John 17:1-11 After Jesus said this, he looked up to heaven and said, "Abba, the hour has come! Glorify your Only Begotten that I may glorify you, through the authority you've given me over all humankind, by bestowing eternal life on all those you gave me. And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus, the Messiah. I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Abba, glorify me with your own glory, the glory I had with you before the world began. I have manifested your Name to those you gave me from the world. (and First Baptist Church of Mooresotwn) Now they (the people of FBCM) know that everything you've entrusted to me does indeed come from you. I entrusted to them (FIrst Baptist Mooresotwn) the message you entrusted to me, and they (the congregation) received it. They know that I really came from you; they believed it was you who sent me. And it's for them that I pray- not for the world, but for those you've given me (at FBCM)- for they are really yours, just as all that belongs to me is yours, and all that belongs to you is mine. It is in them (FBCM) that I have been glorified. I am in the world no more, but while I am coming to you, they (the people of FBCM) are still in the world. Abba, holy God, protect those whom you have given me with your Name- the Name that you gave me- that they may be one, even as we are one. (The Inclusive Bible)
Today I want to talk to you about prayer... and about our need to pray as a church, for our community of faith. I know that many of us pray every day, sometimes more than once a day- depending on our situation. We pray for lots of things individually, ourselves, our finances, our children, our friends, our nation, and... it's important to pray for all of that... and as much as we pray, many of us still don't feel very good at it- especially when we have to pray out loud. And that's a real thing- I want to say this out of the gate. I can remember praying out loud in a group for the first time, and as we stood in our little circle which couldn't have been more than 7 people, I don't think I listened to one word anyone else said in prayer. While all the people before me were speaking, I was more concerned with what I was going to say. And I didn't listen to all the people after me because I was assessing in my head the things I had said when it was my turn! Why is it so difficult to pray out loud? We equate it to public speaking- according to the folks at forbes.com onlyAbout 10 percent of the population loves public speaking. That group experiences no fear and get a huge buzz being in front of a large crowd. Another 10 percent are genuinely terrified. Those are the people who are physically debilitated by even the thought of public speaking. True glossophobics will go to great lengths to avoid speaking in a group situation, and will experience nausea, panic attacks and extreme anxiety. The rest of us – roughly the 80 percent in the middle – get butterflies, get anxious, don’t sleep much the night before – but we know that we’re going to live through it. It's natural to get nervous, but there is another layer that we've added through the ages in church- and we focus on trying to say just the right words because we worry about looking foolish, or being tongue tied, or not knowing what to say, or being too showy, or whatever your individual struggle is. I remember thinking, I want to say something that's different than the other people, who pretty much would just say, I want to thank you for this day, and for bringing us here... So instead of trying to fix this on our own, lets turn to the expert in prayer- our teacher and leader- Jesus.
This is the prayer Jesus prayed before he entered Gethsemane. In this prayer Jesus does not struggle over his journey to the cross; the prayer here is for those he is leaving behind... for the disciples... for us! By inserting the name of our congregation into the scripture, we get a better sense that Jesus was indeed praying for us- here- now. It is powerful to read our name out loud in this context- to hear the name of congregation spoken by God's Only Begotten- but I'll admit, the first time I read it aloud, I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it is a wonderful feeling to realize Jesus' prayer is for us, here, now. The great love shown to us... to be included... to feel the compassion of Jesus pouring out and hear in his own words just how much God cares for us. I don't know if you've ever had the experience of being prayed for... to hear your name lifted up to God for strength, or for healing, or comfort, of encouragement... There is a woman who comes by the church once a week or so named Tina. Tina calls herself "the prayer warrior", and she spends most of her day walking up and down Main St. - every knows her as she stops in regularly to each store and church on the street- she walks with a slight limp and very thick glasses and when she talks to you, instead of looking you in the face, she looks just to your left- always with a slightly crooked but joy filled smile. Her first words are usually "Hi Pastor Pepe! Can I pray with you?" Now, most of the time I am in the middle of something, or on the phone or writing or planning or whatever, that makes me not want to stop for five minutes and sit with Tina... but I do. When Tina comes in, I stop whatever it is, we sit in the two chairs in my office and she takes my hands and prays. And it doesn't matter what's going on in my life that week, or if I am stressed, or worried or overbooked- when she starts to pray, I feel an urgency to let go of whatever I am thinking about at that moment, and open my spirit to receive whatever God is bringing me via Tina.
"Lord, I want to lift up Pastor Pepe to you this morning... and I want to thank you for her ministry here in Mooresotwn.... and I just pray that you keep her strong... and I pray for her family, and for all the people at her church... and I pray for whatever she is going to preach on this week... (and then Tina usually turns the prayer) and I pray for all the people who don't know you yet Jesus, that they can come to know you and find new life and hope and how good it is to be close to you...(and then Tina normally names some of her family members and closest friends to be saved) and closes with a quick "Amen." Then it's my turn- and I pray for her. for her ministry, for her health, and thank God for sending her my way. She hugs and kisses me good bye and says "I love you Pastor Pepe," which I also know is a message straight from God, and then she is on her way. As she goes I am left most times with tears... It is a powerful thing to be prayed for- to hear your name and the name of God in the same sentence.
Would you be willing, for a moment, to turn to the person next to you, and to lift them up in prayer- using their name (find out their name if you dont know it)- and in one or two sentences, just pray for them. (do it) How did it feel?
Comforting, encouraging, strengthening, all those things are true... But on the other hand, it is a bit overwhelming to think of Jesus praying for us... not just for us individually, but for the church... what does it mean for Jesus to have prayed for our church... what does it say about the mission and responsibility Jesus entrusted to US- at First Baptist Church of Moorestown, (or to whatever faith community of which you are a part). What would Jesus be praying for us as a community? We don't need to really guess... we can name the things we hear in this prayer... Jesus has entrusted us with the message given to him by God. that we help people get to know God and experience God's love... that everything we have comes from God, and that we may be one...
So today, I would ask that you think about how these things are lived out in our community of faith... how do we reveal God's love to the world around us, or even to the people around our church, or better yet, in our church? How do we show 'care of,' or the word we use in modern Christianity, 'stewardship' of our resources- both personal and of the things God has given us as a church? ANd finally, how do we show our unity in Christ at FBCMooresotwn? That we are one?
These are big questions- and while we could give each of them one or two sentences in this sermon, I would like us instead to really start pondering them as a church. I would challenge us to keep them at the forefront of our mind- put them up on posters and bulletin boards in each room in the church, so that we are always reminded of them, always thinking about them, always praying for the church- so that we can grow into the church God is calling us to be.
Last week after the congregational meeting, which was really amazing, and if you didn't get the recap of that meeting in your email, there are hard copies in the back of the sanctuary that you can take home and read over. But at the end of our time together, we gathered hand in hand around the tables to pray for the church. As we prayed, I was struck with hos good it felt to pray like that... with all of us unified, touching, unified in spirit- and I also realized, almost ashamedly, that we do not do this kind of praying enough. We need to be in prayer for our church- in prayer WITH our church.