Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"A Prayer for Godís family"

Message preached May 12, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  John 17:1-11

Order of Worship

            A young Jewish friend of our family is a fan of the television program, "7th Heaven." She seems to think that life in the Haynes house must be a lot like what the Camden family in that show faces every week. I must confess, I donít watch this program, primarily because our television doesnít pick up the station very well over which itís broadcast. What I have seen, though, makes me think that, like most of what comes out of Hollywood, itís a bit unrealistic - like what people who donít go to church think a family, with a parent as a minister, must be like.

            Now, mind you, Iím happy to see a minister portrayed on television in a positive way. That hasnít always been the case. In the past such characters were either buffoons or sinister, two-face persons if, indeed, they were even on television at all. So, itís good news that this program about a ministry family has survived six seasons. Of course, I know that Iím as handsome as Eric Camden, the father... Yeah, right. After seven children and how many years of ministry, this guy is still slim and trim with not a sign of gray is in his hair. Furthermore, the spark of romance is always a moment away for him and his wife... Please! What world are they living in? Of course, I think my wife and kids are as beautiful and handsome as the Camdens. Does saying that earn me any brownie points on Motherís Day?

            Motherís Day... I was glad to read this week that former First Lady and present First Mother, Barbara Bush, doesnít like Motherís Day. It turns out this Grandmotherly figure is more of a spunky, tell-it-like-it-is character than the mild mannered, silver-haired, lady-in-pearls she is portrayed as being. Regardless of what you think about our current President, isnít it nice to know that he has a mother nearby who still has the influence to say "Youíd better shape up, pal, or youíre going to hear from me"?

            When asked in an interview about todayís holiday, do you know how she responded? "Did they tell you Iím not big on Motherís Day?" she said. "Itís a big ripoff, you know that." When her husband was President, an admirer said to her, "Mrs. Bush, I want to send you a Motherís Day card." It was more than she could bear. "Send it to your own Mother," she grumbled. "Iím not your mother." (5/13/02, p.35-37). I love it!

            This morningís scripture from the Gospel of John has sometimes been called the "high priestly prayer" of Jesus. Now, that makes sense, because it seems filled with the sort of language you might expect to be spoken at some distant altar, but not in everyday life. I confess that I have a hard time really getting into this prayer. Just like I often have a hard time with holidays. You see, Iím the sort of husband and father who always seems to mess up when it comes to special occasions, i.e. Motherís Day. Like my father before me, Iíve never been all that good at the formal "stuff" - often forgetful of or oblivious to what is supposed to happen at such times. I think Iím probably not alone in this regard.

            Moving beyond the formality of this prayer, there are things within it and about it that I think we need to hear - things that affect us every day, and not just on special occasions. Let me begin with the obvious - this is a remembered prayer. Like all the stories of Jesus, it was not written down as it happened, and John had his own reasons for remembering this prayer. In the story as John tells it, Jesus prayed these words immediately before he was arrested, and then put to death. However, this prayer is an Easter prayer. This last prayer of our Lord is filled with resurrection. He didnít pray through tears. Thatís how the other gospels remember his final prayer, as a moment of agony and doubt - but not Johnís gospel.

            John, more than any other gospel storyteller, unabashedly shares his account of Jesusí life, death, and resurrection fully from an after-the-fact perspective. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this drama of the Messiah is portrayed in such a way that those who listen or read wonder what will happen next. The surprise ending, in spite of all the clues tossed along the way, is that Jesus is raised from death at the end. John doesnít tell it like that, however. From the beginning, those who listen or read are aware of what everyone else in the story misses. Itís not a mystery. From start to finish it pushes those who hear the words to face into the "Word made flesh" (see 1:1-5).

            In Johnís gospel, Jesusí death is not the low point, the "valley of the shadow" which must be walked through in order to get to the pinnacle of Easter. No, the cross in Johnís gospel is the high point of the journey, for on this scaffold the Son of God is lifted up for the whole world to see. And those who see him there face into the crux of their lives, a moment of crisis when one must decide where one stands in relation to God... Now, the upside down nature of this gospel, of the good news of Christ overall, is that what appears to be a despicable, horrible, awful, bloody event is really something much greater. On the cross, John says (perhaps better than any of the evangelists in the New Testament), Jesus is glorified.

            "Glorified" ... "Glory." Now, there is one confusing word, a word which turns up several times in this so-called "high priestly prayer" of Jesus. "I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do," Jesus prayed. "So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed" (17:4-5). What on earth does that mean?

