Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Prayer (Page 1 of 2)

Jesus’ prayer for his disciples – a sermon for Easter 7B

[This post is the transcript of a sermon for the seventh Sunday of Easter I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is John 17:6-19. You can read the text here.

Introduction

To tell you the truth, when I saw the text for today’s Gospel, I felt a bit intimidated about preaching from it. Of the four Gospels that we have in our Bible, John’s is easily the most complex; and this particular section of John’s Gospel is arguably the most theologically dense and, in some ways, the most cryptic of all.

So you’ll probably be relieved to know that I’m not even going to attempt to give you any kind of blow-by-blow exposition of the text. What I want to do instead is to give you a bit of context about the text itself – what kind of text it is, and where it fits into the overall gospel story – and then we’ll briefly see whether we can pull out one or two key points from this prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples and explore how they might apply to us today.

Context

So, what kind of text do we have in our Gospel reading today? Well, this passage from John 17 forms part of an extended monologue by Jesus that starts at the beginning of chapter 14 and runs right the way to the end of chapter 17. Scholars refer to this part of John’s Gospel as the Farewell Discourse, and this kind of farewell speech is a well established genre in Jewish literature. So one of the functions of this long discourse is to signal to readers that Jesus is saying his last and most important words to his friends before he moves into what he knows is going to be the final act of this great drama that is his life, death and resurrection.

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A prayer for Holy Week

Lord Jesus Christ,
in this sacred and solemn week
when we see again
the depth and mystery of your redeeming love,
help us to follow where you go,
to stop where you stumble,
to listen when you cry,
to hurt as you suffer,
to bow our heads in sorrow as you die,
so that, when you are raised to life again,
we may share in your endless joy. Amen.

(Source: Living a Life-giving Lent)

Called to share

The whole creation is in labour, longing for God’s new world to be born. The church is called to share that pain and that hope. The church is not to be apart from the pain of the world; it is to be in prayer at precisely the place where the world is in pain. That is part of our calling, our high but strange role within God’s purposes for new creation.

— Tom Wright, Paul for everyone: Romans, Part 1

Getting into Advent: a free resource

Advent logoOur Christmas tree and decorations went up on Saturday, and yesterday we went to an Advent service at a local church. I tend to listen to classical music radio as I work, and today there has already been a smattering of seasonal music on the airwaves. Even though I’m still scratching my head trying to work out where 2013 has gone, Advent is here already, whether you like it or not.

This brings a challenge: with the focus on decorations, cards, presents, family get-togethers and all the hustle and bustle of seasonal church activities, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the real “reason for the season”. With this in mind, I’d been thinking about following some kind of Advent scripture reading plan to help me at least begin each day with a clear focus. I had got as far as finding a suitable daily reading plan online.

Then, in my Twitter feed this morning, I saw a link to an excellent free resource called Seeking His Face: An Advent Prayerbook, available via this church website. (Warning: the site can be a little slow to load. Be patient and you’ll be rewarded.)

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On helpless prayer

In response to my quote from Thérèse of Lisieux yesterday, my friend Randy at Bible Study Geek posted an excerpt from an old book on prayer. A snippet:

What is that attitude of heart which God recognizes as prayer? I would mention two things.

In the first place, helplessness.

This is unquestionably the first and the surest indication of a praying heart. As far as I can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless. It is the last resort of the helpless. Indeed, the very last way out. We try everything before we finally resort to prayer.

This got me thinking further about the need for us to be helpless in order for prayer to be meaningful. (In fact, I posted a comment on Randy’s blog that kind of turned into a draft of this post.)

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Incompetent prayer

Prayer arises, if at all, from incompetence, otherwise there is no need for it.

— Thérèse of Lisieux, quoted in Sharon A. Hersch, The Last Addiction

No good at prayer

Praying_HandsWe have a way of bringing into the uncharted land of prayer a false map of what prayer should be like. This expectation is useless, yet we nevertheless use it as the measure by which we judge our prayer. “If I am doing this correctly, my prayer ought to be this way.” This judgment is simply a thought, and it is important to see it as just a thought. John Chapman writes in his Spiritual Letters, “One must do [this practice] for God’s sake; but one will not get any satisfaction out of it in the sense of feeling ‘I am good at prayer,’ ‘I have an infallible method.’ That would be disastrous, since what we want to learn is precisely our own weakness, powerlessness, unworthiness. And one should wish for no prayer, except precisely the prayer that God gives us — probably very distracted and unsatisfactory in every way.”

— Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land

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