TITLE: Holy Father, PROTECT THEM! SCRIPTURE: John 17:1-11
Our Gospel lesson is Jesus' prayer for his disciples just prior to his arrest. His words take on a pleading tone as he prays for the Father to protect the disciples. He prays:
"And now I am no longer in the world,
but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.
Holy Father, PROTECT THEM in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, as we are one."
Those words suggest how difficult it must have been for Jesus to leave the disciples. He had lived with them and led them for a long time. He had tried to teach them everything that they would need to know, but for the most part they had not understood. After his ascension, Jesus would need them to carry on his work, and there was no hint thus far that they would be able to do that.
But what really hit me as I read this prayer was that Jesus loved the disciples and wanted the best for them. He was going to leave them -- and it was wrenching for him to do so. And so he prayed, "Holy Father, PROTECT THEM!" Any parent who has said goodbye to a son or daughter -- if the son or daughter were going off to school or to war -- can imagine Jesus' deep feelings for the disciples as he prays God's protection for them.
When I read this prayer, it reminded me of the emotional ending of the classic movie, "East of Eden." In that movie, James Dean plays Cal, a young man tortured by feeling unworthy-- always suffering by comparison with his too-perfect brother. All his life Cal has tried desperately to please his father, but his father has seldom been pleased.
At the end of the movie, Cal's father has had a stroke, and is dying. Cal is there with Abra, the young woman who loves him. Also present is a nurse, a truly irritating woman who breezes in and out -- acting as if nothing is wrong -- more concerned for her own comfort than for the father's welfare.
In the next-to-last scene, Abra is alone with the father, who lies in bed staring vacantly straight ahead. She pleads with the father to help Cal. She tells him how awful it is not to be loved, and tells him that is how Cal has felt all his life. She pleads with the father to give Cal some sign that he loves him. Otherwise, she says, Cal will never be a man. She pleads for the father to help Cal -- to make him whole. She says,
"If you could ask him for something --
let him help you so that he knows that you love him --
let him do for you."
Then, in the last scene, Cal is with his father as Abra listens across the room. You can see the father try desperately to talk -- struggle to get the words out. He finally manages to say, "Cal, do something for me."
Cal says, "Yes."
The father says, "That woman -- the nurse. Can't stand her -- get rid of her."
Tears in his eyes, Cal says, "I can't stand her neither."
The father tries to speak again, but his voice is so faint that we can't hear. Cal holds his ear near his father's mouth to catch his words -- and weeps as he listens -- and then stands and goes to Abra, who asks, "What did he say?" Cal answers,
"He said, 'Don't get anybody else.'
He said, 'You stay with me.
You take care of me.' "
And so the son is redeemed -- is saved. The father, perhaps with his last words, has given his son what he needed all his life -- has given him love -- has shown him approval -- has made him whole.
That scene is painful to watch for men -- and there are many -- who have never received their father's approval. That scene drips with passion -- from Cal's painful need for approval -- to Abra's desperate plea on Cal's behalf -- to the father's struggle to form the words that will free his son.
I mention that scene, because it expresses the kind of passion that I find in Jesus' prayer just before his death. Jesus prays:
"And now I am no longer in the world,
but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.
Holy Father, PROTECT THEM!"
"Holy Father, PROTECT THEM!" Jesus is leaving his disciples. He will no longer be there to guide and support them. This is his passionate prayer in their behalf -- and in our behalf, too, as Jesus' prayer later makes clear. He prays not only for them but for us.
We are tempted to read Jesus' prayer as we would read a newspaper -- with no emotion -- with flat affect -- with little power. We are tempted to imagine Jesus praying as we sometimes pray -- just saying words that we have said a thousand times -- saying them with no heart-felt emotion. But Luke records Jesus sweating drops of blood as he prayed in the garden (Luke 22:44), and I think that he was sweating drops of blood as he prayed for his disciples. "Holy Father, PROTECT THEM!" It is a prayer in which he shows how much he loves his disciples -- and how much he loves us.
It is important to remember that Jesus loves us -- and loves us passionately. He demonstrated that by coming down from heaven to be born in a stable -- to be raised by ordinary people. He showed it by reaching out to needy people to meet their needs -- to heal those who needed healing -- to teach those who needed to learn -- to rebuke those who needed to change.
And Jesus shows his love for us in many ways today. He shows it by allowing us the freedom to choose him or not -- but he also shows his love by giving us loving mothers, who look out for us, who pray for us, and who dedicate their lives to us.
