SCRIPTURE – John 17:1-11 – After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you,the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Eavesdropping on Jesus
May 12, 2013
You can learn a lot about a person from their prayers. I’m always fascinated to hear how other people pray, because we each have our own ways of communicating with God. Some are mumbled and stuttered, some are offered with confidence. Some start with “Heavenly Father” or “Dear God” or “Holy One.” Some say, “God, thank you for this day” and others say “Father, be with Aunt Jane during her surgery” and others say, “Lord, help me make this putt.” Adults pray about their health and their bills, kids pray and ask, “I don’t like my brother, can you send me a different one?” You can learn a lot about a person from their prayers.
What can we learn about us from the Lord’s Prayer? We learn that we have an intimate relationship with God, so much so that we call God “Father.” We learn that God’s name is sacred to us, and we are eager for God’s kingdom to come here on earth, as it already is in heaven. We learn that we need daily provisions from God and that we need forgiveness, just as we need to forgive. We learn that we need help staying away from temptations and being delivered from evil.
That prayer is very important to us, so much so that we say it every week. But when you think about it, that’s not really the Lord’s Prayer. Those words come from the scene in the Bible where the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. So he gives them this prayer that has become so familiar to us. But technically, it’s not the Lord’s Prayer, it’s the Believers’ Prayer, it’s the prayer the 12 – and us — were given to use.
So then what is the Lord’s Prayer? Wouldn’t you like to know what Jesus said when he prayed to God? All the gospels tell us that Jesus prayed quite frequently, but it’s rare that we get a glimpse into this holy conversation. Did he say, “God, thank you for this day” or “Lord, why did you stick me with these 12 idiots?” or “Dad, how do you think it’s going so far?” There are a few examples, like his agonizing prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, but for the most part we don’t get to hear Jesus’ prayers.
That’s why today’s passage from John’s gospel is so fascinating. Not only is it by far the longest prayer we have from Jesus; it’s also a unique glimpse into Jesus’ prayer life, his personal relationship with God. This prayer is confident and passionate and inspiring. This is the real Lord’s Prayer, and we are privileged to eavesdrop on it.
So what can we learn about Jesus from his prayer? First of all, we learn a little bit about why Jesus was on earth in the first place. “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” The work that Jesus came to do, he says, is to give eternal life to all those God has given him. And he defines eternal life in an interesting way. When I think of eternal life, I automatically think duration. When I asked some high school kids in a youth group what questions they had about heaven, they said, “Are we really going to be there for eternity? That sounds so boring! What are we going to do with all that time? Does Heaven have malls?”
But Jesus doesn’t define eternal life using a watch or a calendar. He says, “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” For Jesus eternal life is not about duration but about relation. Eternal life begins when we begin to know God.
I don’t mean that in the intellectual sense, although loving God with all our mind is important. In the Old Testament, the concept of knowing someone was often applied to intimate relations: “Abraham knew his wife Sarah, and she bore a son, Isaac.” That same concept of knowing God is at work here. Eternal life means being in an intimate covenantal relationship with God, sharing all of ourselves with God and receiving all God has to offer.
It’s much like another covenant relationship we know. A marriage is not defined by sharing the same address or the same possessions. Marriage is about intimate union and life together as one as we share all we have with each other. It’s the same with our relationship with God. Our eternal life starts with the developing of our relationship with God. The traditional thinking is that when we die then we’ll have eternal life and receive the fullness of our relationship with God. Why wait? Eternal life doesn’t start after we die. It’s now, and God wants us to experience his full love and forgiveness and empowerment right now.
But believing in that and trusting in that is very, very hard in our world today. “OK, my eternal life has started…now what? What does that look like?” A word I keep coming back to in this passage is “glory.” “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” “All mine are yours and yours are mine; I have been glorified in them.” What does it mean to be glorified? We pray for God’s kingdom and power and glory, we sing about God’s glory, but how do we actually do it?
I believe this prayer gives us a clue. Jesus tells God in v. 6 that, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me.” The New Jerusalem translation says, “I have revealed your name.” There is a significance here that it would be easy for us to miss. In biblical times, someone’s name was more than just what they were called. Their name revealed something about their character, their essence. For example, Isaac means “laughter,” because Sarah laughed when she heard she was going to have a baby. The name “Jacob” literally means “heel-grabber,” which describes the strange circumstances of his birth. To know someone’s name was more than a casual acquaintance; to know their name was to know their entire person.
And no name was more sacred than the name of God. “Hallowed be thy name.” In fact, God’s name was considered so sacred in biblical times that no one would say it, for fear of being struck dead by the overwhelming power of the name. To know God’s name was to know God’s nature, and no human being could know that. That’s why Moses’ boldness is so shocking in Exodus 3 when he asks God for God’s name so that he can tell the Israelites who is saving them. Do you remember what God said? “Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” God is the great “I AM.”
Fast forward to Jesus’ life in John’s Gospel. One of the distinctive features of this gospel is a set of sayings from Jesus. “I am the bread of life.” I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” You see what he’s doing here? Through these sayings, he is revealing God’s name to us. In Jesus’ time, you weren’t supposed to speak God’s name. But Jesus spoke it to us in such a way that now all of us can speak it. Heavenly Father. Dear God. Holy One. Jesus is saying, “I have told you God’s name; that name which is so sacred can be spoken now because of what I have done.” So we glorify God when we call on God’s name, when we pray to God, when we ask God for strength, when we give God thanks for our blessing or carrying us through difficult times.
But Jesus did more than glorify God by speaking his name; he did it by living out his call, by being obedient. By virtue of our faith, we are known to others as followers of God. Unless you sneak into church each Sunday wearing a disguise, people in your life probably know you go to church. Therefore, what we do has an impact on how we represent God in this world. If Jesus had gone around Israel cussing and spitting and randomly smiting people, that would have told us something about the God he believed in. So if Jesus actually went around healing and eating with sinners and welcoming outcasts and reaching out to the poor, what does that tell us about God?
By extension, what do OUR actions say about God? Through our habits, our spending, our treatment of others, are we glorifying God? Are we giving people a glimpse of the eternal life present in the here and now, God’s kingdom here on earth? I know we can never do this perfectly. When we shine God’s light in this world, it will probably look more like a flash of lightning than the steady beam of a flashlight. But each time we live as God has called us to live, each time we speak God’s name with our words and our actions, we are glorifying God. We are completing the work God has called us to do.
Jesus says, “Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Protect them in your name that you have given me.” When we speak God’s name, we are calling upon a power so much greater than ourselves to help us accomplish what God has set before us. This hurting world needs healing and compassion and peace and other things that come when God’s name is spoken, not as a curse or as a rationale for hate, but as a blessing. That’s what we are called to do, to speak God’s name to others through the ways we bless them with food, with clothing, with hope. We have been given the power and the responsibility to speak the name above all names. May we have the courage to do it. Thanks be to…God.