John 17: 1-26
The Rev. Denise Vaughn
The Prayer That Changes Lives
We have finally made it to the last Sunday in the Easter season. On this Sunday, the lessons look both backward and forward. Backward in that we are once again hearing words of Jesus spoken before his resurrection and forward, because this prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples is a prayer we claim today as his prayer for us. Next week, we will celebrate Pentecost the birth of the church exploding into mission with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So today, we take a moment to prepare by hearing again Jesus’ most urgent hopes for his disciples. The stage is being set for that time when they will no longer see their Lord. This desire to communicate what is at the center of one’s life and hopes one last time is truly a human experience. Hours from crucifixion, Jesus focuses on what matters most from his entire ministry.
An essential part of human relationships is our hoping, thinking, dreaming, wishing, praying for, and about the future. We all hope that we will be able to give something back to the world, to make a difference and we all plan for the future. We want to have an impact on those we love and care about. Jesus knowing that he will die soon expresses his deepest desires and hopes for the future of his followers. The opening image for this entire prayer is “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” His concern is for the future life and ministry of those he loves, not only of those that are gathered around him but those future generations who will come to believe.
This mission central to Jesus is the culmination of his work that others will come to know God. His final hopes are that his life and ministry are windows into God’s love and saving purpose. So Jesus prays that people will come to know God through him and then, through his disciples. But what does it mean to know God? “Knowing” describes a powerful, active, confessional and intimate relationship. Knowing God is this experience upon our lives that allows us to be drawn into a new reality through learning about God and spending time with God so that our lives can become shaped by God’s vision for love, justice, and service. Knowing God becomes evident in our desire to learn, to love and to serve.
We live in an age of information and endless educational opportunities; we recognize the value of knowledge. Books, newspapers, television, radio…all offer us facts, ideas, research, information on every subject imaginable. Many decisions we make are made after we first learn something about it. At times we bring that intellectual concern to our faith. We want to know God, and so we attend Bible classes, we read theology, we think and talk and argue. We support educational ministry in our churches like VBS, so that our children, also may know God. An intellectual grasp of Christian teachings is important to our faith. I could not be a priest in the Episcopal Church without attending three year’s of seminary training, but as important as that training is, it does not on its own lead to eternal life.
It is not enough simply to have knowledge or be in agreement with the teachings of the Christian faith. Eternal life also entails an encounter with Christ it entails an experience of what God has done and is doing, not just in history but in our own lives. It is God who authorizes Jesus to offer eternal life and in Jesus God discloses a very different vision of what is true and worthy of the trust of those who live by this vision. To live by this vision is to know Jesus and to live in relationship with God. To the early Christian Church, knowing God meant living a life of obedience to God’s commands and sharing in the life of God’s people.
This is exactly what we see happening in our lesson from the first chapter of Acts. Those who had been closest to Jesus during his ministry came to know God. They came to have that intimate connection and that relationship and that knowledge continued even after the Ascension when Jesus returned to God. It was then Jesus’ followers returned to the upper room and there they devoted themselves to stay connected to this Lord they could not see anymore. It was these first followers that took Jesus’ most urgent hopes and desires and were drawn into that new reality shaped by God’s vision for love and justice and service. It is in that upper room that we see the very beginning of the church as they met, and prayed, then traveled and worked together to spread the knowledge of God. Their goal was Jesus’ goal that all should come to know God.
Peter witnessed to the Gentiles in Antioch, Asia Minor, and Rome. John remained in Jerusalem tending the mother of Jesus until she died. Then he bore witness in Rome, Patmos and Ephesus. Andrew bore witness to the barbarous tribes of northern Russia. Thomas became Christ’s witness in Mesopotamia and southern India. Tradition has Matthew responsible for the witness of Christ in Ethiopia, Persia, and Macedonia. Each one had his sphere of influence, and each raised the flag of Christ there. Our goal today cannot be any different it must be too meet, pray, travel and work together in Christ’s name. We need each other’s witness and support, challenge and care in order to live into the possibilities and expectations of our call as disciples to take the gospel into the world. We need each other’s help to live out a life of obedience to God’s commands, and to share in the life of God’s people.
This is Jesus’ urgent prayer for us. He prays for unity between his disciples and those who have believed through their word. He prays that this unity will be the basis upon which his disciples forever take his word into the world so that the world will come to believe that God sent Jesus, so the world can come to know God and be in communion with God and each other. We gather here in this place and around the table, in communion with one another because it is in this communion that we are in communion with the Father, the Son- Jesus and the Holy Spirit and with each other. It is here that we can come to know God and here is eternal life. With this knowledge we are sent as witnesses. May Jesus’ final prayer on earth be realized in our lives today.