“Protect Them In Your Name” John 17:1-11

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

It is a rare and beautiful thing to overhear someone praying. 

As a young boy growing up on the farm mealtime prayer was a part of our daily ritual, but leisurely meals were not, and that found expression also in the manner of the mealtime prayer.   My father or grandfather would always start the prayer and we said it together but it went something like this:

GodisgreatGodisgoodandwethankGodforourfoodamen.

Fast, run together, get through it quickly because there is work to do and pass the potatoes please…..

The meal would be consumed, and as people finished they would get up, leave the table and be off to the next thing.  My dad would quite often take a short nap.   My uncle would be out greasing the farm equipment for the afternoon.  My mother and grandmother worked on clearing the dishes and the kids would be off to play.  

My Father-in-Law’s table prayer was quite different.    Influenced by Danish pietism in Minnesota, and as the head of a household of six kids where control and order was likely something to maintain, Bernard’s prayer was always punctuated by the silent command of attention.   Nothing happened for the meal until the prayer was said, and all would fall silent waiting for it.

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”

Then the meal would commence, and the food would be shared.   All would eat and conversation would happen and when the meal was over, no one left the table until “return of thanks was given.’  

Again, he would simply wait until everyone gave attention and fell silent, and then he would pray.

“We thank thee Lord, for meat and drink, through Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Only then did people begin to get up or leave the table, and usually only after Bernard had gotten up first.

I tell these two stories because what we are privileged to witness today is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, his prayer for us.

In many ways Jesus’ prayer may seem as foreign to you as my Father-in-law’s prayer did to me the first time I experienced it.   

It was so different from my expectations, what I had “grown up with.”

Sometimes the language of the High Priestly Prayer here in John’s Gospel does not seem very “Jesus like” at all.   

It does not strike us as the language of the same person who told pithy parables and who was known for his engaging dinner conversation.

It sounds so formal, so … well, complicated.

Even so, it is a rare and beautiful glimpse into two things.

The prayer tells us how much Jesus longs for us to experience the kind of unity that he experiences with God.

It tells us also about the depth of Jesus concern for his disciples, and by extension, for us.

The prayer tells us of Jesus’ longing for us to see the unity of things, how it is that everything comes from God.   “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;”  Jesus says, “for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

Seeing Jesus and watching what Jesus does is like seeing God and watching what God would choose to do.  

This is the point.

God is no longer unknown, and God’s ways are no longer unsearchable.

You can ask God things, sometimes quite bluntly and directly.   We see that in the questions raised by the Pharisees.  Jesus is not dismissive of such questions but rather eagerly engages with them. 

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

“How can anyone be born after growing old?”

“Who sinned this man or his parents?”

“Why do you not observe the traditions of the elders?”

“How can I inherit eternal life?”

“Are you the Son of God?”

No question seems to be “off the table” for Jesus.  He will entertain and engage them all.  That is really good news because… well quite frankly, we’ve got an awful lot of questions for Jesus.

An awful lot of questions for God!

Some of them have to do with the days and circumstances in which we live.

Some of them have to do with reasons for things, and with people and how they choose to act.

Some of our questions have to do with our own motivations for doing things, and our expectations of others, and simply the logistics of life. 

“What does God want us to do right now?”

If Jesus will listen to the questions thrown at him, and if seeing Jesus is seeing God, then God will listen to our questions as well.  

It is o.k. to throw them out, to pepper God with them.

Now, the answer we get back may be more than we are ready to bear!

Or, the answers we get back may come in an unexpected ways.    That too, is a legacy of seeing Jesus and watching him.

Sometimes answers came in the form of actions.   Bodies would be healed, infirmities taken away, the hungry fed and comfort brought to those who mourn by weeping with them.

          Sometimes answers came in the way of further questions that were designed to make you think or see for yourself.  God did, after all, give you a brain… use it and don’t get stuck in the past or former way of doing things.  “Behold, I make all things new!”

          Sometimes answers came in the form of what lengths Jesus, –God incarnate, would be willing to go for the sake of others.

Would you dare to follow in the same footsteps?   Love in the same way?

          But in all cases, — because looking at Jesus was looking at God, you were assured that God was engaged in the here and now with your questions and with your concerns, and that God was close by.

          Hearing Jesus pray for that kind unity for us, is hearing Jesus remind us that this was the promise given.  God is indeed here.

          The second thing that Jesus prays for is for our protection.  “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Unity with God and protection are interwoven and interconnected, but I’m not so sure we have understood exactly what kind of protection Jesus was praying for or offering here.

