I am Kelli Martin, and I have been a parishioner here at Epiphany Parish for almost 4 years, I serve on the Vestry and also as your Senior Warden.
I have this friend who says he is awkward at goodbyes. He says when he gets off the phone with a family member or has to leave a dinner party, he never knows what to say, he never knows how to end the conversation. Maybe you know someone like that or you yourself are like that. We’ve seen that awkwardness in our virtual world, all these video chats and meetings we’ve had over the last 2 years and continue to have. Sometimes you never know whether to wave goodbye at the screen or to actually say goodbye. And at what point do you click the button to leave the conversation? What if you just want to hang out and chat? You don’t want to leave the virtual room too soon or too abruptly! These virtual goodbyes are so fraught, fraught with all this ambiguity!
For me, though, there is no ambiguity with goodbyes. I like to prolong the goodbye! If you’re in a meeting with me or on the phone with me, I will find ways to prolong the conversation!! Especially if it’s enjoyable. I just don’t want it to end.
I think Jesus may chuckle at that. Epiphany is a learning church and we try to look at everything through the Jesus filter. So when I learned that Jesus has what’s called his Farewell Discourse, which are chapters 14-17 of the Gospel of John, I got so excited. Because it’s chapters and chapters and pages and pages of Jesus prolonging his goodbye.
Jesus’ Farewell Discourse is sprawling, it covers everything from what we talked in the sermon I delivered on Maundy Thursday….that was our conversation about everything that happened during the Last Supper in the upper room, that one of Jesus’ disciples will betray him, that he gives them the New Commandment that the disciples are to love one another as Jesus loved them….Jesus’ Farewell Discourse covers all that up until Ascension Day, which we just celebrated this past week. His Farewell Discourse is a prolonged goodbye to his disciples, to prepare them for what life will be like AFTER Jesus’ departure.
Today we focus on the last monologue of the Farewell Discourse. Here something unique and unforgettable happens: Jesus’ Farewell Discourse stops being about instruction or teaching. And it turns into something else: it turns into a prayer.
Jesus starts today’s story praying to God. It is a prayer about us.
Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, we often see him going elsewhere to pray. But there are only a handful of times we actually get to see and hear what he prays to God for. Yes he prays for his disciples here. But there’s something else. He is praying for US. Can you imagine that?! Jesus praying for each and every one of us. Today’s story shares “Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
It’s as if that could have been written in the last few weeks.
We needed Jesus’ prayer in these recent weeks. We need them now.
And so today’s Gospel invites us to ask: WHY is Jesus praying for us? It seems odd. Didn’t he come to us to do God’s work? Didn’t Jesus come to us with God’s answers? If he came to us with God’s answers, why does he still need to pray for us? If Jesus is God incarnate, why does Jesus pray for us?
We’ll circle back to tall that. I promise.
I have been praying a lot lately. My guess is, many of us Christians have been praying a lot lately too. These last few weeks the world has shown us that there is so much to pray about. There is violence to pray about. There is evil to pray about. There is hatred to pray about. We have experienced so much loss and grief lately. African-Americans targeted while shopping in a grocery store. Worshippers zeroed in on in a church. A church of all places. And children. Children who were just going to school…and now they will never grow up.
This learning church that Epiphany is teaches us that we live in the kingdom of God. And in the kingdom of God, there is nothing to fear. But I have to tell you, sometimes I DO feel afraid. These past weeks I did. Sometimes I do feel anger. Sometimes I can feel my heart almost hardening, and I fear cynicism may set in. In my scariest moments, sometimes I feel the pinpricks of hopelessness darting around my heart. Maybe you have felt some of this too.
In his recent sermons, Doyt has preached about who and what is included in the kingdom of God. I think that inclusivity holds all that we experience. Even with anger, sadness, cynicism, grief and loss, we are still in the kingdom of God. It is okay to feel bad. You are not any less Christian if you feel anger. It is okay if you feel vestiges of fear.
Yet we must remember that the kingdom of God is this world that we live in. The kingdom of God is big enough to hold our fear and our anger. It is big enough to hold our grief and our sadness. Because we know that even in the Gospel of John, Jesus did his weeping.
When I heard about those children and adult teachers at Robb Elementary School, all I wanted to do was be in somebody’s church. I know each of us had our individual reactions to it. Maybe you wanted to do nothing but pray. Others wanted to hold and hug the children in their lives. All I wanted to do was participate in a service. I think I needed to be reminded that God was still close.
Because when it comes to tragedy and grief and loss, and suffering, sometimes we might wonder, Where is God now?! Is it just that God isn’t close by? If we are in the kingdom of God…why might we need to be reminded where God is? To me, it felt like when I walk into my family’s home, and I know my daughter is somewhere in the house, but I don’t know where, I can’t see or hear or her, I don’t know in what room she’s in. So I feel compelled to go find her.
