Advent Lutheran Church Sermon
Prayed into Being John 17: 20-26 May 12, 2013
In 1944, 69 years ago, five Lutheran pastors who were living at the time in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, sat on a fallen tree overlooking a small lake near Elkhorn, Wisconsin and they prayed. I doubt if they held hands when they prayed, but they prayed. Somehow, they had managed to scrape up enough money to purchase forty acres of lakefront property to begin a summer Bible camp for children from Lutheran congregations living in the surrounding area. The camp is called Lutherdale and every year hundreds, if not thousands of children and adults travel to this camp for retreat and renewal of their faith. The only remnant of the original building is the mantle of the large fireplace in the dining room. The mantle is inscribed with the words, “On this log Lutherdale was prayed into being in 1944.”
This mantle holds special meaning for me because it was my privilege to share the pastoral ministry of a congregation with one of the five pastors who sat on that log in 1944 and prayed Lutherdale into being. His last name was Burtness and we called him Burt. One of Burt’s most cherished possessions was a picture of the five men sitting on the log. All five wore horned rimmed glasses, dark suits, white shirts and narrow ties. They look like actors from the series of Mad Men. I think they were the Lutheran mafia.
Praying a camp into being is a beautiful expression of risk and trust in furthering God’s mission. No doubt, this congregation, Advent Lutheran was also prayed into being. This is what Jesus is doing in this prayer from John’s Gospel, praying his disciples into being; being one in relationship with each other, just as Jesus and God are one. Jesus is praying them into being one in relationship to God.
The number one in Scripture stands in stark contrast to the way we hear the number one used in our time. We hear athletes and fans shout, “We’re number one,” as to say we are better than all the other competing teams. Being number one in the class, the ratings and rankings of many different kinds of achievements is what so many people strive for in their lives. One upmanship is outperforming the opponent. Notice that competition is the foundation of being number one in any arena of comparisons.
Biblically, the number one is quite the opposite than our conventional understanding. Rather than being number one, being one with one another and being one with God is the point. Rather, than competition to being number one, oneness with others and God is an expression of deep unity with others and God.
Our world is caught in a struggle between opposing forces between being number one and being united as one. On one hand, global information networks, new technology, and improved transportation have made us into a compact global village of commerce, travel, and communication. On the other hand, we have become more aware of our disunity. Nations and communities across the globe are bitterly divided in battles over race, religion, gender, age, politics and class. The human struggle for unity in the midst of strong forces of disunity is as old as the Tower of Babel. As part of a fractured global village, the church is caught in this same tension between unity and fragmentation.
I read a fascinating article last week that quoted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. The author says, “If I get his point, Bonhoeffer is saying that Christian Community, as many tend to imagine it, is a ‘wish dream.’ “It is in our differences, in our struggles, in our hurts that we encounter and receive God’s grace and gift most completely. It is then that I am able to see Christ in my neighbor. It is then that I am able to be loved in spite of myself. It is then I know most deeply my own need for God.”
The topic of our confirmation class on Wednesday evening was, “Why are there so many denominations?” We watched a segment from the DVD that came with our curriculum and the church was not divided for the first one thousand years. Today, there are 40,000 different world-wide denominations. This is probably not what Jesus had in mind when he prayed that all may be one. At the same time, we heard the narrator on the DVD say, “Yet all these denominations hold one thing in common; God acted through Christ to bring salvation.
We work hard to maintain unity in this community. We encourage respect for one another, we air our grievances. We are reminded to be welcoming to all people. We even have a conflict resolution policy. Sometimes we fail and sometimes other people fail us. But none of this leads to true and lasting unity. True and lasting unity is God’s doing, not ours. God’s love for us in Christ is the well spring of our love for one another. Our best hope for unity is expressed by Jesus in his prayer that God will make us one as Christ and God are one.
Has someone ever shared something they are struggling about with you and you said, “You will be in my prayers.” Or have you ever shared your struggles with someone and they told you, “I will pray for you.” I don’t know about you, but there were times when I spoke those words but did not follow through in keeping them. I would be too busy to pray or I would forget. I will tell you that if I tell you that I will pray for you there is a 99% chance that I will. The discipline of a daily prayer life has grown through the years and Titus gets the credit. Titus as many of you know, is our eleven year old yellow lab. Thanks to Titus I am up before 6:00 a.m. most mornings and out for a walk through the neighborhood. This is when I pray. I pray for my family. I pray for you. I pray for people struggling with tragedy and I pray for God’s guidance.
If someone says to us, “I will pray for you,” we don’t know for sure whether they will follow through. Personally, I appreciate good intentions, and give people the benefit of the doubt that 99% of the time they will be prayerful. This morning Jesus is telling every one of us, “I am praying for you. I will always pray for you.” I will pray you into being one; one with yourself, one with others and one with the Holy Trinity. Jesus does not deliver on his promise to pray 99% of the time. Jesus will pray for us 100% of the time. Jesus is praying for us, let us pray for one another.