            Well, think about what our society "glories" in. What gets lifted up? Power, prestige, sex, money, melodrama. What do we glory in? Who are our heroes? The beautiful people. The rich. The powerful. The talented. Some of whom we compensate way beyond what is realistic. Of course, September 11th slightly altered our vision, though I wonder for how long. After that tragedy the heroes in our society became those willing to lay down their lives for someone else, if need be. Most of those folks are not glamorous, highly paid, or powerful - just willing.

            Let me ask, what do you "glory" in? Letís back up from those twin towers, or even the cross, and look at your everyday life, at your own family - those around you. The "glory" of family life - whether it be the home or the church (as Godís family) - is not found where folks usually look. For instance, as much as I appreciate having a television show that at least recognizes my existence as a minister with a family, no "7th Heaven" can adequately portray the glory of the family. In the episodes of that program I have caught, unless I am mistaken, nobody ever yells. If you think nobody ever yells at someone else over at the parsonage, that conflict is always resolved before the daily "episode" is over, that everybody is always lovey-dovey toward each other, then I wonder what world youíre living in - not mine, thatís for sure.

            In a similar vein, if you listen to the stories of Jesus and all you see is someone who always smiles, who never speaks a rough word, who is the worldís #1 nice guy, Iím not sure youíve really heard the gospel. His love, on the contrary, was and is Whip in hand, Jesus overturns a money changer's tabletough as well as tender, abrasive as well as warm, and long term. Jesus was glorified not because he was such a good person, or the most powerful, glamorous (even sexy), rich, talented. Jesus was glorified because he was willing to fulfill what God intended. He did what needed to be done. He laid down his life in the end (or was it the beginning?) to save people ... us. It was in this that he was glorified, that God was glorified, that we were glorified.

            Jesus did what God wanted. And God glorified him. The only way I can imagine what this means - for him to be glorified (even on the cross) - is to think of the very arms of God enveloping him, such that the weighty presence of the Almighty rested there. God was in Christ upon the cross, right where you think God would not be. In that conflict-filled moment can be seen, for those who look through the eyes of faith, the glory of God - Father and Son as One.

            When it comes to family life, whether home or church, what do you "glory" in? Is it just the high moments, parents, when your children succeed - like a graduation ceremony? Certainly this should be time for celebration, but what about those other lesser times? Do you glory in your children even when they fail? Sometimes, you know, failure is what fuels the future. We learn more when we donít succeed, often, than when we do... Young people, do you ever glory in your parents? What a strange thing to ask! But Iíll ask it in an even stranger way. Do you glory in your parents even when they donít give you what you want, when they say "no," even when you butt heads with each other?

            "Glory" has to do with relationships. For Jesus, his greatest glory was to return to his Father, that is - God. Leading up to that, his glory was in living out Godís purpose. His glory was is letting go of his life for others. Is such "glory" present in our relationships with one another? Iím not just talking about those times when everything seems to go just right (which is when we normally think God is most present). Iím talking about the majority of our moments of life together, when either things just plod along, or when we fail, argue, clash, butt heads, etc.

            Jesus prayed a funny thing is this prayer. "Father, protect them ... so that they may be one, as we are one" (17:11b). Later in this chapter-long prayer, he repeated, "The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me ... so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (17:22-23). To "be one" doesnít mean the absence of conflict. It means seeing God present, beholding his "glory," even - or especially - in the lesser moments. Thatís when we most need to see God, isnít it? So, let me ask again - Parents, do you see God present when your child fails? Young people, do you see God present when you and your folks disagree or downright let each other have it? Truthfully, those are the moments we feel furthest from God, right?

            But God is there. No, Iím not saying God "glories" in conflict. I am saying that, however, that Godís "glory," his awesome presence is in those very moments working toward reconciliation and resurrection, in answer to Jesusí prayer. Thatís the difference. Itís not that believers donít have conflict, that we donít mess up. Itís that we know that in Christ, to borrow from the apostle Paul, "nothing can separate us from the love of God." (Romans 8:38-39). God is there, even when we are tempted to think he is not, and he guards, and protects, and glorifies.

            I have a Motherís Day challenge for you. In this scripture Jesus prayed for Godís family, for us. Do you pray for each other? Iím not talking about the people we lift up during joys and concerns, or the folks mentioned on the prayer chain. Parents do you pray for your children? Young people, do you pray for your parents? How often do you ever pray together? Donít wait for the moments when everything is perfect, for when prayer "feels" right, for when youíre in the proper frame of mind. When Jesus said, "I am with you always," he meant "always." My challenge is this - continue Jesusí prayer.

"If you believe and I believe..."

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see John.

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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