Prayerfully Sent

Inspired by John 17:6-19

If there was ever an example of why the Gospel of John is my least favorite Gospel, this passage that I just read is it. Aside from the wondering what John was on while he wrote this, I can’t tell if it is just so deep and philosophical that it goes right over my head, or, if it’s just John’s stream of thought kind of writing! I would love to have a conversation with John someday because I bet, he was a rambler. We all know a rambler. They could be the kind that repeats stories a lot to you.

Or those people that you could say anything to, anything, and they’ll have a story about, that leads to another story, that leads to another story. You could say, pineapple doorknobs, and they will have some kind of story that somehow connects to pineapple doorknobs! You all know the kind I’m talking about! And if you’re thinking right now, I don’t know anyone like that. Then it might be you! I’m just kidding with you! Not really.

Anyway, once I get past the frustration of dealing with John the rambler, there is some real beauty in today’s Gospel reading. This passage is at the end of Jesus’ farewell discourse, or his loooong goodbye to his closest friends, just before he was arrested, tortured, and executed. The last two Sunday’s Gospel readings have been from this same section of John. As I mentioned last week, Jesus uses these final moments with his closest friends, to deliver his final teachings, and to say goodbye.

Though, they did not fully understand the significance of this goodbye until after Jesus was arrested, tortured, and executed. But even more than some final lessons and goodbyes, Jesus is doing something else. Jesus is sending—sending them out—sending them out into a world that is about to kill him. And so, Jesus prays for them. That’s what this whole passage is, Jesus talking to God, on our behalf.

Let me pause there and share with you a story from my own life that came to mind as I was preparing for today. Picture it, the year is 1993, and I am about to start college, for the first time. I’m getting ready to make the drive from my hometown of Vacaville to Seattle, in my 82’ Nissan Stanza. My mom stops me at the door to give me a gift. I open it and it’s a new watch and I am perturbed. I am perturbed because I don’t wear watches, and my mother knew that, and I wasn’t sure why she would spend her money on something that I don’t use.

And so, I politely say thank you but no thank you; give her and Sara a hug and a kiss, and drive away. I probably didn’t get a minute down the road when the guilt set in, the guilt over rejecting my mom’s gift. And so, I turned around, drove back to my mom’s house, to get the watch. I think Sara was still outside when I drove up, so I asked her to tell my mom I changed my mind about the watch. And of course, my mom was elated.

In hindsight, I think to myself, why did I even do that to begin with? So what if I never planned on wearing it, why would I not accept a gift from my mom? Well, the easy answer is because I was a selfish teenage brat who didn’t always put others needs before my own. And as I look back on that moment as a parent myself, I recognize that she was saying goodbye to her baby boy, with fear and trembling, as any loving parent would. And she wanted to send me with something from her, something special. It may have been a simple watch to my 18-year-old self, but it represented much more than that. It represented all that she was sending me with in addition to that watch: her life lessons that she taught me, her hopes and dreams for me, her prayers, her heart, her love.

With this image of my mom sending me off to college, I hear this prayer of Jesus’ with new ears. Jesus, knowing both the blessings and evils that the world is capable of, sends his friends out into it, with his life lessons that he has taught them for three years, with his hopes and dreams for them, with his prayers, with his heart, with his love. And knowing Jesus, he was scared to death, not for himself, but for them. Though there were many that welcomed Jesus and his message of God’s love for the world, there were also those who did not welcome him, so many that it would cost him his life. And he knew those people would still be around, after he was gone, to make life hard for them, as they did for him. And so, he prays this prayer for them—a prayer of protection, of love, of companionship, a prayer of sending.

As you look back on your own lives, who has sent you out into the world with fear and trembling? Who has sent you out into the world with their hopes and dreams for you? Who has sent you out into the world with their prayers for you? Maybe a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or an older sibling perhaps? Maybe it’s not even a relative: a teacher, a church member, a coach, a friend? Maybe they’re sitting next to you right now! Who are the people in your life that have lost sleep over worry for you?

Who has prayed prayers of protection and safety for you over the years? Who has done everything they could to keep you from experiencing the tragedies that they have had to endure? I want you to take a moment and close your eyes. Picture these people, the ones who have sent you out with their prayers, picture their faces that come to mind. And I want you to say their names out loud. Right now, go ahead.

Whoever it was that you pictured in your mind’s eye, whosever names you said out loud, those are the people that Jesus sent into your life with this prayer. Imagine that, this prayer that Jesus prayed two thousand years ago, is still doing its work in the world today, in your lives today. When Jesus prayed for your protection, for your happiness, those people showed up in your life two thousand years later.

And what a beautiful way to set the stage for next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the ultimate protector and companion, the Holy Spirit. But first, this prayer of Jesus allows us to recognize those whom God has sent to us, as an answer to that same prayer—which now has me thinking, I wonder who will see us, as an answer to that prayer? But that’s for another day and another sermon. Thanks be to God for all those whom God has sent into our lives, only to send us out, with a firm foundation, and a whole lotta praying. Amen.

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