In the life of one who claims to be a Christian, prayer must be central. When we arise in the morning or before we close our eyes at night, prayer should be on our lips. Before we undertake any task, be it personal or communal, we should offer that task in prayer to God. Christians are or at least should be a people of prayer.
But what is prayer? Prayer, simply put, is conversation. It is a sacred conversation between you and God. The language can be formal or informal. The prayers can be spontaneous or memorized. We can pray with Scriptures like the psalms, or we can pray through the singing of hymns and other songs that bring praise to God. And we can pray by using our very lives as prayer.
If we look through Scripture, especially the Gospels, we will see that prayer is central to the community. Jesus prays often and encourages others to do the same. Jesus left us the perfect prayer, the prayer we say in almost every worship service, the Lord’s Prayer. The critical thing to remember is the words are not as important as the intention behind those words. If we are sincere in our prayer, then that prayer will be pleasing to God.
Now, prayer is not magic. That is not how it works. I was reminded many years ago that all prayers are answered, and sometimes the answer is no. I am not going to get into why this happens or that happens or why this prayer is answered, and this prayer is not. It is a mystery that we are not supposed to understand. But when we pray for ourselves, for the world, and for those who have asked us for prayer, our intention should be that our prayer is heard by God, which it always is, and that the prayer is granted according to the will of God. God’s will is not always our will, and sometimes that is difficult to understand.
In today’s Gospel lesson from John, Jesus is praying to the Father. We are near the end of the story here, and he is about to ascend, and so he is praying one last time here on earth for those he will leave behind. Jesus knows they are ready, but he also knows what they are about to experience, and he is asking God to protect them. Not to keep them from what is going to happen but to protect them whilst it happens.
There is an interesting line here in verse 11. In his prayer, he says that he no longer of the world and will be leaving to return to the Father. Jesus prays for the protection of his friends. But he prays not for their protection from danger, as I have already mentioned, but he prays “that they may be one, as we are one.” At this moment, Jesus is praying for the unity of the Church, for the unity of the witness of the Church, the unity, the oneness that Jesus shares with the Father is the essence of the trinitarian relationship.
So, this should give us pause to ask a question, are we one? I don’t mean are we one homogenous Christian Church, no, and I don’t think we need to be. But are we of one mind?
Jesus came into a world more than 2,000 years ago that is not unlike the world we live in today. There are the haves and the have nots, and the haves want to make sure they continue to have at the expense of those who have not. Jesus preached a radical message of love and inclusion of all, and the Church needs to be a place where that radical theology is lived out.
In verse 14, Jesus says, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world.” Yes, the world will hate us; the world does hate us because we preach and live a radical form of living that goes against everything that the world wants us to be. The world wants us to care only for ourselves, even at the expense of others. The world wants us to take everything we can, even if it means we leave some with nothing. And the world wants us to justify those actions by saying things like, “they are lazy” or “they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” All of which flies in the face of the radical message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is not easy to be counter-cultural, but it is what Christians are called to be.
How can we come here and praise God on Sunday and then curse our fellow humans on Monday? How can we come here and praise God from “whom all blessings flow” if when we leave, we support policies and politicians that do not lift up the most vulnerable? How can we come here on Sunday and praise God, who is the bridge builder, and then on Monday cheer as we continue to build walls that separate? And how can we come here, lift our voice and our hands in praise to a brown-skinned, nappy-headed, poor carpenter from the middle east and then stand by and watch the rights of those who do not look like us or love like us, or believe like us be taken away?
To be a Christian is to be a person of action!
I read a quote one time, I cannot remember where I read it or who wrote it, and I searched for it this morning whilst I was preparing these words, but it goes something like, “I prayed to God to ask why he has done thinking to help the poor, and God asked me the same question.” I started this by saying that prayer is a conversation. Conversation requires a sender and a receiver, one who talks and one who listens. How often in our prayer do we spend time listening? Is our prayer a laundry list of things we want and people we want to pray for, or is it that and then a time when we say, “speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
It is great that we pray for the world and for the alleviation of all the nastiness in the world, but what are we doing about it? We may not be called to march; we may not be called to protest, but we are being called to do something. We find that something when we take time to listen to that still, small voice urging us on to make this world a better place.
I often quote Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, because he has a way to take all of the complex theological issues and boil them down into things that we can understand. Bishop Curry says, “The way of Jesus is the way of love. And the way of love will change the world.”
Let us resolve to leave this place today and be more loving toward one another because that love will spread, and that love will change the world.