TITLE: Jesus' Motherly Prayer SCRIPTURE: John 17:6-19
Let's all be quiet and listen. Jesus is at prayer. He knows that he will die soon -- and violently. He wouldn't mind if we listened. Let's do that. Let's listen to what he says.
But first, stop and think for a moment. Let's say that you had been convicted of some terrible crime and sentenced to death in the electric chair. You are scheduled to die next Tuesday -- just a couple of days from now. All appeals have been exhausted, so you know for certain that you are going to die.
The thought of dying has been with you now for a long time -- ever since the trial -- ever since the judge pronounced the sentence. Death is on your mind. You imagine being escorted to the death chamber. You imagine them strapping your arms and legs to the chair. You imagine -- well, I'll stop there. You know what you would imagine.
So you kneel to pray. People on death row do that, you know. Not all of them! Some remain defiant to the end -- but prayer is common on death row.
One thing this experience has taught you is that you are helpless -- that you need help -- God's help. So you kneel to pray. What would you say to God in a moment like that?
You might say, "Forgive me, for I have sinned." You might even pray: "Forgive me for this sin" or "Forgive me for that sin."
Or you might ask, "Help me not to be afraid."
Or you might pray, "God, help my family. Forgive me for letting them down."
It was that kind of moment for Jesus when he prayed this prayer in John 17 -- shortly before his death. He knew that he was going to die, and he knew that it would be terrible.
What did Jesus pray? Did he pray, "Forgive me for my sins"? No. He had no sins.
Did he pray, "Help me to die bravely"? No. He knew that he would die bravely.
Jesus prayed for his disciples. They were, after all, like family to him. In his prayer, Jesus said that he had done what he could for them.
Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his disciples. He said, "While I was with them, I protected them" (v. 12). But now he was getting ready to leave them. Listen to Jesus' prayer. These are his words:
"They do not belong to the world,
just as I do not belong to the world.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world,
but I ask you to protect them from the evil one" (vv. 14-15).
Jesus' prayer doesn't remind me of a man on death row. It is more like the prayer of a mother on her death bed. A dying mother would be less concerned about her own death than about the children she would be leaving behind. Her concern would not be what lies ahead of her -- but what lies ahead for her children.
A mother used to say, "I don't really care to live a long time. I just pray to live long enough to raise you boys." God answered that prayer. That Mother lived to see her two sons grow up. She didn't get many extra years, but God answered that prayer. That was all she asked -- all she really wanted -- to live long enough to take care of her two boys through their childhood and their adolescence. Thank God that she was able to do that.
Speaking of mothers' prayers, Richard Moore's mother prayed for him for many years. Richard, you see, lost his eyesight as a child. He grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubled times there, and was hit by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier. He was walking home from school -- ten years old.
Richard's mother prayed for him. He remembers waking up to find his mother kneeling beside his bed, pleading with God that her son's eyesight might be restored -- but, as nearly as anyone could tell, nothing happened.
Many years later, as a grown man, Richard learned the name of the soldier who shot him. He located the man's address and asked if he could come to visit. When the man gave his permission, Richard went to see him and to offer his forgiveness.
When he did that, he felt something change deep inside himself. He discovered a kind of peace that had eluded him throughout his life. He said:
"When I met the soldier and forgave him,
I believe my mother's prayers were answered.
I was given a new vision,
and my real wound,
the one that needed healing more than my eyes,
You mothers know what I am talking about -- especially you mothers of young children. If you were faced with death this coming week, you would be less concerned for your own suffering than for the suffering of your children. The most terrible thing would not be dying, but leaving your job as mother unfinished. Your prayers would be for your children -- "I won't be here to watch them grow up. YOU watch over them, PLEASE!!!" Keep them safe! Help them to grow up strong and healthy! Send someone to care for them, PLEASE!"
That was the kind of prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17. He was praying, not for his own welfare, but for his disciples.
Jesus said something that we need to hear. He said:
"I am not asking you to take them out of the world,but I ask you to protect them from the evil one" (v. 15).
The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the Greek word was "kosmos." Jesus prayed, "I am not asking you to take them out of the world -- out of the kosmos."
In the Gospel of John, this word "kosmos" has a special meaning. Kosmos wasn't Mother Earth. Kosmos wasn't green trees and pretty flowers. Kosmos was the part of the world that is opposed to God -- a fallen world -- an evil world.
It doesn't take much imagination to understand the kosmos as the world opposed to God. Just read your newspaper and you will see an evil world. Just pay attention to what is going on around you. You will see a fallen world, where people lie and cheat and steal and murder -- where people watch violence and call it entertainment. When you see that, you have to wonder, "Where are we going? Will this evil suck us all down the drain? Is there any hope?"
Don't you ever feel like that sometimes? If so, it is because you don't belong here. You don't belong to this kosmos -- this fallen world. You belong to God's kingdom. God is your king, and you don't feel comfortable in a fallen kosmos. You don't fit here.
