At the end of a long week we are often tired. We are looking for reprieve. We need some rest. We know that listening to the news, while important for understanding our world, does not give us rest.
We worry about loved ones, if the kids will be alright, if our parents, partners, and friends will be alright. We worry whether we can pay the mortgage or the rent, whether we are saving or have saved enough for retirement. We made a pledge to be healthier, to go for a walk or get to the gym more frequently, but life gets in the way. Maybe we don’t feel motivated for a whole bunch of reasons. There are also health and ability realities that dictate ways in which we live and move in the world. Sometimes these leave us frustrated or we worry about loved ones who feel frustrated.
In the midst of all this, we need lifting up. This doesn’t mean we stop aiming for our goals, dreaming dreams, or trying to be better, but it’s an honest acknowledgement that we can’t do it all on our own. On Sunday morning we need love and support.
I have some good news for you. Jesus in our gospel reading says he is praying for you and for all of us. In fact Jesus teaches us how to pray in this passage. As Karoline Lewis reminds us there is no Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of John. Instead we have the disciples overhearing Jesus praying to God, praying for them, and praying for us. And we are overhearing all of this from our time and perspective today.
Jesus’ prayer moves in an expansive arc. He begins talking about how he and God are one. The arc grows bigger next including the disciples together with his unity in God. Jesus also names those will believe in him, you and me, so that the whole world might be united in the love of God.
Our prayer is to model this, first praying to God, then lifting up disciples, and following an expansive arc including the whole world. And Jesus demonstrates that this isn’t about abstract prayer. He is praying for the wellbeing and lives of the people closest to him and all those to come after. This is not the prayer of a disembodied God, but the prayer of an incarnate God, God made flesh who lived and dwelt among us. Jesus is someone we can relate to.
Let us receive Jesus’ prayer for us. Let us receive God’s gift of grace. We didn’t do anything to earn grace. We didn’t earn faith. These are gifts and we give thanks for these gifts that sustain us day to day. We also know God’s grace is ever expansive. It doesn’t end with us, but rather God’s love continues to expand and in doing so disrupts the world that it runs up against.
Paul & Silas – Disruptive Prayer
In our reading from Acts we hear an example of disruptive prayer, which is not always warmly received. Paul and Silas are heading to a place of prayer when they come upon a slave girl possessed by a spirit that gives her power of divination. It is often spirits and demons in the Bible that recognize followers of Jesus before anyone else. Paul prays the spirit to come out of the girl much to the anger of the girl’s owners. There are a couple things worth of note here. One is the power of prayer is not something to be trifled with. Another is that the same grace that frees, causes others to become angry, even violent. Through prayer Paul frees the girl from being captivated by the spirit. In doing so, Paul destroys the owners ability to monetize the girl’s divination. Before the world of YouTube influencers and vloggers, spirits of divination were a lucrative source of income.
Think about the inherent conflict here. To understand the girl as regaining her freedom is to interpret this act of prayer through that of gospel, treating her as a child of God, as fully human. To the owners of the girl, she is not fully human. Their world does not include her freedom, but rather the instrumental value she brings to them as a source of income.
The question put to us here as Christians is not whether earning an income is questionable. Having resources to have a home, food, clothing, education, culture, are all good things. What is called into question is reducing people to instrumental value, when people become solely a means to an end, regardless of whether they are respected as equals. Last week from our reading in Acts we were told the outlines of a story suggesting a different story in which vocation becomes an opportunity for sharing faith. Lydia, the leader of a prominent household, and successful woman entrepreneur as a dealer of purple cloth, asks to have her entire household baptized. From the little we know about Lydia, she recognizes Jesus’ call to grace and love as something she desires for her and her household. Lydia could also have responded with anger and suspicion, worrying that Paul might steal away some of her workers, but instead she responds with faith.
What does Jesus’ expansive prayer look like today?
What about us? Where do we find ourselves in Jesus’ expansive love? The good news is that we begin with grace. We begin with free gift. And God’s love continues to flow out from there.
Just like Paul and Silas sharing that love we know that not everyone will like the result of that prayer. Some people might even become hostile and angry. Prayer remains disruptive because it interrupts centers of power. It overturns entrenched injustice. Unfortunately this is still the case today. To name one example closer to home, there is another anti-SOGI talk happening today somewhere around Victoria. I say somewhere because the recent pro-SOGI rally was so effective in Oak Bay that people sowing messages of hate and division and trying to do so using more sneaky means. Nevertheless there will be a queer-affirming rally at Centennial Square today at 5 PM. And it is important that as Christians we remind people that for us Jesus’ love includes the whole rainbow of queer neighbours. Some churches and church leaders would rather exclude them, but we know based upon Jesus’ own prayer in the Gospel of John, that Jesus’ prayer is an arc of inclusion and expansion. It’s not about walling in grace for a select few as some Christians would have us believe.
Praying at Church of the Cross
I think about praying at Church of the Cross. We often gather on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM. Our prayers include both our own concerns, as well as those of the disciples, family, friends, and the whole world. We try to echo the expansiveness of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John. Our readings today remind us why prayer is important. Prayer has the power to embrace and connect us with all the saints: those who came before us, those among us today, and those yet to come. Prayer also has the power to disrupt and to build a new world shaped in the image of God. This latter version comes as unexpected by many. So many people assume we have spiritualized our faith, by which I mean that we are simply imagining the ways in which we will be teleported into heaven, that we have given up believing God will change the world today. However as we flip the script, fervent prayer, earnest prayer, has the power for God to do a lot of great things through us. Now to be sure prayer doesn’t guarantee success. Jesus didn’t exactly excel at winning. The cross contains the fullness of death and life. It confronts and swallows up violence and hate within it. The cross is no walk in the park. And yet Jesus goes to the cross on our behalf, as his prayer emerges victorious on the other side of Easter. And so we celebrate amidst the disruption of prayer, not guaranteed the outcome, but trusting that God is with us no matter what. And this is a powerful resource of strength and confidence, God in us, just as Jesus and God are one.
Wrapping up, be empowered in prayer. Trust that you too have the power to cast out spirits and the power to invite a whole household to baptism. Not because of anything in us, but because Jesus and God are one, and they are in us through prayer and faith.
Know that you are enough, that Jesus’ grace is enough, and together with Jesus, we will disrupt the world. Amen.