never pans out.
I’m not certain that God has any sort of overall plan or design for us, but I do think that God intervenes in ways that are best for us and we do not always see what that is.
Jesus prays for his followers because he isn’t going to be with them in body anymore and he wants God to intervene in ways that help them to share God’s message and remind them that they are Gods own.
He prays for them and for the world. Because the world does not always know God. Prayer, I think helps to put a crack in it so that God can be made known, so that God can come in.
Because it’s tricky. God doesn’t seem to force God’s self on us. We have to choose to be open to it.
Prayer is like an invitation for God to get involved and actively participate in our lives and in the world around us.
But once we make that choice, even once – it can be startling how deeply God digs in. It’s like, if you open that crack just gets right in there. Like God says, Ok, I’ve been right here waiting for you to ask – so let’s do this.
Sometimes prayer is tricky, when we are asking God to intervene or participate in a life that does not see God or when, as I said before – we have a particular outcome in mind because of the prayer that we’ve said.
Tricky because we do not get to control God – we do not choose how God will participate or how others will receive God.
So we pray and then we have to let it go. And we have to allow ourselves to see what God is up to. Where God might be lingering. We have to be patient.
“I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint
And this is how it is for me with prayer too. I need to worship and pray to a God who is bigger and who sees the whole picture. My plan for the world or for whomever I am praying would only likely work for them or me – and God’s interests and love are for this whole place and not just those of us in this room.
We need prayer to connect us to God, to open our hearts, to break us open to each other and to help us see more of God and of love. We need prayer to help un-chink the armour that we close around ourselves to protect us from the craziness of this world. We need prayer and the world needs us to pray.
So pray – out loud or in the silence of your heart, but pray because we need you to and God who loved you before the foundation of the world is right there waiting.