We tend to think of protection as being kept from harm, and there is an element of that.  Certainly Jesus did not want harm to come to any who followed him.

But there is a cost to discipleship.

There is a cost to entertaining the kind of questions that Jesus is willing to entertain.

There is a cost to being as open and available as it appears God is willing to be with us.

The cost involves being misunderstood.

The cost involves angering some, and upsetting apple carts long thought to be immovable or unshakeable.

The cost comes in turning over tables, and speaking truth to power, and feeling the weight of opposition upon you as you call a thing by what it is and challenge long ascribed to viewpoints and assumptions.

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.”  Jesus says.

All those worldly things.

All those worldly temptations.

All those worldly pressures and the ambiguities of life… those things will still be before his disciples. 

They are before us.

“Protect them in your name.”  Jesus prays.

Which is to say, not so much “don’t let the world get at them” as much as it is to say “don’t let the world get to them.”  

The prayer here is for God to help keep God’s name and God’s gracious will and God’s gracious intent for this world ever in front of our eyes so that we do not succumb to the numbing onslaught of seeing things the way “this world” sees them.

“Protect them in your name!”

Help those disciples, … help us keep looking on this world through the eyes of God.

Help us see as God sees and to act as God has shown us how to act in Jesus.

Help us want to see this world transformed into the vision God has of the Kingdom, the one shown to us by Jesus. 

Help those disciples, … help us…. have the eyes of faith, the eyes of love, the eyes of hope and the eyes that are always searching for the name of God and seeing God’s stamp on everything around us.

This is the kind of protection for which Jesus prays. 

He prays that we never lose sight of what we have been shown in Christ Jesus.  Light that shines in the darkness, and that darkness cannot overcome.

It is a privilege to overhear someone’s prayer, and particularly someone praying for you.   Today that is our privilege as we hear Jesus pray for us.

A prayer that we would be protected from losing sight of God.

A prayer that we would feel the unity that Jesus feels, the closeness of God, even and especially when things do seem dark and the world does feel like it is getting to us.

Beloved in the Lord, this is the prayer Jesus has for you this day, a prayer of longing for us to feel the closeness of God as he does.  “Protect them in your name.” 

“Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled?” John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled….”   

          Oh, if only it were that easy Jesus!   The words seem to ring hollow to me right now, like saying “Cheer up” to a person who is clinically depressed or “Have a nice day” to someone you are holding at gunpoint.

          “Do not let your hearts be troubled?” 

          There is plenty really troubling right now in the world, and plenty that weighs heavily on each and every one of our hearts and minds!

          How can you not be troubled when the very act of breathing right now means that you may be spreading infection, or taking it into your lungs?

          How can you not be troubled at the confusion of messages, the proliferation of counterpointing views, and the malicious spread of disinformation?  

          How can you not be troubled by the apparent the lack of concern for the neighbor, the insistence of individual rights and the neglect of responsibilities?

          So, excuse me, Jesus, but I feel the need to express my rich and full feelings of being troubled right now!

          The words of assurance sound hollow to me.

          Maybe they sound hollow to you as well, and if that is the case, then don’t be dismayed about that, or feel like you are being faithless, because there is more to this Gospel than cheap platitudes and “”don’t worry, be happy” gestures.

          We have in this lesson, our old friend Thomas who once again gives voice to our own frustrations.

          When Jesus says, “And you know the way… “ It is Thomas who pipes up and gives voice to our own angst.

          “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way!”

          It is Thomas’ frustrated words that ring true to me right now, because quite frankly, I don’t know where you are going, Jesus.

          I’ve spent a lifetime serving you in the structures of mainline denominational experience.

          I have been American Lutheran.

          I have been a part of the Lutheran Church in America.

          I have been a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

          I have been a youth director, an intern, a seminarian, an interim camp director, a pastor, an associate pastor, a Mission Developer, and an Intentional Interim Pastor.

          I have served a church was as a 100 year old white frame structure, in buildings of stone and brick and also when the church was nothing more than a tent put up on an acreage.

          In each of those incarnations I always had a sense that I knew where you were going with this Jesus.  The task at hand was to gather those who wanted to hear the word and taste the sacraments and to find purpose and a way to serve by gathering a community.

          But I have to admit that right now, in the midst of Covid 19 when to gather is to spread the infection and to put people at risk, I do not know where you are going, and I do not know the way.

          So ,Thomas speaks to me, and for me today.

          And curiously, Jesus’ answer to his frustration is like balm to my own frustration.

          “I Am”… Jesus says once again.

