A windchime made out of clear heart-shaped glass

Dearly Loved and Prayed For

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Easter 7A2023
John 17:1-11

Today, Jesus prays for the disciples. It’s Maundy Thursday, and before Jesus starts teaching and praying, he washes the disciples’ feet. Just a chapter later, Jesus will be betrayed by Judas, arrested by soldiers, and denied by Peter. Now, Jesus prays for the disciples because he knows some difficult days lie ahead. Because he knows he will be gone soon, and they will have to carry on. Because they still have disputes amongst themselves. In conversation with God, Jesus acknowledges that the disciples are God’s own dearly loved people and that God gave them to Jesus. Later, Jesus prays, “I ask not only on behalf of these [disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through [the disciples’] word, that they may all be one…so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Though we don’t read the entirety of Jesus’ prayer this morning which is the whole of John chapter 17, Jesus prays not only for the disciples but for all those who will believe in Jesus because of the disciples’ witness. Jesus prays for us, for the whole Christian church on earth, that we may be one, that we may believe that God loves us as much as God loves Jesus.

In Thursday Matters this week, we struggled for a while with what seems, at first glance, like an exclusive prayer. For Jesus explicitly says: “I am asking on [the disciples’] behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world.” Yet we already know that God loves the world. John 3:16 states, and say it with me: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have everlasting life. God loves the world. But here, Jesus is praying for the disciples, not the world. Jesus is praying for us, for his believers, not for those who follow a different path. Which is similar to what many congregations do every Sunday morning during the Prayers of the People.

For decades, the people of Grace Lutheran in downtown Phoenix have opened up their Prayers of the People by simply asking the congregation: For what do God’s people pray? People raise their hands and, when called on, share prayer requests after which everyone joins in the response. Like: Hear us, O God, and make all things new. Sure, the pastor adds her or his own prayer requests. But by and large, prayers rise from congregational members for family members, friends, and coworkers, world situations and Earth, for Grace’s ministry and ministry partners (like Esperanza, actually, we prayed for you the Sundays you served the pancake breakfast), and even for the individuals sitting there in worship. The people of Grace and many congregations pray for particular people, for healing after illness, for comfort in times of grief, in thanksgiving in times of joy. To pray for one person or one group of people does not necessarily mean: To heck with the rest of you! No, of course not. These are just the people on our hearts and minds today, and next Sunday, there will be different people for whom we pray.

In much the same way, Jesus prays for the disciples and then prays for us, all Christians everywhere. For we too live through difficult days. We too carry on without Jesus’ physical presence. We too have disputes amongst ourselves. We too are God’s own beloved people.

On days like today, we are grateful that Jesus prays for us, that we are God’s own beloved people. Seeing our graduates from preschool, high school, and masters programs continue to grow into the people God has called them to be is certainly joyous but also likely sad for us parents and teachers and community who may wish to stop time to relish the sweetness of our kids’ childhoods and young adulthoods. On days like today, we are surely grateful that Jesus prays for us. Today, on the one-year anniversary of Heidi Gerrish’s tragic death, there are really no words that make the terrible circumstances of her death or the unfillable hole her death has produced any better. But just as we raise up the people we know and love in prayer, so too Jesus prays for us, God’s own beloved people. For that, we can proclaim: thanks be to God! Amen.