John 17:6–19 (NRSV) 
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. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for 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. 9 I 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. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And 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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Over the course of my life I have learned a few things. The first is that if you do your job well in retail, they will allow you to do someone else’s job as well. And the second is life is just hard. I knew that when I was going to be an adult I would have to work, pay bills, take care of household chores and many more things. What I did not expect was that I would be doing all of that with the same amount of money as I was making as a high school senior. I look back at those years and I laugh because I always thought I was so poor, but then I had kids and was married and I realized that I had so much disposable income back then.
Life is hard. I am sure you might have noticed that. Its filled with joys and stresses, pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrows. Those emotional ups and downs are annoying at times, and yet they are filled with things we would not change if you asked us too. Maybe some things but overall it is hard but good.
This week we meet Jesus as he is on the mount of olives. He is there praying in that isolated place in the cool evening. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their Passover meal and now Jesus is preparing for the hardest journey his ministry will take, the journey to the cross. It is on this mount that we learn of the extraordinary stress Jesus’s body is enduring and we get a glimpse into the conflicting wills within him. Yes, I said conflicting wills, because there is a very human desire to avoid pain which is expressed by Jesus, coupled with a desire to fulfill the will of His Father. There is conflict within Jesus and through the communion of prayer Jesus works through the emotions and gains the strength to move forward.
We often take for granted the quantity of stress that Jesus’s human body was enduring at this point. This is an actual medical condition that has been diagnosed in others, it is a condition where the capillaries feeding sweat glands rupture in a person experiencing severe physical or emotional stress. Doctors have observed this in people who are facing executions, soldiers we are about to go into battle, in sailors facing storms of unprecedented ferocity, and there were cases reported in London during the Blitz of World War II. These cases are rare but they have been reported and are most common among those with epilepsy.
What we can gather from this is life is hard, even for Jesus. There are things that go on in our lives that can cause great stress, stress so bad that our bodies literally break down under it. Why on earth would I want us to consider this as we engage and meditate on scripture? I mention this because during the most stressful moments of Jesus’s life, he shows us something profound. He prays.
Today is Mother’s Day. A day that is filled with nostalgia as we remember our childhood and our time spent with our mothers. A day fill with joy when we remember the time we spend with our children. It is also a day that can be filled with grief for those days we cannot spend with the mothers that have passed from this life to the next, or for those children we never got to hold. Just like life today is filled with those tough things, mixed emotions, and goodness. Now I am going to brag a bit. My mother was one of the most amazing people I have ever known. If there is some unforeseen event happening which requires someone to keep a cool head and direct a group through, that person I would want is my mom. Life has through her many challenges yet she will still crack jokes at the dinner table and for the most part everyone would think she had the perfect life.
One of the earliest things I remember my mom telling me about was a time where a friend of the family had a heart attach while driving, with my sister, mom, and I in the car. The friend passed away, but my mom was able to get the car stopped safely without any additional injury or damage. She has a gift of keeping her cool. I remember the day I told my mom that my oldest son was on the way. I expected some dramatic scene like on TV or in the movies. What did I actually see? A very calm mother, talking a very emotional son through a great trial. She could keep her cool like no one I have known.
I have often considered my mom, especially around holidays and Mother’s Day. I have wondered what gave her this ability that I so admire. The answer if actually simple. If you ask her what she thinks about a situation, the first thing she will ask is if you had prayed about it. In every situation and throughout the day I know my mom prays. And it is her prayers that keep her strong when most would fall apart.
Some may laugh at the simplicity of that. Some may say that wishful thinking that many consider prayer to be is void of power, but they do not know my mom. And they probably do not understand what prayer actually is.
Jesus prays the evening before his greatest trial. Not only does he pray, but he prays for others. Yes, Jesus prays for himself. He expresses his desires to his father, but he accepts that there is no other alternative so he prays for those around him. He says essentially, “I have made your name known, and for those you have given me they know your words and they know you have sent me.” He goes on to say one of the most profound things, “I am not going to be here with them anymore, protect them.”
The word translated as protect or guard, is interesting. It is a word whose sense is to maintain, to watch over, or to keep. But it has more to it. In some of the ancient writings this same word is used in the sense of maintaining a marriage. With that in mind there is an intimacy to this type of protection. It is one that encourages as well as observes, it stands against danger and cautiously allow risk that will promote growth. What I feel that Jesus is saying in this prayer is that those who know him, are aware that all Jesus said and did was from God, that he himself was God in the flesh among them. And now that this relationship is about to change, Jesus wants to make sure that there is a continued sense that God is with them and that they are with God.
Many times, we can approach prayer as presenting God with a list of our desires, but prayer is so much more than that. Prayer is a deeply intimate conversation with the one that loves us most. Jesus tells us that all he said was the words from God, everything he taught were divine messages from God. So, when we pray, those words should be right there with us.
On Wednesday evening, while we were discussing the video we watched together, I was reminded of the various perspectives we each have when we read scripture. Over the course of this discussion I mentioned that the message I get out of the parable of the Sower and the seeds, or the soils is different than what others may see because I have a different background. My education and lifestyle prior to becoming a pastor was based on agriculture. When I read the story Jesus told, I am drawn not to the seeds, but the soils. I know that seeds will take root in good soil, and what most people perceive to be bad soil I know can be changed. For some they read that story and come away thinking that there are some people that will never change, but for me I read hope.
