The Barrel by John H. Pavelko

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The Real Lord's Prayer

John 17:1-19

When the 1960s ended, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district reverted to high rent and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. They had children and got married, too, though in no particular sequence. But they didn't name their children Melissa or Brett. People in the mountains around Santa Cruz parents grew accustomed to their children playing Frisbee with little Time Warp or Spring Fever. And eventually Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise all ended up in public school. That's when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. 

Every fall, according to tradition, parents write their child's name on a tags, attach it to their shirt or blouse, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So, it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy's name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it. "Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" they offered. And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?" He accepted hesitantly. By the end of the day, his name didn't seem much odder than Heather's or Sun Ray's. At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. "Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?" He didn't answer. That wasn't strange. He hadn't answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn't matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children's bus stops on the reverse side of their nametags. The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word "Anthony."1

I wonder if Anthony was ever able to erase the name of "Fruit Stand" from the memory of his teachers and classmate. The small child found out how easily someone or something can be mislabeled. I believe a case of mislabeling has occurred in the New Testament. From my vantage point if any prayer deserves the title, "The Lord's Prayer" it is the one found in the seventeenth chapter of John. Our Lord probably never himself repeated the prayer that is most often designated as his. Yet, when Jesus was alone in the garden, under the pending threat of death, he offered a prayer that beautifully conveys his mission, his love for his disciples, his compassion for people of faith and his unrelenting commitment to walk in obedience no matter what the cost. The prayer is a summation of his life, his work, and his character, but it is most either associated with the location in which Jesus first uttered the words or referred as his high priestly prayer.

In contrast, the "Our Father" prayer was composed for his disciples at their request. The group was suffering from discipleship envy. John had taught his disciples a method of fasting and praying and the disciples were feeling a bit inadequate. They still had not caught on to the reality that faith was not measured by methods but by lifestyle. Spirituality was not characterized by the practice of rituals but by the evidence of a transformed life. They asked Jesus for a pray and he responded to their request with the words that have become one of the most familiar prayers in religion. However, the real Lords prayer is the one that we have under consideration this morning

The prayer has three parts. First, our Lord prays for himself that he may be glorified. He then prays for the disciples, that they may be unified, protected, and sanctified. Finally, he prays for the whole church down through the centuries, that they all may be unified. Today's lectionary reading is limited to his petitions for his disciples but I have expanded it to include his prayers for himself because I do not like to begin in the middle of something. It is like walking into a movie after the first scene. Eventually you can predict what happened but you miss the dramatic impact of the opening. The experience is not quite the same as when you observe the movie in its entirety.

Describing this prayer as Jesus praying for himself, is slightly misleading. His speech is devoid of any trace of self-serving petitions. Jesus has only one priority in his life-to glorify the Father. He asks that the Father glorify the Son only because he knew that ultimately the Father would be glorified. His first priority in life was not to accomplish his own objectives but to do the will of the Father.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism contains an excellent definition of prayer

What is prayer? 

Prayer is the offering of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will.

Given the way most of us pray, we emphasis the first part of that definition and only pay lip service to the latter half. We are very God and presenting our "grocery list" to God. We will pray about everything in our lives-job promotions, troubled marriages, conflicts between friends, healing for a relative, traveling mercies or free parking spots at the grocery store. Then we automatically, almost mindlessly tack on "for we pray it in Jesus' name." Such prayers become dangerously close to taking the Lord's name in vain. Our thoughts rest with our desires not God's will. We hope to accomplish our goals not obey his authority. We want to achieve our ends not walk in humble submission. Our Lord took a much different approach whenever he bowed in prayer.

Carol and I were treated with free tickets to a concert, many years ago. Since we both enjoy the folk songs of Peter, Paul and Mary we decided to attend their concert on their reunion tour. We not only enjoyed the music but appreciate a mini-sermon by Paul Stookey. In one of his introduction he explained that there are three forms of prayer. The first is learned as a small child. We are playing in the yard when our best friend comes riding over on his new bike. It is a shining red and has all the latest gizzmos and gadgets. That night before we go to bed we pray, "God, give me a bike like Tommy's." If this pray goes unanswered for too long we will intensify our petition by saying, "God, gimme Tommy's bike."

Often this form of prayer continues until we become disenchanted with prayer because we never seem to get what we want, quickly enough. But sometime during the college age years we discover the second form of prayer. Usually this form is learned the night before a major exam for a course that we have only completed 10% of the reading assignments and attend even fewer classes. With slight modifications for specific situations the words are, "God, I know that this seems a little hypocritical given the way I have lived this last quarter but if you get me through this exam, I promise..."

Paul said that while the first two forms are crude expressions of prayer, true prayer is not until we are willing to humbly offer the words, "not my will but thine be done." This was Jesus prayer the night he was betrayed. In the garden he offered his life and accepted an agonizing punishment and death himself to God so that his Father would be glorified and the ones who the Father gave would be saved.

After lifting petitions of submission, Jesus directs his thoughts upon the men with whom he had shared the last three years of his life. These men were very dear to him. They had walked with him up and down Israel. He had rescued them from a dangerous storm. He had shared his most intimate thoughts with them. They stood beside him when others turned their backs because he did not raise an army to fight Caesar. He knew every one of their weaknesses and idiosyncrasies and yet, he still loved them and prayed for them. 

