In the four gospels there are several accounts of Jesus going off alone to pray, so we have very few recorded prayers of Jesus. We have the account of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray, and he gives them the form of the Lord’s Prayer to use. We have Jesus’ prayer at the place of the wine presses, Gethsemane, and some of Jesus’ words on the cross could be called prayers.
We heard part of another prayer today that John attributes to Jesus at his last Passover meal. After Judas left them Jesus prayed for himself, for the eleven, and for future believers. This is probably my all-time favorite Bible passage because of the way Jesus describes his relationship with God and with his followers. He praises God for the gifts he has received and for the gifts that will be given to these eleven men.
Jesus speaks of revealing God’s name to the eleven. Jesus taught them not only the name of God but also about God’s character. It is hard to turn one’s life over to an idea or to someone who elicits uncertainty. If one knows the character and nature of God, then one is willing to wholeheartedly follow. Jesus had told them about God so that God was no longer distant.
These eleven men knew Jesus--they believed what he said and what he did but they also believed in him. They knew they could trust him in mind and in character. Jesus had revealed to them the name and character of God in the way Jesus interacted with people, the way he cared for people, in healing people in God’s name, and including all people in his life no matter their station in life. And, as Jesus had lived, these men would now live and display how God through Jesus could live in the world. They would be the new light. They would follow Christ though they could no longer see him, they would breathe his words though they could no longer hear him, and they would heal the sick and teach others how to live in Christ, how to believe in Christ though most would not have the direct experience of the living, breathing Christ.
They must have been frightened to the core at the responsibility. These were, after all, ordinary people: tradesmen, working stiffs, and the uneducated for the most part. Yet Jesus prays, “They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. … those you gave me, for they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them. For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world; they’ll continue in the world while I return to you. Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.” [The Message] I can feel the passion and compassion in those words as Jesus prays for these men and argues their case before God--as he argues our case before God.
Jesus finishes with a prayer of consecration: “Make them holy-consecrated-with the truth; your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sakes so they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.” [ibid.]
So in the first chapter of Acts, we have these same eleven men meeting with others after the ascension. Jesus’ last words to the witnesses were, “What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”[ibid.]
There were 120 at this gathering in Jerusalem including the eleven, women including Jesus’ mother, and Jesus’ brothers. After choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they waited there in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. These were ordinary people like us, they were a small group like us, and they had the indwelling Holy Spirit like us. Jesus prays for us like he did for them. He is our advocate before God as he was for them.
“They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the message you gave me, I gave them; and they took it, and were convinced that I came from you.” [The Message] These 120 people, these eleven leaders (twelve with Mathias) were the first fruits of Jesus’ mission. We, too, can glorify Christ. We, too, can tell people of our experiences with Christ. This wonderful prayer is also for us--we are weak, contentious, and reluctant but, Jesus will help us by giving us what we need to tell the world about him. He will help us to grow in truth and holiness. We can share the gifts God has given us in this place and we can draw others in to share their God-given gifts, too. We do need to pray alone and together to keep our focus on what we might accomplish.
I would like to read an excerpt of the commencement address that Jim Wallis gave at Virginia Theological Seminary as an example of what we can share.
“…our mission is to the kingdom of God…the central message of Jesus [but] it has faded as our [central message]. …the heart of the message of Jesus was a new order breaking into history--to change everything about the world, including us.”
“And that’s why we can offer such hope to the world. The church is supposed to be saying, and the church is supposed to be showing, that our life together can be better. In our shallow, superficial, and selfish age, Jesus is calling us to a completely different way of life. He called it the kingdom of God--as very different from all the political kingdoms of the world. But that better way of living wasn’t just meant to benefit the Christians, but everybody else too.”
“Christianity is not just a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of everybody else. Rather, it is a call to a relationship; and one that changes all our other relationships. Jesus calls us into a new relationship to God; and he says that also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies."
"You don’t always hear that from churches. But that transformation of all our relationships, when lived out, has always been the best thing for what we now call the common good. …Your job is to pastor and lead faith communities whose vocation is to be unpredictable and to be able to offer hope where nobody else does. … you leave today, not committed to the kingdom of any culture, class, or racial group, or the kingdom of America or any other nation state, or even the kingdom of any church, even the kingdom of the Episcopal church; but rather [committed] to the kingdom of God, which is meant to…bring new hope to lives, neighborhoods, nations and even the world. … God bless you in that wholly unpredictable and so needed ministry of hope.”
Please pray with me: Dear God we ask that you bless our gifts and help us to recognize all that we have received from you. We ask that you help us to build up our members so each person can use their gifts in this place. We also ask that more would join us and that we can honor the gifts that each new person brings to our community. Help us to display Jesus’ life in our own lives. In the hope of Christ we pray, Amen.