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Who Can Answer Jesus’ Prayers? / Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-19

9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given me, for they are Yours.10All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are One.”

Here’s a good story for football fans. You may remember the name Reggie White. Reggie is a defensive end for the Green Bay Packers. But he is also an ordained minister. Before signing a 17-million-dollar deal with the Packers, White said that he would look to God to tell him where to play. Later, Green Bay’s Head Coach Mike Holmgren confessed that he left a message on White’s answering machine that said, “Reggie, this is God. Go to Green Bay.”

Today we want to focus for a few moments on prayer. But not just any prayer; we are focusing on a prayer from the lips of Jesus. Our lesson from John’s gospel is often referred to as the “real” Lord’s Prayer. It’s the one that Jesus prays for the apostles. Jesus is about to leave them, and He reviews everything that He has taught them and answers all their questions. But there’s one more thing He did for them.

He prayed for them. In their presence Jesus prayed, thanking God for His friends, and praying for their well-being. Jesus’ prayer was amazing and breathtaking at the same time. Having learned so much from Jesus as they traveled with Him for the better part of three years, perhaps what stuck with the apostles most was how He prayed. At one point they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray like He did. And you’ll remember that Jesus taught them a model prayer that we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. But the day before His crucifixion, Christ prayed for His friends. It’s always reassuring when we’re going through difficult times to know that someone else is praying for us.

There’s a great power in prayer. Do you pray for your friends? My guess is that most of us pray for our families. And certainly, when a friend is going through a crisis we pray. But what a difference it might make in our relationships if on a continuing basis we offered up the names of our friends in prayer.

During a worship service, a man prayed a very pointed prayer for a friend. Dear Lord, the man prayed, you know Charlie. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. He’s leaving his wife and kids. Please do something to bring the family together. Amazingly, as the man prayed, he repeated the location, the silver trailer down the road a mile. The listener, we’ll call him, Tony, wanted to say, knock it off, do you think God’s asking, what’s that address again?

After the prayer, Tony preached, and then left to drive home. On the highway he noticed a hitchhiker and decided to give him a lift. My name’s Tony, what’s your name? The hitchhiker said, Charlie. Tony was dumbfounded. It was the young man for whom the prayer had been offered. Tony got off at the next exit. Hey, where are you taking me?  asked the hitchhiker. Home, he said.

The hitchhiker was amazed as Tony drove right to his silver trailer. That afternoon that young man and his wife came to faith in Christ. And today that hitchhiker is a preacher as well.

We sometimes forget how powerful a simple prayer can be. Do you pray for your friends? Jesus did. And you know what? In the same way that Jesus prayed for the apostles, He prays for us. In times of confusion, when we’re unsure of what to do next, it’s a great comfort to know that Jesus is praying for us. I, for one, take great comfort in knowing that Jesus is still praying for me.

Jesus prayed for the apostles. And Jesus prays for us. But how did He pray? What did He ask for? Jesus prayed that God would help His friends remain strong. That’s always an appropriate prayer, the prayer for strength.

Jesus knew that the cost of being one of His followers in those early days would be high. He knew there would be times when His disciples’ lives would be in danger. He knew there would be times when they would be tempted to run. Notice that Jesus didn’t pray that they would be released from their problems. Instead, He prayed for them to be strong. Jesus didn’t pray for escape but victory. He prayed, “I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but I ask You to protect them from the evil one.”

Terry Anderson is no stranger to difficult times. He was held hostage longer than anyone else in Beirut: for seven long years. Not everyone would have been able to survive what Terry did, day after day, week after week, year after year. Terry will be the first to tell you that he survived because of prayer.

After a month of captivity, Terry and the other hostages were given Bibles. With nothing else to occupy his time, Terry read and reread the Bible. He was particularly drawn to the Apostle Paul. Paul struggled with his weakness and his pride just as Terry did. And through Paul’s struggles, Terry drew closer to Christ and was able to express his love of God.

He was also given another book while being held as a hostage, a book on prayer. But it wasn’t as helpful. The author claimed that prayer is always answered. But Terry says, I’m not sure anymore that it’s even right to ask for anything, except patience and strength to endure whatever comes, and help in understanding.

Terry’s experience was extreme, of course. But he speaks as one with authority. The one prayer that God always answers is a prayer for the strength to endure. Jesus prayed for the apostles so that they would find strength during their times of suffering. That was a prayer that was answered time and time again. It’s a prayer that some of us have prayed as well. God is faithful. he will not forget us in our time of need.

Jesus prayed for His friends. He prayed that they would be strong. He also prayed that they would be united. Protect them in Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one, as We are one. That’s such an important message for us. We’re not simply a collection of individuals. We are the body of Christ. It’s so vitally important that we in the church pull together, that we are united.

Do you know the difference between an audience and a church. An audience is a crowd. A church is a family. An audience is a gathering. A church is a fellowship. An audience is a collection. A church is an organism. An audience is a heap of stones. A church is a temple. Preachers are ordained not to attract an audience, but to build a church. I hope that everyone in this room understands that critical difference. If the Lion’s club or the Kiwanis club is torn with dissension, it’s a shame. But when the church of Jesus Christ is in turmoil, it’s a tragedy. Christ depends on us.

Two men were talking, and one of them said, did you hear that lightning struck the community Church? No, the other man answered, I haven’t been to that church since they installed that fancy new pulpit. I guess this shows that the Lord was unhappy about such an extravagant waste of money, too. The first man said incredulously, but the pulpit was at the opposite end of the church from the place the lightning struck. Well, said the second man, I guess God hadn’t been in that church for so long, that He didn’t know where the pulpit was. People get upset at some of the silliest things in church.

A rabbi says he called a synagogue and was greeted with this message. Welcome to Temple Beth Shalom. If you want information about our programs and events, please press 1. For information on our service hours, please press 2. If you would like to complain to the rabbi, please press 3. If you want to complain about the rabbi, press 4, 5, or 6. It seems that, apparently, more than a few people were upset with the rabbi.

Too many things can disrupt the unity of a church. People get upset with the decisions of a board. Or people get upset with the pastor. Jesus knew that it isn’t easy to maintain unity among a talented, yet sometimes cantankerous group of people. He also knew, however, that we can never accomplish the things that He has called us to accomplish if we don’t pull together.

Back in 1957 a Church in Sarasota, Florida, had a ground-breaking service. But instead of bringing shovels for a few special people to use in the ceremony, they brought an old one-horse plow. Reminding them with the words of Jesus, “Take my yoke upon you,” so, they borrowed an old yoke, and two determined laymen were hitched up. But the two were unable to pull the plow. Then the members of the Building Committee were put on the rope, but they couldn’t even move the plow. Other church officers were added, including the Sunday school officers and teachers, but still the plow didn’t move. Finally, every member of the congregation who was there took hold of the rope, and with every member pulling together, the plow moved, the ground was broken.

I don’t think that I need to explain how this represents how we all need to work together for Christ’s church.

Jesus is praying for us. He’s asking God for two things for us. First, He’s asking that we be given the power to be strong. I don’t know about you, but that’s a prayer that I need every day. And He’s praying that we will be united. That’s one prayer we could help answer ourselves. We could start by praying for our friends. We could also pray for our church. Finally, we could pray for ourselves, that we will truly be strong and that we shall always love one another.