So, when I pray I am drawn to those words of truth, I reflect on them and the situation I am facing or am about to face and I am reminded, “This soil might be hard right now, but with proper attention and God, we can change this.” Occasionally when I have trouble sleeping I will scroll through interesting images on the internet. Occasionally there will be a series of photos showing what happens to land and buildings once people move away. It will show ruins of great buildings, fascinating structures in decay. But in the decay and ruin we see various plants reclaiming the hard paths and the stone facades. I have also seen images of mighty trees that have taken root on a steep mountain slope or cliff face. A tiny seed fell in a crack, and within that crack was just enough soil for that seed to take root, and over the courses of time it grew. Always finding just enough soil to grow a bit more. I have seen dandelions growing in the middle of a street, I have seen entire ocean ecosystems developed within the wreckage of sunken ship. A soil might be hard right now, but with proper attention and God, we can change this.
Jesus is conversing with his Father, he says they know what I have taught and they know that those words come from you, and they keep those words. Protect them Father. Protect them as I have protected them. These disciples listened to the words of Jesus for around three years. They had watched Jesus’s actions, listened to his speeches, the coveted the evening discussions with a righteous passion. Jesus maintained and encouraged them. He watched them morph from fishermen and governmental officials into proclaimers and practitioners of truth. And Jesus pleads with His Father, to protect them. He urges his Father to keep this going, to provide just enough soil that they can continue to grow even in those rocky crevasses.
That is prayer. Prayer is the mindful discipline where we with God’s protection and encouragement search within ourselves and within scripture for direction and guidance. It is a discipline where we slow down, breath, and in communion with God look at our life and our situations from a different perspective, and through that perspective we find a place to grab hold. At times God will direct us to words of scripture to enlighten us. Other times he will remind us of that ridiculous equation in geometry that our teacher said we will need to know and will use in life, you know that formula that we have never used, until that one day where we actually had to figure out the hypotenuse of a right triangle. That day we spent hours trying to make it work until we fell down in a chair in frustration and for some reason all at once, just after we caught our breath, we remembered the theorem and quickly obtained a calculator where we could figure out the square root of a number. Yes, I have actually used Pythagoras’ theorem in real life.
Prayer is where everything that makes us who we are is placed right there with God and we discuss life. We express our anxieties and our frustrations, and God responds, “Remember that one time you read this.” Or he might say, “Remember when you saw your uncle do that one things. Or your pastor when you were eight years old gave a sermon once and that one thing they said that was odd at the time, it works right here.” God takes everything we have available to us and he guides us through, and when we do not have the knowledge or are so anxious we cannot think straight he intervenes for us. He intervenes because 2000 years ago, Jesus said a prayer on the Mount of Olives, where he asked his Father to protect us.
My mom taught me to pray. She did not teach me the words to say, she didn’t even really pray that often with us. But she taught me through her life and her actions. I know that she prayed when I saw a hint of excitement in her eyes followed by a deep breath, and in an instant, there was calm application. My mom was able to teach me to pray because she was connected and protected by God through Christ.
But my mom faced trials, trials no parent should ever face. I know that in her prayers there were times where the words she received were not the ones she wanted to hear. There were pleas to God that seemed to fall on deaf ears. And I saw my mom’s heart break. But what I heard was this,
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come.
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it not more,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, o my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
There are times where our prayers seem to be empty, that there are barriers keeping us from the Lord. This does not mean that God has neglected protection, but that maybe at that moment God is preparing you to participate with him in something greater. The pain I have experienced in my life, the struggles I had to endure, and struggles I continue to endure have all been the places where God has redirected my path. And if I am honest I would say he could have done it differently. Through the struggles I have experienced I have an empathy that I did not have before. I have a testimony that God can work all things out for the good for those who love him, even though they are not comfortable. I have hope. I have hope that even though the soil is hard right now that it can change, rocks can be removed and birds will fly away. I have hope because Jesus prayed for me 2000 years ago.
Life is hard. But a life with prayer is different. With prayer we can step back and reengage, we can come back to things from a different direction or even let things go and move on. In prayer we can offer forgiveness, and we can receive strength for reconciliation. It is when we take on the life and lifestyle of Jesus we can have joy in all situations. It is in that life we can find contentment wherever we might find ourselves. It is in that life where we can become the people God needs us to be for his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is through a lifestyle of prayer, worship, and service we will find the joy of Christ. It is in that life we will live joy even in the most stressful situations as well as the most blest.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, let us sit with this prayer that Jesus said on our behalf. Let us consider what prayer means and let us be drawn deeper into the truth of God as we seek his presence together in Holy Expectancy.
 Jesus in Gethsemane. (2018). [image] Available at: http://tcmhome.blogspot.com/2016/06/prayer-person-who-prays-part-6.html [Accessed 13 May 2018].
 Matthew 13:1-23 (NRSV)
Jared Warner, Willow Creek Friends Church