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The Rev. Jonathan Holston The Rev. Jonathan Holston

The Rev. