“Prayer for Unity; Prayer for Protection”

John 17:6-19

May 16, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 17:6-19

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 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. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

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. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

| Centering Prayer |

This is the seventh and final Sunday

Of the liturgical season of Easter.

Next Sunday is Pentecost.

Pente-, meaning 50, or

Fifty days following the resurrection,

The Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples

With tongues as of fire.

So, next Sunday, join the celebration.

Revive the Holy Spirit in your life,

And testify to the spiritual reality

By wearing the colors of fire:

Red, orange, yellow!

Each year, during this season of Easter,

We dive deep into the Gospel of John,

With this Seventh Sunday always focused on the 17th chapter;

Jesus praying for his disciples.

We cover the whole 17th chapter in a three-year cycle,

This year with a focus on the middle third.

Jesus is praying to God

On behalf of his disciples

In the Garden of Gethsemane,

On the Mount of Olives,

Immediately prior to his betrayal by Judas and arrest by soldiers and the police.

Jesus is having a prayerful conversation with his heavenly Father,

The creator of the world,

The one who fathered him,

The one who sent him, to save the world.

His prayer reveals

Much is going through the mind of Jesus;

Certainly, the work, ministry, teaching, and outreach he had accomplished,

Low the past three years.

Certainly, his thoughts turned to his mortality,

Expected suffering, pain, humiliation, and death.

Just as most who are facing impending death

Jesus prays for the wellbeing of loved ones and friends.

Certainly, he prayed for

Their safety,

Their strength to faithfully follow through

With their Apostolic Commission

To bring the world to him.

There are two key themes that catch my attention in Jesus’ prayer:

unity and protection,

As found in verses 11 and 15.

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

… I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (17:11b, 17b)

Our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane

Is an invitation for us to have a deeper conversation about unity.

The unity Jesus prays for is

For disciples to be unified just as

God and Jesus are unified.

What unifies our Divine Creator with our Divine Redeemer?

What is the special sauce that binds God and Jesus together that we should use liberally to bind us together?

May we be united by responsible stewardship of the natural world.

God created it.

Jesus lived in it.

We take care of it.

May we be united by grace.

God knew we needed mercy and forgiveness before we did,

So Jesus was sent and died to take away our sins.

God knew we needed salvation.

Because we are utter failures to even save ourselves.

Jesus was risen from the dead, and so, too, are we.

Grace is the gift of eternal life.

May we be united by love;

The same Old Testament love that shows that our God doesn’t quit on us,

To the love of Jesus

That heals and casts out demons, that

Teaches us to love God and love neighbors so much that we become known, identified, by our love.  

Christian unity is a common rallying cry

And fervent prayer for many when

Facing conflict that threatens division.

Word came to the Apostle Paul twenty years after the ascension of Jesus

That members of the local church he helped establish in the Greek city of Corinth were embroiled in turmoil:

Jealousies, rivalry, and immoral behavior.

Paul appealed to them to be unified by love, the same love God has for the Son,

And the Son has for those who follow him.

Today is no different.

We find ourselves cooking in a boiling stew of

Conflicts and threats of division.

Be it politics, race, or religion …

Be it a controversial zoning variance, vaccine requirements, who should get unemployment benefits, or how to safely open schools …

… There are as many divided opinions and conflicts as there are stars in the sky.

The Church reflects larger society.

External conflict and division are imported into faith communities by members themselves.

It’s unrealistic to expect an absence of

Internal conflict and division.

It is wise to be cautious about unity.

It is possible to be unified in

All the wrong things.

Jesus doesn’t pray for our unity in all things, only in that which unifies himself with the Father.

Unity is not conformity.

Diverse opinions and world views are welcome and

We must create a threat free environment that supports diverse points of view.

There is a dangerous nature of unity that should not be ignored;

The tempting call to be unified by the evil one.

For example,

I do not pray for unity or seek unity

With those who hate, who hurt, who destroy.

It is unholy to seek unity with racists, bigots, or those who employ violence and oppression.

Unity is sacred when we are unified in faithful response to God’s will.

However, unity is unholy and profane if aligned with the evil one.

We, Protestants, tend to get all nervous when talking about “the evil one,” the “devil,” or “Satan.”

Joining hands and singing “Kum Ba Yah” may avoid the topic and make us feel better,

But it does nothing to address the reality of evil in this world.

To deny evil is to enable it.

Jesus doesn’t mince words,

And neither should we.

Jesus engages in a cosmic fight with the evil one and our place is right by his side.

Our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane

Is an invitation for us to have a deeper conversation about

Divine protection.

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

… I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (17:11b, 17b)

Jesus prays for the protection of his disciples.

One can observe that all his disciples, with the exception of John, the beloved,

Ended up being martyred, so,

Why didn’t God protect them?

Jesus isn’t praying for physical protection, although this may take place.

He is asking for protection of Christian unity, and,

Jesus is asking for the disciples to be protected from the evil one.

Jesus is praying for you.

God is being petitioned to protect us and all that holds us together: stewardship, grace, and love.

Jesus is praying for your success.

Care for the world, and all that fills it.

Be the grace and love of God, and the Lord will protect you.

Jesus is praying for your safety in the cosmic fight between good and evil.

He is praying for your strength to overcome evil with good.

Jesus is praying for you

Because he loves you.

Simple as that.

Life can get dirty and sloppy real quick.

There is so much that threatens to divide us.

May we focus on what unites us:

Stewardship of God’s creation,

Living as an instrument of God’s grace,

Channeling God’s love to every corner of God’s world.

God will protect you.

Remain focused, and,

By God’s strength,

We will successfully build out God’s kingdom.

In God’s protective safety,

We will defeat the evil one,

Once and for all.

Let us pray:

Holy Father, protect your disciples so that they may be one, as you and Jesus are one.

Protect your disciples from the evil one.

In the name of Jesus,

Amen.

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