Prayer is opening one’s heart into the presence of God, living and breathing inside the life of God and inside the community of those whom God embraces, and prayer changes the one who prays. Even God.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, year B
Text: John 17:6-19
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Why do you suppose Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies?
Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28) These are huge asks, even for Jesus. Love even enemies. Give good for hate. Return curses with blessings. Everything that’s counter to our instincts.
But that final command is the critical one. “Pray for them,” Jesus says. Pray.
This says as much about prayer as it does about our enemies. Often we think of prayer as just our talking to God. We wonder if prayer “works,” if we get what we pray for. But Jesus understands prayer so much more deeply and richly, a blessing that would change our lives, if we could grasp it.
We see this in this astonishing moment on the night of his betrayal. God the Son prays to God the Father, inside the life of the Triune God. God prays to God for us. For you.
The thought of God praying to God is pretty confusing. We don’t know how that even works.
How can God ask God for things? Doesn’t God the Father know everything God the Son knows? Isn’t God the Spirit there? Why would prayer be necessary?
Prayer as we often call it – asking for things – wouldn’t be. But God understands prayer very differently, and we see that clearly today: prayer is opening up one’s heart into the presence of God. Jesus, who has loved these women and men for nearly three years, opens his heart and puts them in, and in prayer opens God’s heart and carries them into the life of God.
Prayer is the atmosphere of relationship, where love and grace between beings lives and breathes. Between people we don’t call it prayer anymore, though older forms of English did. We call it communication, loving, embracing. Listening, empathy, sharing. Joining with others in loving relationship, from those closest to us to the stranger we love on the street who is Christ, this is prayer we have between each other.
And here God’s Son prays us into the very life of God, and shows us that the same life we find with each other is a life we can have and do have with God. In prayer, Jesus has wrapped us all up together and surrounded us in God’s embrace, God’s life, God’s joy.
Such an opening of the heart is bound to change the one who prays.
Loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, and blessing even those who curse us, that’s more than we can imagine doing. Many times I’ve not only struggled to do such things, I didn’t want to.
But everything changes when you pray. It’s easy to keep hating someone, to return evil for evil. It’s impossible to do either while carrying that person – their life, their well-being – into God’s heart. Your heart opens to them by the mere fact of your carrying them to God. Now that person – whether loved one or enemy – is embedded in your heart. How will that not change you?
When you open your heart to anyone, whether it’s to you yourself, or to another person, then lift yourself or them into God’s heart, your heart expands. Your empathy grows. Your love deepens.
And this is true for God, too. Such prayer as we hear from Jesus today expands God’s heart, opens God’s life, brings more into the dance and joy of the Triune God. God is changed.
Prayer draws us into community – inside God and between us.
When we pray, we open our hearts to God and to each other and to the world. Prayer keeps us from thinking faith is a personal, private thing. Prayer is how we live and breathe and love our faith with God. How we live and breathe and love in community with each other in Christ. How we live and breathe and love in community with those who are Christ out in the world, those we don’t know, those we think hate us, even those we’re pretty sure we don’t like either.
Prayer pulls us away from being exclusive about being surrounded by God’s love. From thinking that our little sheepfold is the only one, and everyone else is outside. Or at least certain people or groups we don’t like. As Jesus told you a couple weeks ago, you belong to a Shepherd who has other sheep and sheepfolds you don’t know about or control. Being drawn into God in prayer, and drawing yourself and all others into your heart and God’s heart in prayer, removes all barriers of exclusion. God will and does surround all.
Realizing prayer removes walls and barriers between us and God and us and others means new realities, new vision, new experiences.
That’s scary. What’s your world going to be like with all the fences removed? What’s your heart going to be like with no one to fear or hate? Won’t it be dangerous?
But that’s the grace of this particular prayer Jesus prays today. God lifts you up to God to be protected and cared for as you live in this frightening world. Not that pain and suffering be prevented: Jesus says they’re guaranteed on this path. Maybe not a cross, but you’ll be vulnerable. You’ll be hurt at times.
But Jesus prays that you are surrounded always by God’s love and life so you are never alone. Living in community with the world as Christ, and living inside the communal life of God: what better joy could you have? Do you think anything can ever really harm you inside such love?
So let us pray. Really pray. And watch God draw all things together.
In the name of Jesus. Amen