Sermon "Worry to Prayer"

John 17:20-26

Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.

My Grandmother Bowers was a champion worrier. She worried about her children and her grandchildren. She worried that we weren’t getting enough to eat, and that we were eating too much. I know that she worried about our spiritual wellbeing and our moral development, but what I experienced is that she worried when we traveled.

When I was little we would all get up very early in the morning and pile into the family station wagon for a fifteen hour drive to my grandparents’ home. My dad had a thermos of coffee and my mom packed food in a cooler. When we were an hour or so from my grandparents’ house we would pause at a rest stop so my dad could use the payphone to call my grandparents and let them know we were close.

And as we drove into their driveway in South Carolina my grandmother would come running out saying, “Oooooh…you made it! Welcome, come in, are you hungry?” And we would know that she’d been worrying, and praying, while we traveled.

I saw this meme on facebook the other day and want to show it to you. Can you see that? The caption was “Actual photo of your grandmother’s prayers working.” Some of the comments were, “It could also be Thor versus a Care Bear,” and “It’s the protective forcefield around Wakanda,” and also “Let us pray for anyone who’s grandmother was the one on the right.”

When I saw this meme I got a little teary because, indeed, my grandmother did pray for me like that, and since she has gone to be with Jesus I’m not sure anyone else on earth is praying for me now with that level of intensity.

Right now I am praying for close friends who don’t believe in prayer. My friends Carl and Jenny’s baby girl Amanda has been in the hospital for more than a week. She’s had X-rays and scans and MRI’s and biopsies and endless blood tests, and so far, there are some answers but the real cause of her illness isn’t clear.

You can only imagine, unless you’ve been through it, and I have not, how hard it is for them to see their baby limp and weepy, poked and prodded, a tiny little lump on the hospital bed, and how filled with anxiety they are, and how exhausted, until they get a treatment plan and can go home.

As their friend I’ve done what I can to comfort them and to help where needed. Normally, when someone is in such distress, I assure them that I’m praying for them, that the church is praying for them, that Holy Spirit is spreading her wings around them and holding them close. Jenny and Carl don’t believe any of that, what do I say that might help?

Well, I offer the comfort of my presence, and touch, and I say “I’m sorry,” and “Oh wow,” and “I can only image how hard this is,” and “I love you,” and also, I do tell them that I’m praying for them.

In the Revised Common Lectionary, which is the three-year cycle of scripture readings that we follow, the last Sunday of Easter always ends with Jesus’s “high priestly prayer” from the Gospel of John.

However, it’s a really long prayer, so in Year A we read the part in which Jesus prays for himself, knowing that he is going to Calvary. In Year B we read the part of the prayer in which Jesus prays for his disciples, knowing how hard their road will be. And in Year C, which is this year, we read the part of the prayer in which Jesus prays…for us.

“[Jesus prayed:] 20“I ask not only on behalf of these [meaning his disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. … “

“23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Do you remember, as a child, listening in while your parents talking? You held your breath and got as close to the door as you could in order to hear clearly what was being said without being discovered. You wanted to know the scoop, the real story, the stuff grown-ups talked about when they thought the kids weren’t listening.

Well, in this passage from the gospel of John, chapter 17, we are overhearing Jesus praying to his heavenly father about us. Jesus pours out his heart, and we hear his words of love and we hear his wish – he repeats it over and over – that his followers, including those who are to come, would be one as he and God the Father are one.

Why does Jesus want us to be one? So that we can show the world that God loves them. This is the heart of everything. God created and loves this universe, this world, this human race, you and me, and is constantly seeking ways to let us know that, and to call us into relationship with God. A loving relationship with God results in love for other people. That’s really how it works. Love begets love.

But don’t take my word for it, take Jesus’s word. Because we just overheard him saying it to his heavenly father, so that must be what he really thinks. And in verse 11, which we didn’t read today but which is part of this prayer, Jesus says, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Protect them. Protect them in your name. Make them one as we are one. Jesus is praying for us. It would seem that Jesus is worried about us, and so he is praying for our protection. Isn’t that amazing?

My grandmother was a champion worrier. Maybe not better than Jesus, but pretty good at it! I remember talking to my cousin Jamie about this once and he said to me, “You know, Grandmama was a worrier, but it drove her to prayer. Everyone she loved and worried about, she prayed about even more.”

And it’s true. It was a comfort to me, all my life, knowing that my grandmother was praying for me, and it comforts me now to know that Jesus is praying for me.

My friends Carl and Jenny, so worried about baby Amanda, don’t believe in prayer but it comforts them, at least a little, to know that I love them, and that I am praying for them. Maybe that’s where it begins, with comfort. With someone caring.

The world is a scary place. Children get inexplicably sick. People go to work and a disgruntled co-worker takes their life. The world is also a tremendously beautiful place and a sign of God’s care and love for us. God loves this world so much that God sent the son to tell us, to show us, to be one of us, to die for speaking truth to power, and to rise in order to overthrow death.

Jesus worries about us because Jesus knows, he really does know, that the world is can be dangerous. So he prays for us, and his prayer is that we, his children, would be one, so that we can more effectively show the love of God to God’s other children who do not know God yet.

Jesus prays for us so we will be protected and comforted and strengthened. Jesus prays for us so that we can pray for and comfort all God’s other children, those who believe, and those who do not. Because prayer, which is powerful and effective, depends on the grace of the giver, not the faith of the recipient.

It’s so important for us to turn worry into prayer. Worry is just what we do. It’s natural. But worry alone doesn’t really help. When we turn worry into prayer then we are inviting the power and love and strength and grace of the very God and Father of Jesus to protect, to guide, to change us, and to make us one. We need it. Our friends need it. The world depends on it. Amen.

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