Monday, November 16, 2015

The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 15, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 17
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

After a week like this week it would be good to have Jesus praying for us, wouldn't it. There have been attacks, there have been protests, there has been just absolute insanity. DeAnna said it best, the other day we were driving around and I was talking about the protests on the college campuses, and she was like, people are just crazy and getting crazier it seems, and the world just so broken right now, and the way forward seems so intimidatingly difficult, and winding, and fraught with peril, and uncertain, that so many of us would rather ignore it, would rather, bury our heads in the sand, would rather just go about business as usual and pretend that everything is going to be ok, that we don't have change a thing about who we are, the world will simply fix itself, that our systems will work, the systems of the past, the systems of tradition will simply save us, and then there are others of us who just want to fight it out, full steam ahead, once more into the breach. Let's go out guns blazing and see what happens, but there are just so many different issues going on, and all at the same time, so which one do you attack? Do you attack the debt? Do you attack the damage to the environment? Do you attack illegal immigration? Do you attack ISIS? Russia? China? North Korea? Iran? It is a tangled web. . . Do you simply attack the other side, any one who happens agree with you, or whomever threew that last straw on the camel's, whomever that other may be, ready fire aim? It is a tangled, a broken web of absolute crazy, one you just can't win for losing. . . in trouble if you do, and trouble if you do nothing, stuck in the middle of a rock and a hard place. Yeah, it would be great to have Jesus praying for us right  now, but if he was, what would he say? What would he pray? What would he prescribe? What would he desire? What would he have us do? have us be? Want for our present and future?
Jesus prays all the time in the gospels. He prays before performing miracles, before sharing meals, before blessing children, before choosing his disciples, at his baptism, right before Peter calls him "Christ", at the transfiguration, before raising Lazarus, while teaching about prayer, many of his last words on the cross are prayers, like father forgive them, they know not what they do, or into thy hands I commend my spirit, or why God why have you forsaken me. In the other three gospels, Jesus makes a prayer in the garden of Gethsemene, after the last supper, and before being arrested. In that prayer he says, Let this cup pass, but thy will be done. . . but here in John, in the very same spot, he prays a much longer prayer. . . the longest that we see him pray, and important for us, because he does specifically include us in his prayer, yes despite the fact that it has been almost 2000 years, yes, even we are included in it, and don't we need it. His prayer, this our Lord's Prayer, encompasses all of chapter 17. . . let us pray this gospel reading, straight from our savior's mouth. . .

17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 “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. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 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. 9 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. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,  so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” [1]

It is quite a mouthful, but it is pretty simple when you break it down. . . not quite as poetic as the other, the official Lord's prayer, but I like this one because it does seem like it is in the moment, being thought and prayed simultaneous, because it seems to repeat, it starts takes a step forward, then circles back, then another step forward, then circles back, much like the long speech we have been going through for the last bunch of weeks.
The time has come, the hour is near, the time for us to be glorified, not just me and not just you, for we are one, together, I have made you known here, and let them know that to know you is to have eternal life, I have known that since before the world existed, but now I have told it to them, as well, so that they could be one like you and I, with you and I. . . eternally. As you gave them to me, I give them to you, so that we again could be one. I ask that you give your protection, keep them safe, protect them so that they can be one, as we are one. . . . keep them strong in the truth, sanctify them in the truth, make them holy in the truth, and not just for these specific ones, but for all that come to believe through them. . . you see that is where we come into this. . . think about how wide a circle goes this prayer, everyone who has ever come to believe in Christ, through the disciples, and the disciples of the disciples, all the way through 2000 years, to us now, yes that is an amazing cloud of witnesses, all persevering and running the race because Christ has prayed for them, is with them, and is one with them, and they with him. And then he goes to love, that it is love that has made us one with Christ, the father, and he prays that we are one in each other, that the world of believers would be one, and that the world would see that love, come to know that love, and become one, one world, one love, all with Christ, Christ with us, and us and the father, one. . . Amen. . . quite a prayer.
How many of the world's problems are wrapped up in it as well, the very problems that we see, the problems I mentioned. . . isn't it all of them, slowly but surely addressing them all. . . to be one, but not forced to be one, but to become one, simply because you believe, that you come to believe, that you have been shown the truth, that you have been sustained in the truth, that you have been sanctified by the truth, that you have come to know all that you need to know, and though freely come, freely deciding to give, and to dedicate it all to the one.
Now why would Jesus pray this? Why wouldn't he just make it happen, force it to happen. . . why pray for it, it seems so passive. . . isn't that the beauty. . . there is faith in that saving grace. . . but not just the common faith that we have in Christ, but the faith that he and the Father have in us. So this one thing. . . this being one, is connected in faith, connected in love, and freely so. . .  faith seems to demand it, and love seems to surround it. . . all of this connected to the time being now, to glorify Christ. . . and how does Christ become glorified. . . through ultimate sacrifice, and then transcending that sacrifice.
The song that I sang as the anthem this morning was recorded in the last year of Johnny Cash’s life and was released after his death on the album, “Ain’t Grave gonna Hold this Body Down,” and that where I first heard it, but it was written much earlier in the mid 90’s by Sheryl Crow after she had return from a trip to see war torn Bosnia. It’s powerful song because she juxtaposes a description of our world. . . violence, poor leadership, despair, hopelessness, with a train image about redemption for every woman and man. . . the solution seems to transcend the problems, as Christ does, as Christ offers. The kind Christ centered unity that is all that matters. . . but how hard to see in our times. . .  That the first step is the cross, and that first step is unavoidable, but on the other side is joy like we have never known. Unity, oneness, the type that Christ is praying for here, takes that journey with Christ, to where Christ is. . . in faith, in hope, in love. . . despite all.
There is a train that's heading straight
To heaven's gate, to heaven's gate
And on the way child and man and woman wait
Watch and wait for redemption day

Then it ends with the echo of Freedom. . . freedom. . . freedom. . . only in Christ is it possible to be completely one, and completely free, unified, and yet set free to fulfill potential.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 17:1-26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.