John 17:1-11

Jesus’ Prayer for Us

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John 17:1-11

Jesus’ Prayer for Us

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
How many of you have been to the Grand Canyon? Of course it is one of the wonders of the natural world. The first time I went was as a boy with my parents and what I remembered most were the Indian dances outside of the Hopi House on the South Rim. We have been back a number of times and every one was different. We rode the mules to Phantom Ranch for my daughter Mary’s house school graduation.  Phantom Ranch was wonderful. We stayed in one of the cabins, had a delicious steak dinner and rode up again. I learned that “saddle sore” was not a euphemism—but a reality! We have hiked to the bottom at Supai in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. It was hot but the trail was wide and we could stay at the Indian lodge at the bottom and swim in the aquamarine water of the natural pool at the bottom of Havasu Falls.

The most memorial time for me was backpacking with to the bottom with my daughter who was twenty-seven at the time (I was fifty-seven), Ten miles down the South Kaibab Trail, ten miles along the Tonto Trail and then ten miles up the unmaintained Grandview Trail. I fell going down—did not get hurt but bent a hiking pole. I slipped again going up, put my hand out and it landed on an agave cactus. A spike went into my hand and through my hand and had to be yanked out the other side by a Leatherman tool. The Southwestern Indians used these as sewing needles! I did not know that I would make it up the trail. I was pretty much in shock. I thought my muscles would give out from the strenuous hiking and high altitude. My daughter Anne is a great motivational leader and Eden, the guide walking right behind me made sure I made it up. Once on the top, a short trip to the Grand Canyon clinic to wash my bloody hand and get an IV of fluids and I was good to go. I never thought I would go again but a couple of years later I did, my wife and I from the North Rim to the Colorado River. That time I must have been in better shape and knew better what to expect and there was no difficulty at all going down and up.

One man on the trip with my daughter, a dentist from Minneapolis but originally from the Punjab in India, asked me whether I felt closer to God when I was in the Grand Canyon. The stars were beautiful—as the Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God;” (Psalm 19:1 WEB) the canyon was awesome—”what are humans that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them, yet you have made them little lower than the angels.” I suppose I should have said that I did but I actually said, “No.” It might have been that I struggle to put one foot in front of the other to go up 3700 feet in ten miles. But perhaps as I look back, I would have said, “Yes.” It had very little to do with the geology or the expanse but rather the people. We were a group of nine hikers with two guides as different as people could be—four nurses, a dentist, a prosecuting attorney, a sheriff’s deputy, graphic designer, backcountry guides-oh and a minister. I was about the oldest and my daughter about the youngest; East Coast, West Coast, Chicago, Missouri, Minnesota; different races and religions and sexual orientations. It did not take long to make us a team. I had forgotten to pack coffee so other people gave me theirs. I shared my extra salami. People shared boots and hiking poles—for four days people who had nothing in common had everything in common.

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Remember the Aesop Fable about teamwork. It seems the members of the body once rebelled against the belly. “You,” they said to the belly, “live in luxury and sloth and never do a stroke of work, while we have to do all the hard work there is to be done. You treat us as your slaves and we have to serve your wants. Now,” they said, “we will do this no longer. You can shift for yourself in the future.” They were as good as their word and left the belly to starve. The results were just as what might have been expected. The whole body soon began to fail and the members share din the general collapse. Then, too late, they saw how foolish they had been.

What works on a Grand Canyon backpack and for each human body, also works in the Christian Church—but sometimes forget this. If one part of the Christian family suffers, we all suffer. No one is expendable. There is not one person here this morning who has not received gifts given for the good of all.  Paul writes the Corinthians, “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit….  Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27 WEB).

With similar words, Jesus prays in the soaring words of our text: “Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name.  Those whom you have given me I have kept….  I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are.” (John 17:11-12, WEB).  Jesus is praying for us, those who come after, who gather in Jesus’ name. Jesus is praying that the divisions that often separate us, race and background, education attainment or business success, social position, financial security or the lack of these may not separate us. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but we are all one in Christ.

After our hike, Anne called her mother at home and said that I had come a long way. I do not think she was only referring to my ability to make it out of the Grand Canyon in one piece—barely—but could not believe that I was trying to match-make her with the young Indian dentist. I said that she should sign up for a singles trip to the Wisconsin Dells with her singles group and maybe Peri, the dentist, would come down with his from the Twin Cities. Now he had said that his parents were trying to marry him off but he was not going to accept an arranged marriage like a good Indian man should. They were exasperated that he had not already found his wife. Anne could not believe that her father would set her up with a man from India, a Hindu. Well, he was a really nice guy, well-spoken, hard-working and I might not have minded him as a son-in-law—of course, he would have had to become a Lutheran! But she was right. Our common humanity transcended the cultural differences. When we say that God so loved the cosmos that he sent his only son that means that no one is excluded from God’s redemption. Our text says, “Even as you gave (Christ) authority over all flesh, he will give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:2 WEB).  Eternal life is to know God and to know God in Christ. No one is excluded from that.

I did have a couple of moments on the trip when I wondered how I should witness to my faith. There was a lesbian couple but they were active in their church; one was a Stephen Minister. One young man had majored in college in youth ministry and also a minor in Bible but did not feel the call to go into active Christian work. Our guide had a tattoo of a cross on one should but I was not sure what the cross really meant to him. I never found the right time to talk to him about faith.  I suppose part of the challenge is to discern the right time, the teachable moment. On the later backpack trip to the North Rim the group from all across the country was pretty churched and I was asked to lead devotions a couple of times—it was a diverse group too but quite a number of different kinds of Christian, mostly. I asked the entire group and the guides and it was well-received. But then it is always pretty easy preaching to the choir, witnessing to those who share the same faith and pretty much use the same language to pray and praise. Our common humanity glorifies God. Our lives glorify God but so should our tongues.

The trip came to an end and we went our separate ways. I hiked with both guides again on separate backpacks. Anne got married to a nice Lutheran man, lives in the Midwest and has two daughters. I never saw any of the rest again. We were so close for a few days and then the time was over. I sometimes wonder why it was easy to accept and trust each other on that hike, but in real life so hard, young and not-so-young, Asians and Anglos, comfortable and struggling, male and female, gay and straight. I wonder why it is so hard in our congregations where we are not just fellow travelers but sisters and brothers in the faith, members of one Body, praying for each other and letting Jesus pray for us?

Let us glorify Christ by our love, by our mutual affection, by over-looking faults and emphasizing strengths, forgiving one another as God has forgiven us in Christ. Let us share and care and love and be the people God wants us to be, the people Jesus is praying us to be. Amen.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2014, James D. Kegel.  Used by permission