When Jesus Prays for You

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Not only is it Mothers Day,
but graduation is also in the air.
In just a bit we will give thanks
and ask God’s blessing on our 2018 graduates:
Griffin Collier, Gracie Day, John Pittman,
Emily Robertson, Will Rowland, and McKenzie Stevenson.
We are so proud of each of you,
and we’re excited to see what God does next in your lives.

Meanwhile, you could say that all of us
are preparing for a graduation of sorts.

Ever since Easter,
we’ve been following along with the disciples
as they’ve come to realize beyond all doubt
that Jesus—whom they thought was dead—
is not dead,
but is risen.

Over the past forty-something days,
he has come back to them.
He has shown them his hands and his feet.
He has talked with them,
eaten with them,
loved them,
forgiven them,
and—above all—
prepared them for the fact that
they can and will carry on
without his physical presence.

In a manner of speaking,
Jesus been preparing them
for graduation.

I suppose that graduation actually happens next Sunday
when we’ll celebrate the feast of Pentecost,
that great day on which the disciples were gathered together
and the Holy Spirit whooshed in
and sent them out into the world.

But today, we get is a kind of baccalaureate,
in which Jesus prays this mighty prayer
on behalf of the disciples.

And before we even get into the nitty-gritty of the prayer itself,
I just want you to absorb the simple fact for a minute
that Jesus prays.

The Son of God prays.

Now, I know you know that,
but pay attention.
Not only does Jesus pray,
but when he prays,
he often prays for his disciples.
That means he prays for you, too.

We pray in the name of Jesus,
we pray because of Jesus,
we pray to, for, and through Jesus.
But what a powerful thing to know
that right now—
whether you know it or not,
whether you feel it or not,
whether you care or not—
Jesus, the Son of God, is praying for you;
interceding for you;
talking to the Father for you.

Jesus is praying for you,
and if you don’t hear anything else I say today,
I hope you at least hear that.

*     *     *

So when Jesus prays on our behalf,
what does he ask for?
Well, today, we hear him ask for three things
as he prepares his disciples for his departure:
 
First, he prays that we all may be one.
Second, he prays that we might be protected.
And third, he prays that we will be made holy.

Unity.
Protection.
Holiness.

Let’s look at each of these.

*     *     *

What about unity?
Today, Jesus prays
that we may be one
as he and the Father are one. [1]

In recent months you’ve heard me say
that I believe this is the defining issue of our day.

Right now in our culture,
unity is a mighty struggle.
And while there are all kinds of things
around which we can rally,
what we inevitably find is that,
in the end, they all fall short.

We can rally around country.
We can rally around commerce.
We can rally around causes and crises.

Each of those work for a time,
but none of them are ever strong enough
to hold us together for long.

The only rallying point
that ever really has a chance—
the only thing that ever draws people together
across all other spectra,
across all other concerns,
across all other affiliations in our lives—
is the love of God.
And when it does,
it’s actually not because
we’ve managed to do the rallying,
but because God has rallied us to himself.

Jesus’ prayer is that we’ll be as close to the Father—
and, therefore, to one another—as Jesus is.

For what it’s worth,
Jesus isn’t the only one who prays this.
This is my constant prayer for our congregation, too.

We at St. Anne’s seem to like to pride ourselves
on being the Island of Misfit Toys.
In other words, we’re a little weird.
Our worship is steeped in tradition—and therefore weird;
our prayers are ancient and pre-written—and therefore weird;
our concern for others is counter-cultural—and therefore weird.

But the weirdest thing I hope people see—
the thing I hope makes us weirdest of all—
is that we have love for one another.

There is nothing weirder in this world right now
than for a group of people to say,
“Some of us love the current president.
Some of us loved the previous one.
Some of us love the NRA.
Some of us do not.
Some of us love crunchy peanut butter.
Some of us think that’s the devil.
But above all these things,

we love the Lord Jesus,
and we love one another . . .
all because he first loved us.”

Now that’s weird,
and it’s exactly the thing
for which Jesus prays.

*     *     *

Jesus also prays for our protection,
but maybe not in the way you think.

“Holy Father, protect them in your name,” he says.
“While I was with them, I protected them . . .
I guarded them, and not one of them was lost. . . .
But now I am coming to you, and . . .
I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” [2]

I asked some of my clergy friends about this one,
because on the surface,
it honestly just doesn’t seem to work.

Jesus prays for our protection,
yet it’s crystal clear
that being loved and prayed for by Jesus
is not a shield against all harm.

Those disciples were loved by Jesus,
and most of them ended up martyred.

You and I are loved by Jesus,
but we still get cancer;
we still die in car accidents;
we still live in a world
where people walk
into churches,
and schools,
and movie theaters,
and whole countries
and take as many lives as they can.

So what does it mean
when Jesus prays on our behalf
that we will be protected
from the evil one?

Well, I think my friend
the Rev. Kelly Steele,
a priest in Savannah,
put it best.

It’s her belief that
the thing Evil wants most of all
is destruction and annihilation,
for what else is the opposite of God
but . . . nothing?

And when Evil cannot get that,
Evil will settle for convincing us
that that’s where everything’s headed anyway.

The greatest trap we fall into as human beings
is nihilism: the trap of believing
that nothing really matters,
that the abyss is all there is,
that nothingness is our inevitable fate.

And so, before he goes to the cross,
before he goes to experience the abyss firsthand
and to destroy nothingness once and for all,
Jesus prays this prayer for us:
that we will be delivered from Evil
and stake our lives and choices
not on the fear of ultimate annihilation
but on the abiding faith
that behind all things and beyond all things
there is a loving, saving, living, redeeming God.

*     *     *

Finally, Jesus prays that we may be made holy.
“Sanctify them in the truth,” he says,
“for your word is truth.” [3]

To sanctify something
means to save it,
to set it aside for a special purpose,
to make it different,
to make it holy.

Our bishop Scott Benhase has said that
God hasn’t just saved you from something.
God has saved you for something. [4]
God has set you aside;
God has made you different;
God has made you holy . . .
and all for a reason.

That doesn’t mean you’re perfect.
It simply, joyfully means you have a purpose.

And in a world dripping
with anger, anxiety, and the raging fear
that nothing really matters,
well, God has said otherwise,
and by your word and witness,
you get to say otherwise, too.

*     *     *

So buck up, buttercup!
As we enter into this graduation season—
heck, as we merely live our lives!—
there is grace all around us.

Maybe you’re a graduate who’s
worried and excited about what comes next.

Maybe you’re a struggling mom
doing her best to celebrate Mothers Day today
in the midst of the hectic life of parenthood.

Maybe you’re happy or sad today,
hurting or whole today,
doubtful or certain today.

Or maybe you’re just one of the rest of us poor shlubs
trying to make it through another week.

In all of these things,
the grace for you today is that
right now—right now!
the Son of God is interceding for you.
The Lord of life is advocating for you.
Jesus himself is praying for you.

And on this very day,
he has brought you to a place
where you are loved without condition;
he is actively protecting you
from all those voices that would tell you otherwise;
and he has set you aside and made you holy . . .
solely because
he wants you,
he needs you,
and he loves you
beyond your wildest imagination.

In my business,
we call that
Good News,
and it’s the best gift
we have to give today.

So Happy Mothers Day, everyone.
Happy graduation.
Happy life.

And amen.

[1] John 17:11
[2] John 17:11-15
[3] John 17:17
[4] Benhase, Scott. “eCrozier #24.” eCrozier, 26 March 2010, ecrozier.georgiaepiscopal.org/?p=241.