This past week, I knew God was there, but I needed to go look for God. Yes, we are in the kingdom of God…yet when faced with unspeakable tragedy, sometimes we still might wonder, Has God left God’s kingdom.
And I know that might sound bitter or harsh. Sometimes when we wonder where God is or how close God is, in response to that sometimes we hunker down in prayer. And other times we read about people saying prayer is not enough. That actually breaks my heart. I get it, I get people saying that. But it still breaks my heart. Because in today’s story all Jesus does is pray for us. Back to the central question: WHY does Jesus pray for us?
I think it’s because of one thing: Because God is giving us a chance to answer Jesus’ prayer. Of course it is God who answers prayers, yet it is our calling as Christians to do our part. God is giving us a chance to do our part, in trying to answer Jesus’ prayer.
What is prayer. Yes it is a conversation with God. It might also be a plea. In is Easter Sunday sermon, Doyt preached about a hope, an expectation, and a dream. After reading today’s story, which is some of the most sublime and beautiful writing and reading to appear on a page, something washed over me: Maybe that’s what Jesus’ prayer to God is! Jesus’ prayer is his hope for us. His prayer is his expectation for us. Jesus’ prayer might be his dream for us.
Jesus’ prayer to God is inviting us to participate in Jesus and God’s relationship! It’s fascinating because before this, Jesus spends time telling his disciples that they cannot come with him, that they can’t go where he is going. But here, in today’s story, Jesus is doing the exact opposite. When I read this, I think now Jesus is saying he WANTS us to go where he is. Scripture says, “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory because you have loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Where is God? Where is God in the kingdom of God? For me, this past week, I will tell you where God was. It was Tuesday, and I had just heard about Robb Elementary School. I was driving to pick up my daughter from school, fairly certain that she was fine and realizing what a blessing and a luxury that was, given what so many families in Uvalde, Texas were going through. But I was nearly distraught and trying to keep it together since I was driving and since my daughter was soon going to be in the car. Right up here on Maiden Lane, there were maybe 3 cars ahead of me. There was this little boy who was in an Epiphany School uniform, white shirt and navy blue pants, he looked like he was maybe in the 3rd or 4th grade. He was on the grass near the pond, and he was waving. At first, I thought he was waving to flag down the first car because he recognized it as his family’s or caregiver’s car. I thought he was just going to hop in. But no, he stayed right where he was, smiling and waving at each car as it drove past. I saw the person in front of me wave back at him. And I waved too. It was as if he was saying, It will be okay. Here I am. Even though there is hurt and suffering, there is love in this world that is right in front of you. Love the world that is in front of you. It is God’s world.
I was looking for God and that’s where I was reminded about where God is. Sometimes that’s how God shows up. Not as this decisive bully, the biggest cop on the block, anger in the sky, that obliterates evil with a lightning bolt. That’s not the God we worship. Sometimes God shows up, as a little boy, by the side of the pond on a grassy hill, waving to the sad people in the shiny cars driving by. Maybe he was waving farewell at the end of his school day, or maybe he was waving hello, a reminder to us that, yes, God sees us.
Where is God? God is very much in the world. In fact, the word “world” is mentioned a whole slew times in Jesus’ prayer to God for us, it’s mentioned 4 in today’s story and a bunch of times that come right before. We might be hoping for God to work decisively in the world, stamping out the bad things and the hard things with a lightning bolt and a thunderclap – but that leaves no room for our sacrifice…or for our freedom to choose. Where is God in the kingdom of God? God is everywhere and God is in all things, and it is impossible to break the continuity of that. As Christians it is our role to step in and be God’s love and be God’s relationships. God sent us to do this. How do we do it? We do it by participating in the Holy Trinity.
Today’s story is all about the Trinity. That’s what Jesus’ prayer is. Jesus invites us to be drawn into the love and into the relationship that eternally flows through and between, to and from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Being drawn into that is as literal as the empty seat you see in the icon depicting the Trinity on the front of your bulletin. It’s that literal. Participating is as literal as a boy waving on a hill in the wake of a tragedy and you waving back. Being drawn into the Holy Trinity is as literal as taking the Eucharist. As caring for someone in need. It’s your presence of simply sitting with someone who doesn’t want to be alone. It is reaching out to someone who is unwell or may need help. It is as literal as choosing love in action to do our part to fight against violence and hatred. It is showing up for and practicing the mutual ministry that we do here at Epiphany. Jesus prays for all of us to participate in the life of the Holy Trinity, to be a part of that relationship.
It is time for this sermon to say farewell, we have two reminders for how to stick to today’s story, for how to stick to what Jesus’ prayer teaches us. First, it is okay to feel what you feel; you are still in the kingdom of God, where God always shows up. And #2, as Christians it is our role to step in and be God’s love and be God’s relationships. Love the world in front of us. Because this is God’s world.