Jesus never gives up on us. I cannot tell you just when Jesus started pursuing me, but I can pick up the thread on several occasions throughout my life. I would work one job and as Jesus called me, I would add something else; try a new career path.
But Jesus kept on pursuing me through the efforts of many people I encountered along the way. Through the encouragement of a host of Christian people through the years,
Jesus continued his pursuit by calling me to ministry.
As I said, I was reluctant, and many times wanted to pull away and do something else -- but Jesus kept calling me back. Jesus always gave me the freedom to go my way, but worked to pull me his way. Now, after just a couple of years of ministry, I can see the blessings that accrued from following his call. If I had my life to live over again, I would change only one thing -- I would cooperate better with Jesus. I would not doubt him so often, and I would not struggle so frequently to free myself from his call.
Let me ask you to reflect on the ways that Jesus has loved you. Let me ask you to reflect on the ways that Jesus has pursued you throughout your life.
-- I hope that he was able to give you Christian parents, because Christian parents are a special blessing. This is Mother's Day, and mothers play a special role in bringing their children to faith. In addition to Christian mothers, God has given us others to help you.
-- He has given you Christian friends.
-- He has spoken to you in many ways -- sometimes when you were not even aware of his influence.
-- He has spoken to you through the words of Sunday school teachers -- of youth leaders.
-- He has spoken to you through the scriptures -- through worship.
-- This week, I would like you to think about all the ways that Jesus has loved you -- all the ways that he has wooed you -- all the ways that he has sought to win you.
-- He is doing so even now through my words -- through the hymns that we sing today -- through the warmth of people who, after worship, will say hello to you.
And let me ask you to imagine how Christ is praying for you? What would his prayer for you be? How would he ask the Father to help you? How would he be pursuing you today? What would he be calling you to do?
And let me ask you to think about how you are responding. When Jesus loves you -- woos you -- pursues you -- do you turn toward him or away from him? Do you listen or turn down the volume?
And let me tell you that the Christ who calls you will ask much -- but will give much more in return.
Christ loves you. He is with you day by day, always trying to help you -- always trying to bring God's power to your life. Let him win! Because when Jesus wins, you will win too!
A sculptor in Denmark decided to sculpt a statue of Jesus, and began by creating a clay model that he would use to guide him as he chiseled the statue from stone. He wanted to emphasize Jesus' authority -- his power -- and so he molded a strong figure -- head held high and arms upraised in a powerful gesture.
The artist finished molding the statue late one evening, and then went to bed. But during the night a fog rolled in, filling the studio with moisture. When the artist returned the next morning, he found his clay model ruined. The head that had been held high now drooped. The arms that had been upraised had dropped to the statue's waist.
At first, the artist was disappointed -- crushingly disappointed -- that he would have to begin again. He had shaped the clay model exactly as he wanted the statue to appear, and was not certain that he could do as well again.
But then he looked again and realized that he didn't need to start over -- indeed, he realized that he must not start over -- for he realized that, while the clay model no longer portrayed the strength that he had intended, it now portrayed a compassion that he had not anticipated. The face, gazing downward, reflected Jesus' concern for his disciples. His arms, now at his waist, formed a welcoming gesture.
And so the artist followed the new model as he sculpted the statue from stone. And at the base of the statue he inscribed these words: "Come unto Me!"
At the Name of Jesus UMH #168
Blest Be the Tie That Binds UMH #557
CHILDREN'S SERMON: Finishing the Work
Mary Cassatt is an artist who lived in the 1800s. Although she never married and had no children, she liked painting pictures of mothers and children. Here is an example of one of her paintings. See how close the mother and child are to each other? The mother holds the child's hand and kisses her. You can see and feel the love these two have for each other.
Can you imagine this picture if the artist had not included the mother in the painting? Can you imagine this picture if the child was not a part of the painting? No, the picture would not seem complete. The artist, Mary Cassatt, worked on this painting until the mother and child, their expressions, the colors, the light, and the background, are all in harmony. She worked until those viewing the painting can feel what is happening in the picture. It is complete, a work of art. Art like this can be a way of bringing honor to God.
When Jesus was on earth he prayed to God and said, "I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do." The work that Jesus was given to do while he was on earth was to show us God's love. He did that in many ways by performing miracles, healing the sick, and giving his life for us. He honored God by remaining here until his work was finished.
We all have special work to do. As you are growing and becoming an adult it is important that you find what it is that you are meant to do. One of your friends may become a teacher, another may own a store, one may become a truck driver, and another may be an artist. Through our work we all have an opportunity to honor God.