The People Jesus Prays For

This is an adapted form of a sermon I preached today, the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The gospel reading was John 17:20-26.

You may have heard all this before, everything I’m about to say. That’s the way it goes sometimes. These things get passed on and on. But I think that’s okay. I know I need a reminder all the time, a continual reminder of what Jesus is doing for us. So maybe we all do.

Those who were at Bible Study on Wednesday definitely heard some of this before. At Bible Study we looked at chapter fifteen of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here’s what we talked about. Paul writes:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

We focused a lot on the first words of that verse: “For I handed on to you what I in turn had received.” We thought about the image of a relay race, how faith is passed on like a baton handed off in a relay race, how Paul handed this faith on to the Corinthians, just as this faith had been previously handed on to him. We talked about how this relay of faith is still going on, nearly two thousand years later, how the book of Acts tells us how the faith was passed on and on and on throughout the Roman world, and how the history of the church shows us that this faith was eventually passed on to people in Africa, and Asia, and Europe, and the Americas, and eventually, to you and to me. We talked about how the first apostles passed on their faith to someone else, and they passed it on to someone else, and so on and so on until it reached you and me. Someone passed the faith onto you. And you have passed the faith onto someone else. Or you will. Or both. That’s the way it works.

But 1 Corinthians is not one of our readings today. That’s not what this sermon is about. This sermon is about the gospel reading today, from the gospel according to John.

In this reading, Jesus is talking, and the apostles hear him talking. But he’s not actually talking to the apostles. He’s praying. He is praying for them. He is praying to his Father for them. But listen, he’s not just praying for them. He prays:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.

He’s praying for his apostles, and also for all the people they will pass their faith onto. He’s praying for the people they will hand the baton to, the second generation of Christians. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that means he’s also praying for the third generation, and the fourth generation, and also for us. Let that sink in. Jesus is praying for us. I used to think that one definition of the church was “the people who pray to God.” And that’s not wrong. But it’s also true to say that the church is “the people for whom Jesus prays.” That’s who we are. We are the people Jesus is praying for.

So what does Jesus pray? Well, he’s not praying for us to be wealthy. Or even to be healthy. He’s not praying for us to have a beautiful building to worship in, or that we have the most exciting youth programs or the best organ music. Or for us to be happy and content. No, he prays this:

I ask this Father, 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.

Jesus prays for us that we may be one. Now, that doesn’t mean that we all think the same or act the same. There is room here for liberals and conservatives. There is room here for extroverts and introverts, busy doers and quiet pray-ers. There is room here for people whose faith is strong and deep, and people who are questioning, skeptical, confused. There is room here for people who are messed up in all sorts of ways, and for people who are unwelcome in all sorts of places. Jesus isn’t praying that we all be identical, or perfect. He prays that we may be one, the way that he and the Father are one. Jesus and the Father are one because they are in relationship with one another. Perfect relationship.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity can be confusing…we proclaim that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is God and the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God; but Jesus is not the Father, and neither of them is the Holy Spirit. It’s confusing and mysterious, and well beyond the scope of this sermon, but one thing we can say today is this: In God’s very nature, God is in relationship. God is relationship. The Son loves the Father and the Father loves the Son, and they both love the Holy Spirit. And so Jesus is praying for us that we might be one in the same way, that we might be in relationship with one another and with him.

Relationships are about trust and love. It is not always easy to trust or love one another. Jesus prays that we might do it. It’s not always easy to trust or love ourselves. Jesus prays that we might do it. It’s not always easy to trust or love God. Jesus prays that we might do it.

Jesus says:

I ask this Father, 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.

Let’s remind one another about this. Jesus is praying for you. Jesus is praying for us. Remind yourself of that. Remind each other of that. And tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell everyone who needs to hear it that Jesus is praying for us, and slowly, bit by bit, the world will believe.

 

Follow me at scholtesblog.wordpress.com.

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