First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
May 21, 2017
“We’re on Jesus’ Prayer List”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
John 17:1-11 (NRSV)
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, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So 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. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for 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. 9I 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. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them
11And 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.
On Jesus’ last night with his disciples, he sat with them and gave his last sermon and let them know that he would soon be leaving them but that they would not be alone. God would be sending the Holy Spirit to be with them. And then he went on to pray. He prayed for the disciples that were before him. He prayed that, just as they recognized God through him, that others would do so through them.
Knowing that you are being prayed for can be a rather powerful thing. Having the son of God pray for you, well, let’s just say that could be a little over the top. Those disciples must have been touched and humbled. I don’t know… what do you think it must have felt like to have the Messiah pray for you?
Well, he did. And he didn’t pray for just the disciples who sat at his feet that night. After Jesus prayed for the disciples who sat before him, he went on. He went on and prayed for us. He let God know that he would be sending the disciples into the world and then he went on and prayed for those who would believe in him through their word – that, in what they said and in what they did, God would be known.
So, Jesus was praying for those who would follow him through the early years of the church, through the middle ages, through the enlightenment. Jesus was praying for those who would follow him through the reformation as the church split and split and split. Jesus was praying for those who would follow him through the age of ecumenism, where those who had once separated from one another came back together. And Jesus was praying for those who follow in his ways today, those who do so speaking in tongues as well as those who pray in silence; those who take their faith into politics as well as those who keep it closely guarded; those who sing praises to God with guitars and drums and those who do so with no instruments at all.
My guess is, Jesus really didn’t know that 2000 years after he prayed, the “us” he was praying for would be a group of people, gathering in his name in a place called Great Falls, Montana, having just called a woman as their spiritual leader, speaking in a language that didn’t yet exist, traveling in vehicles that hadn’t been invented, shining the words of ancient texts on a wall with technology that brings a whole new meaning to let your light shine.
Even the folks who started this church in Great Falls, Montana 127 years ago probably had no idea we would be doing church this way. I don’t know just how it is that our predecessors in this place did church but I have an idea about how the early Congregationalists did so many years before that.
The church I served in Connecticut celebrated its 275th anniversary while we were there, and it was one of the younger churches in the area. As part of their anniversary celebration, they recounted how worship was done “back in the day.”
Families rented their pews. The preferred sanctuary “real estate” was in the front, which was also the most expensive. The farther back, the lower the rent. The free seats were in the balcony. Because church was the center of the community, it also reflected the community social structure – the most prestigious were in the high-rent district. The poor were in the balcony… so much for the first being last and caring for the least of these.
You would take lunch with you because the service would go till noon, take a break for lunch and begin again. There might be some time for study and lessons in there somewhere. Sometimes, there would also be a dinner break and they’d get back at it in the evening. It was literally an all-day event. It was the norm and what was expected. These were the people for whom Jesus prayed, just as Jesus prayed for us as we go about our norms and doing what is expected. Just as he prayed for the folks that will be following years from now. My guess is, they’ll be going about doing church in ways we cannot even imagine.
We can’t expect that those who come to follow Jesus through us will go about it the same way we do. We can’t even expect that those who come to follow Jesus through us will even understand Jesus in the same way we do. None-the-less, Jesus is praying for them.
This long succession of those who have come to believe in Jesus doesn’t end here. There should never be a period at the end of the statement “The church of today” because the church was never meant to reflect just one period in time. It was meant to reflect the love of God revealed in Jesus for all time.
Nope Jesus wasn’t just praying for us. As much as we’d like to just sit back on our “aren’t we special” laurels, we aren’t the only apple of Jesus’ eye. There’s more to come. There are people who could know the love of God and become followers of Jesus because of what we do here today. There are people who will come to follow Jesus in whole new ways because Jesus has prayed for us and we’ve taken that prayer seriously. There will be people who will know the outreaching, open-minded, caring-hearted love of God because that’s how we commit ourselves to being. And, if we realize and take seriously that the folks who first followed Jesus did so in ways that were very different than the way we do today and that’s okay.
In just a little while, we will leave this room and make our way up to Fellowship Hall for our annual meeting… It’s the 127th one we’ve had. None of us were here for that first one. Some of us weren’t here for the 126th! Many of us won’t be here for the 150th when that rolls around. Some of our time will be reading through reports of what has happened here over the past year and voting to approve them. But then we’ll move on, we’ll turn and look to the future. We’ll vote on a budget. We’ll elect and install new leadership. But the biggest part of our future is that which will come from just how seriously we take Jesus prayer that we would all be one in sharing the love of God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
We might think we’re just going through the paces of fulfilling our constitution and by laws. But, in actuality, we’re figuring out just how it is that we will be the answer to Jesus prayer. We’re on Jesus’ prayer list and today is a good day to keep that in mind. May we do so with joy, humility and faith.