The scripture we have this morning focuses on a prayer Jesus is offering on behalf of the disciples. This prayer is different than the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. This is not a prayer that he is teaching to the disciples or even a prayer he intended to share with them necessarily. Jesus is having an intimate conversation with God on behalf of his followers whom he will soon leave.
It is interesting to me that, in the sequence of events in John’s gospel, this prayer is the last thing that we hear before Judas leads the Roman guards to Jesus the Garden of Gethsemane. The disciples have just had the Last Supper with Jesus, though they do not realize that yet. They are relaxing in the upper room that will become their safe haven for the next several weeks, though they do not know that yet either. There is a lot that the disciples do not know even though Jesus has tried to prepare them as best he can for what lies ahead.
In this prayer, Jesus is asking God to watch over the disciples; to protect them and sanctify them/keep them holy before sending them out into the world. Jesus knows the world will not welcome the disciples with open arms or even be kind to them, so he is beseeching God to protect them and keep them holy.
How many of you here have prayed for protection for a friend or a loved one? Perhaps you have offered prayers when a young person, maybe your child, is going off to serve in the armed forces or they are going off to college or they are driving on their own for the first time. Perhaps you have asked for prayers to protect a loved one as they go into surgery or to have a medical procedure. Often people do not know that we are praying this way for them- it is usually an intimate moment between us and God where we are opening up to God in a very private, concerned way on behalf of our loved one.
At one point or another we have all asked for prayers on behalf of another person- these are prayers of intercession- that God would intercede on their behalf- so that a certain desired outcome would be achieved. But a prayer of protection is different. It is an interesting prayer that shows a certain amount of vulnerability. A prayer lifted up in this way says that we have done all we can and we are asking God to take over.
Jesus knows he is going to leave the disciples soon, he knows he has shared with them all he can, he has taught them and broken bread with them and their time together is about to come to an end. This prayer of protection is the last act of Jesus in a long final farewell that has been going on since chapter 13 of John’s gospel; it is his last gift to the disciples.
Mark Hoffman, professor of biblical studies at United Lutheran Seminary in Penn. Offers the following on this text,
“As is typical for [John’s writing], the wording spirals around, seemingly repeating itself, yet moving forward to some new perspective… It is like a fabric woven with repeating words and themes… [focusing on these themes] will help sort out key points in this prayer.
World: The relationship of Jesus and his disciples to the world is complicated in John. The disciples were chosen from the world (verse 6), are in the world (verse 11), are hated by the world (verse 14), and are not of the world (verses 14, 16)…Ultimately, just as God sent Jesus into the world, so too Jesus sends the disciples into the world to continue his mission.
Given: It is acknowledged that God gave the disciples to Jesus (verses 6, 9). Everything… that God gave Jesus, Jesus has given to the disciples. The “name” that God gave Jesus is the name which protects the disciples (verses 11-12).
Word: Jesus is the Word (logos) in John, and so there is a double entendre when Jesus talks about how the Father has given his disciples the “word” (verse 14) and that this word which they have kept is the truth (verses 6, 17).
Truth: This section of the prayer is framed by “truth,” a repeated and significant theme in John which also has a double entendre. In John 17:8, Jesus affirms that the disciples know the truth of his origin from God…
It is interesting to note that, in the church calendar, we hear this prayer from Jesus, which actually happened during Lent, on the Sunday before Pentecost. We hear this prayer of protection on the Sunday before the church receives the Holy Spirit, on the Sunday before the disciples are sent from the Upper Room out into the world.
As we are Jesus’ disciples in this day and age, we are in company with the folks who were gathered in the Upper Room so long ago- we are being prayed for and we are being prepared to go forth from this place. “For the first disciples and for us, sanctification in the t/Truth and w/Word… is both a matter of what God does for us in Christ and what we experience in being sent into the world as messengers of that w/Word and disciples who love one another…” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3661).
So, friends, as disciples who love one another, I am going to ask you to engage in something holy and lil bit hard right now- I want you to pray over someone near you- asking God to protect them and keep them holy as they go out into the world. I realize it may be intimidating for some of us to pray publicly, however, prayer is one of the gifts we are given on this journey of faith; the ability to pray lives in each one of us. If you want to focus on just one of the themes from the prayer that Jesus said, that works too-
our relationship with the world
that we are given to God
we are bearers of the T/truth
we are keepers of the W/word
each one of us is Holy
Please take a moment and turn to someone near you and pray over them, then let them return the favor.
How did that feel?
I am not sure if you remember what Rev. Ezra Chapola said in his charge to the church during the installation service last week, but in case you need a reminder, he said, in his beautiful, rich accent, “Pray. Pray for your church, for your pastor and for each other. You can do this. You have done this. You need to do this.”
Praying for and with each other is one of the foundational things we can do as a community of faith. And sometimes it is just what we need-whether we know it or not- God knows it, Jesus knew it- we all need to have someone pray over us before we are sent out into the world.