The Barrel by John H. Pavelko

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Praying for Others

John 17:20-26

 

A CONTRAST OF TWO CHURCHES

C.S. Lewis wrote a marvelously humorous and incredible insightful book series of articles during WW II. They appeared in a British magazine and attracted a tremendous amount of interest. They were letters from one devil to another. Lewis received some criticism for personifying the forces of evil as if they might actually be real. His point was that we moderns err in two ways by either taking the forces too seriously or by not taking them seriously enough. Lewis did not believe in the comic portrayal of Satan as a little man in a red suit with bat wings but nevertheless, he firmly believe in the existence of an evil power that did its very best to thwart the will of God and to disrupt the plans and lives of men and women with the ultimate goal of preventing them from reaching a heavenly destination.

With this in mind Lewis creates two tempters-Wormwood and Screwtape. Screwtape is the more experienced tempter and the uncle of Wormwood. He is responsible for giving his nephew advise on how to lead his assigned human astray which he does by letter. Unfortunately for Wormwood his assignment has become a believer. Screwtape advice to his nephew is quite revealing. He writes

There is no need to despair, hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us.


One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately that is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an express like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew.1

What an astute observation. Lewis contrast two churches, the Church universal with the church local and interesting he see one as strong and powerful and the other weak, unattractive, filled with people who at best may politely avoid on another.

Maybe this is why Jesus took time just before his arrest to pray for the first for his disciples and then for all believers.. The lectionary reading takes us back in time to just after the Last Supper. John tells the story much differently than the other gospels. There are no sleeping disciples. There is no garden and no struggle of faith by Jesus. Jesus is still in the upper room with his disciples. Judas has just left their company and Jesus delivers his final teaching. He concludes with a prayer.

The prayer is a farewell prayer. Earl Palmer build a convincing case that the prayer in John 17 is modeled after the "Our Father" prayer. The Lord's Prayer opens with the recognition of the glory and reign of God. In John 17 Jesus announces that the glory of the Father will now be revealed in the Son. The "Our Father" prayer asks for the kingly reign of God to dawn. The prayer in the garden asks for holy strength for his disciples. The prayer he taught his disciples asks for forgiveness, in the dark Jesus claims for his disciples the wholeness that come in forgiveness. The "Our Father" prayer asks for strength to forgive others while on his final night Jesus asks that his disciples might have his very own love. Finally, both prayers request protection from the forces of evil. 2

Our focus today is upon the last section in which Jesus prays not just for his disciples but for all believers.

WHY SHOULD WE PRAY FOR OTHERS?

I find it striking that Jesus prayers for all believers. He is able to look beyond his own needs. He is able to step beyond the turmoil, pain and suffering that he is about to endure and direct his thoughts on those who will one day come to faith. What a marvelous act of love; to move beyond his own self-interests and self concerns.

I find this rather convicting. So often, so many of my prayers are concerned with my own self interests, either for myself or my family. Jesus example reminds me that my prayers need to stretch beyond my immediate circle of family and be directed at the needs and concerns of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

WHAT SHOULD WE PRAY FOR?

This is particular important when we consider the purpose of his prayer. John records "that we may be one. Oneness or unity was of utmost importance for our Lord. I wonder if the Apostle Paul was influence by this prayer when he wrote to a divided and conflicted church in the city of Corinth, telling them that they were many members but were to live as one body.

The nature of the church is given its first theological explanation in this prayer. Within the community of faith there would be no model for a rugged individualism. There would be no heroes who were so brave, so strong, so courageous, so wise that they could go it alone. Just as each person needed a Savior, so each of us needs one another. Earl Palmer writes
As Christ gives to them the gift of the Holy Spirit to abide in them and with them on the journey, so now he gives them each other.3

This means that Christians together experience the grace and love of Jesus Christ. One of the most powerful heresies in the modern church is the emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The grace of God is experience in community not in isolation.

This week I was at a Pastor's Conference. One of the keynote speaker was a wonderful woman, Marva Dawn. She told us that the church needs to learn to become Southern. By that she meant that we need to reminder that Paul was writing his letters to churches not individuals. Whenever we read one of his admonitions we need to read it not as a singular you but as y'all. Her thesis was that the Christian faith is always lived in community never alone. This highlights the importance of Jesus prayer. If the church is to grow and prosper and become as Screwtape says that 
Church ...spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners that Church needs to be experience the Oneness of Christ.

In this prayer Jesus has given us a very important insight into the nature of the church. The basis for our solidarity is the Lord who makes one This is often distorted and manipulated by people trying to create a false sense of unity. 

For example, Christians have often tried to build unity on missions. That is our task not our motivation. Sometime church leaders try to unite a congregation around a building program. I have heard many denominational executives advocate for this. One such executive was heard to have said, "Nothing unites a group of people better than a building project."

That is a sad commentary on relationships. Missions, buildings, even worship services are tasks. They should never be the foundation of our oneness. The foundation of our oneness is found in relationships. We are to one as the Father and the Son are One. The secret of the Oneness of the Godhead is their ongoing relationship. They know one another, stretching the image just a bit, they are friends with one another. They understand each other and appreciate the role that the other fulfills. Quite a contrast to the relationship that Screwtape wrote about in his letter to Wormwood. Screwtape was relying one impersonal, distancing of the typical relationship in a church. He was hoping to discourage this new convert by causing him to see that few in anyone in the church really liked him and many of the people who were sitting in the pew were people he had been avoiding all week.

If we are to truly experience the oneness of Christ we must develop relationships that demonstrate that we understand one another, appreciate each other and enjoy the company of another. So how do we begin?

I believe that the best point of beginning is to follow the example of our Lord. Just as our Lord prayed for one another so too are we. But I want are prayers to be personal. I do not want us to be general prayers. That is why I am asking the ushers to pass out a prayer calendar. This calendar will help us to break the assignment into manageable parts. Kristi has divided up all the families in our worshipping community and assigned a certain number for each day. I am asking that one that day you make sure you pray for the assigned members.

FROM WORDS TO ACTION

One of the dangers of praying for others is we can become satisfied that we have fullfilled our obligation to the other person. In a letter to a friend, C. S. Lewis wrote that it is far easier to pray for the bore than to go and visit him.4 We must realize that our prayers are only the beginning point. As we pray for one another, we need to allow the Spirit to speak and direct us in how we can become the answer to our very petitions. 

1 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p.11,12.
2 Earl Palmer, The Intimate Gospel, p. 143.
3 Earl Palmer, The Intimate Gospel, p. 145.
4 C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm,


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