It is another great day in the life of our congregation. A crew of eighth and ninth graders has completed their studies within the confirmation class and seven have chosen to announce their faith and be commissioned as members of the team of all who seek to follow in Jesus’ steps. Within all the lords of the world, they are joining us to say that Jesus is lord. Not Caesar, not the stock market, not even personal ego, but Jesus is Lord. Our rather privileged job as members of the congregation is to support them, join with them and pray for them. In a fortuitous coincidence, the gospel lesson within the common lectionary for today is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, those whom he loved and those who called him Lord. It is a prayer that echoes through the centuries and is so relevant for today. Jesus loved these disciples and lost a lot of sleep, worrying about them, just like many parents and grandparents. He prayed for his disciples in the way that we pray for our youth. The heart of the prayer is that those whom Jesus loved would be protected yet, at the same time, remain in the world, in the thick of things, seeking what is good and true. Not taken out of the world but protected in a way to be engaged in the world. It is our prayer as well; it is the prayer that holds the integrity of our worship this fine day.
In John’s telling of the story this high priestly prayer, as it has come to be called, is spoken just prior to Jesus’ arrest. It is Thursday in holy week – the night that Jesus washed feet and shared the bread and the wine that would become the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The account is short in Matthew, Mark and Luke; John is the long winded one. Thursday night begins at chapter 13, contains a number of teachings and then includes the long prayer that makes up all of chapter 17. Jesus is about to be arrested – he senses that – and his prayer forms his parting words. Jesus prays that “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you,” as he pours out his heart to God. He prays that his own joy may be complete in the disciples. Joy – a curious emotion at a time of crisis. My sense is that he is speaking of the joy of integrity and solidarity with one’s own calling, that kind of deep seated satisfaction, not a fleeting dash of happiness that comes from the awareness that you are doing the right thing. Jesus prays for the joy of integrity.
His prayer continues: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” What a prayer; a prayer that we know so well for our kids. Protect but send them out!
The prayer ends as Jesus calls on God to “sanctify them in the truth.” Truth! My, he is really “upping the ante.” In our world of half truths and post-truth politics we know that prayer. We are suffering greatly under the weight of leaders who habitually make up information to suite their own desires. They lie constantly under the supposed goal of stating the lie long enough and loud enough that people will actually believe it. We are suffering under the weight of lies. And Jesus? He prays that we might be sanctified in the truth and, yes, protected along the way.
We want our kids to be safe. But we also long for them to be truthful and faithful. Martin Luther King uttered a prayer for “dangerous unselfishness.” He knew that loving God and neighbor could be a risky enterprise. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of costly grace. Not the cheap grace that welcomes the love of God void of the world, but a costly grace that welcomes love with a spirit to love in return. Our friends within the community organizing effort of the Industrial Area Foundation are prone to speak of getting into “holy trouble,” namely the love of neighbor that sends a person into the real lives of neighbors, causing trouble among those who abuse power. And Bill Coffin entitled one of his short books, “Passion for the Possible,” calling for commitments to justice in this world and reminding folks that we are moved by convictions, not opinions. Opinions come and go and have little substance; convictions, on the other hand, have the depth to move hearts, hands and feet. We are in the business of convictions. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth.
Today is all about confirmation and commissioning. I wish I had thought about this 40 years ago when I was responsible for confirmation for I have come to think that the emphasis should be placed on the commissioning half of the equation. Yes, it is good to confirm a sense of faith. But, the “rubber meets the road” with the commissioning. We are sent into the world as light and life. We are commissioned to be the actors in God’s drama of love of self, love of God, love of the earth and love of neighbor.
Heather and I spend time one on one with the confirmation students then shift to conversation to include the parents. What a treat it is to talk with kids and parents about things that matter. Fortunately, many of our youth know full well that doubt comes along with faith and that questions are a sign of strength, not weakness. At 14 or 15 there is a lot to discover. I smiled then laughed at myself during these conversations. There is a lot to learn at 66 and I am about to venture into brand new and uncharted territory. I am so different from our 14 and 15 year olds ………… yet, so much the same. Lord, what do you have in mind for me? For us? How can I serve? We serve? What will it mean to love you and love neighbor in such a new time – being 66 or 16?
Lord, we pray that you protect us but protect us by sending us into the world, not away from it. Protect us by holding our feet to the truth and binding us to your love. Yes, this is our prayer for your children, O God, who are 15 or 45 or 65 or 85. Hold us to your truth and send us into the world with your love.