Now listen again to what Jesus prayed. He prayed:
"I am not asking you to take (my disciples) out of the kosmos,
But I ask you to protect them from the evil one" (v. 15).
Jesus didn't pray that God would transport his disciples into some heavenly realm. That would happen soon enough, but in the meantime he was leaving them in the kosmos -- a world where terrible things happen. Jesus didn't even pray that his disciples wouldn't suffer. Jesus prayed only that the Father would protect his disciples from the evil one. But Jesus was leaving them in the midst of the mess. Why? So that they could bring light to the darkness. So that they could be a little leaven to leaven the whole loaf.
Now let me tell you a secret. Jesus wasn't praying just for that little handful of disciples. He was praying for us too. Later in his prayer, Jesus says:
"I ask not only on behalf of these"
(meaning the apostles),
"but also on behalf of those
who will believe in me through their word" (v. 20).
That's us! We have believed in Jesus through their word. In his deathbed prayer, Jesus was praying for US!
Just as Jesus was leaving his apostles in a dark world to bring it light, so also Jesus has put us in this dark world to do the same -- to bring it light -- to bring it a touch of Godliness -- to show people God's love. We have a purpose for being here -- but nobody said that it would be comfortable.
There is an old Christian song that goes like this:
"This world is not my home,
I'm just a-passing through.
If heaven's not my home,
Then Lord what will I do.
The angels beckon me
from heaven's open door.
And I can't feel at home
in this world anymore."
The poetry in that song might not be wonderful, but the thought is exactly right. As Christians, this kosmos -- this fallen world -- is not our home. We belong to something better. We are trying to live without falling in a world where everyone falls -- even Christians.
No wonder we feel uncomfortable when we see the news. No wonder we feel uncomfortable when we see a television show or movie that celebrates the profane. The reason is simple. We aren't profane-- we are sacred -- we belong to a sacred kingdom-- God's kingdom. Seeing profane things makes us uncomfortable -- and it should!
Being a Christian is having one foot in the kosmos and one foot in heaven. Sometimes it is like having both feet stuck in a cesspool and seeing heaven stretch beyond reach.
In Jesus' prayer, he put it this way. He said that his disciples did not belong to the world just as Jesus did not belong to the world (v. 16). So Jesus prayed that the Father would "Sanctify them" (v. 17). "Sanctify" is just a five-dollar word that means, "Make them holy." Jesus wants us to be a holy presence in this dark kosmos. He wants us to change the kosmos -- to point the kosmos toward God -- to reshape the kosmos until it is no longer the kosmos -- until it, too, becomes holy.
It sounds like an impossible task -- and it would be except for one thing. That one thing is God. Someone put it this way, "Every day God makes silk purses out of sow's ears." Some of us have experienced that. We have been sow's ears, but God loved us anyway. God redeemed us, and we became silk purses. Or maybe I should put it this way: We are in the process of becoming silk purses. As they say, "God isn't finished with us yet."
And God isn't finished with the kosmos yet either. Someday it will become what God created it to be. In the meantime, get used to being uncomfortable living with one foot in the kosmos and the other foot in God's kingdom.
And go to work. You can't save the world, but you can keep your corner of it clean. God lives inside you, so you can take God to work with you. You can take God to school with you. You parents and grandparents can make God real to your children.
Jesus said that there were two great commandments. One is to love God. The other is to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). If we will do those two things, the day will come when this is no longer the kosmos -- the world that is opposed to God. The day will come when the kosmos has become the Kingdom of God.
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (BH #200-202; CH #91-92; CO #521; CP #321-322; ELW #634; GC #484; JS #463; LBW #328, 329; LSB #549; LW #272; PH #142-143; TH #450-451; TNCH #304; UMH #154-155; VU #334; WR #100, 106)
Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (BH #280; CH #587; ELW #335; TNCH #197; UMH #301; VU #142; WR #479)
What a Friend We Have in Jesus (BH #182; CH #585; CP #532; ELW #742; LBW #439; LSB #770; LW #516; PH #403; TNCH #506; UMH #526; WR #473)
HYMN STORY: Crown Him with Many Crowns
"Crown Him with Many Crowns" was written by Matthew Bridges, an Anglican clergyman who at age 48 converted to Roman Catholicism and at age 51 wrote this hymn. It is the one hymn written by Bridges to still be sung widely today.
Bridges wrote six verses, each celebrating some aspect of God, such as kingship, love, and peace. Some years later, Godfrey Thring, an Anglican clergyman, thought that the hymn needed a verse celebrating the resurrection, so he wrote the one that begins, "Crown him the Lord of life, who triumphed o'er the grave" -- and he wrote additional verses as well. The hymn as found in most hymnals today includes verses by both Bridges and Thring.