          That is enough to dwell in for this moment. 

          It is a reminder that the church, the ministry, the purpose and the action does not reside in what I do, but rather in what God is.

          God is present with us.   “I Am.” 

          I fall into a trap you see, of thinking that the church is somehow my responsibility, my thing, what I make happen or fail to bring about.

          Hearing Jesus say, “I Am” is a reminder that the church is not about how clever I might be, or how photogenic, or how good I am at Zoom or Facebook or my electronic presence or the footprint that matters at all.

          It’s not about getting back together, or singing, or having coffee hour again, or any of the “stuff” that we have come to associate with as being “church.”

          “I am… “   Jesus says to the question about not knowing the way.

The first great hurdle to get over is the great fear that we all have rattling around in the back of our minds, which is that maybe God has given up on us!

          Maybe Jesus isn’t around?

          Maybe this was all an illusion, all this churchy stuff?

Maybe Elvis left the building a long time ago and we’re just here doing the things we’ve always done out of habit.

Those are the fears we have, and our impulse to try to manage those fears is to want to run back and get busy in them again.   The urge is strong to go back to some sense of “normal.”   An ordering of the world as it has always been.

I’m sure that when Thomas voiced his frustration of not knowing where Jesus was going, what he had in mind more wandering around in the area of the Galilee.

What Thomas had in mind was more of the same, more going down to Jerusalem for the festivals. More going wherever it was that Jesus would decide they needed to go next.

He was not thinking of what Jesus was thinking, which was no longer about covering geography but rather about something else entirely.  

“I Am” Jesus says.  

When you are frustrated, and don’t know what to expect or what is expected of you next, the word from Jesus is simply to remember that he is!

Jesus is still here. 

Jesus is still speaking, listening, present as the great “I Am.”  

The God is and was and who has always been, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, or in John’s Gospel the Word, the Logos that was with God from the very beginning.

“I Am.”  Jesus says.

 That is something to rest and dwell in, it is a place prepared for us when we have no other place to call our own.  

It is an assurance that is not just about some heavenly mansions or far future destinations, but about the present. 

 “I Am” is a present tense active assurance of Christ being with us right here– in the here and now – right where we are.

Putting your trust in Jesus is not an illusion.

Jesus has not left the building.

Well, maybe metaphorically, but he has now left earthly structures in such a way that he can now be present wherever we find ourselves in this moment, whether that is trusting or questioning or frustratingly unsure.

“I Am”  Jesus says, and in those two little words we find reassurance and hope.

More than hope though, because Jesus follows the “I Am” with “the way.”

When we can’t seem to discern a way forward, Jesus reminds us to look for him. 

The way will be revealed. 

The way to get there will be made clear by trusting in Christ’s presence with us in the here and now, even when we are unsure of what move to make next.

“I Am the Truth” Jesus says next, which seems to be an invitation to think deeply and to observe closely the events around us.  

Truth has a way of revealing itself.

You can hide, and you can misdirect, and you can tell falsehoods and gaslight people and disorient them for a while.   The world in particular is good at that, some more than others.

          But truth comes out.

          Truth is what pulls a person toward a decision and a destination in the end.

          When we can’t figure out the way, inquiring as to the truth of the matter is a very good step in the right direction because truth has a way of pointing to the presence of God again, the great “I Am” in whom there is no deception or guile.

          And once truth is attended to one again?   Then it is that life quite often takes hold and flourishes.

          “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Jesus says.  

          Death you see, loves deception and deceit. 

          Death revels in making us think that everything is going to be o.k., or that whatever is going around won’t happen to you. 

That is how death gets its due, by fooling those who have no clue.

          But life flourishes where truth is told and where trust is established and where those two things are attended to, truth and trust, life tends to be found in ample supply. 

          So, Thomas is frustrated today,— as are we all… because it is hard to see where Jesus is and where Jesus is going right now. 

It is hard to figure out how to find our way to where Jesus is evidently going before us because so much of the expected pattern for life has been thrown out and left in disarray.

But it is precisely in the face of such disorienting times that Jesus gives us this promise to cling to.

“I Am.”

Let this be our portion this day, as we gather wherever we might find ourselves.. in our homes, in our places of service, in the pantry or in our self-isolation.

Here is the promise of Jesus today.

“I Am.” He says.  “And where I am, there you may also be.”

I do not know where you are going Jesus, I really don’t in all of this. 

But, I do know this much.  

Where you end up… you will draw me to you there, and it will feel like a place that is prepared for me.

Maybe even a place that I have been prepared for but would never have imagined going.