Often when we read and study the life of Jesus our goals is to glean certain principles to apply to our lives. Jesus' teaching become are instruction manual and his life our example for discipleship. However, today as we consider his words, I ask that we do not try to use them to shape our own prayers but to give us a vision for his role in the Godhead. The Scottish theologian James B. Torrance writes, "For a proper understanding of prayer we need to rediscover the New Testament teaching on the sole priesthood of Christ...."2 In the book of Hebrews, we read that Jesus serves as a high priest standing before the throne of grace interceding in our behalf. In Hebrews 7:25 we read, "Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them."

Consider for a moment Jesus standing before the Father praying for you. Stretching the analogy just a bit, Jesus is like a lawyer arguing you case before God. You might ask what is he saying. He reveals this in his prayer from the garden.

His first desire is that the Father would use his authority and all the resources available to keep them in unbroken unity. In v 11 Jesus says:

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Given the dissension, and conflict that is raging in churches throughout America that his words are rather convicting. Imagine in your mind, a picture of Jesus standing before God praying that we would learn of fine art of working together. Do you hear Jesus asking the Father to help us settle our difference in an amicable spirit? Do you hear him pleading with the Creator that we would learn to preserve truth but still maintain an attitude of acceptance and understanding for those who share differences of opinion. Do you hear him mention both your name and the name of your most difficult adversary? Paul captured this thought in a letter to a church. He includes in his letter to the church in Phillipi

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women,
These two women were good friends to Paul. His heart ached to know that they were at odds with one another. Knowing how much our Lord loves each of us, I am quite certain that his heart is grieved every time a church breaks out in conflict.

How would you like it if the only time your name was mentioned on the lips of our Lord was in the context of a disagreement you were having with another person?

Jesus petition for protection has two parts. First wants the Father to protect so that we might be one but he also asks in v 15 for God to would protect us "from the evil one." God's protective care is one of the most frequently misunderstood petitions in the church today. Jesus is not praying for traveling mercies. Nor is he praying that God protect his disciple's stock portfolio from financial loss in a volatile market. Nor is he praying for safety in times of natural disaster. His words do not apply to any of those situations. He is noticeably silent on these matters. We can only speculate why one person is severely crippled with a broken spine in a severe fall and another is spared. We will never know why one person dies in an automobile accident and another lives. To say that it is due directly to a prayer of protect, is pure conjecture. On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed for the safety of his disciples from persecutions. He words should provide hope and encouragement but also conviction. His pray implies If we truly live out the gospel we will encounter persecution and danger. Social respectability and material comfort may be more an indication of compromise and disobedience rather than the blessings of God.

Jesus concludes his pray for the disciples by asking that God would sanctify them in the truth. The word Greek word for sanctify has a range of meanings-to make holy, to cleanse, to separate, to set apart for an intended use. We are sanctifying this goblet and plate by using them to hold the elements of communion. You sanctified your kitchen or dinning room table and chairs this morning when you sat in them to eat your breakfast. Whenever we use something for its intended purpose, we are sanctifying the object. Jesus is essentially praying that God would set us apart in truth for our intended purpose.

What is our intended purpose?

What purpose did God have in mind when he created you and I? 

I believe that our intended purpose is that God might use us to bring people to faith and to manifest his character by sharing his love. Our Lord is praying that not only these first disciple but disciples of every generation would be committed to being used by God to accomplish God's will.

Jesus himself modeled the type of life that effectively fulfilled this prayer. He says, "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." The man from Nazareth was God's instrument, living among people, sharing his live with them, listening to their laughter, turning their water in to wine, dancing at weddings and rejoicing in the wonders of life. He was also with his people in their pain. He felt their suffering when their children died and grieved over their crippled limbs. When their immoral behavior turn the crowd against them, he stood with them. So, he sends us to do the same. We are sent to accomplish the same task. We are to continue the same work of Jesus in the world. That is sanctification.

Earlier I mentioned that this prayer was often referred to as the High Priestly Prayer of our Lord. The imagery is borrowed from the Old Testament liturgy. Once a year a priest would enter the Holy of Holy, where the Ark of the Covenant was placed burn incense to signify the prayers of the people and offer a sacrifice as a payment for their sins. In his role as the Son of God, Jesus stands as a mediator between the Father and us. In his role as priest he has offered the one, true sacrifice, himself, that has made the final and complete payment for sin. Now he stands before the throne of grace offering up prayers for his people.

We do not need to speculate or guess the subject of his words. His words now are the same as they were that dark night in the upper room. He is praying that God would protect us so that we might be one, guard us from the evil one and set us apart for our intend purpose. However, I wonder if you have ever considered that he has mentioned you by name. When he prayed in front of his disciples, their names and faces were there before him. They heard his voice and knew that his words were directed to the Father in their behalf.

Have you ever tried to still the noise raging in your soul so that you could listen to the voice of Jesus praying for you?

1 Online:, Luanne Oleas in Salinas, Calif., Reader's Digest.
2 James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 46.

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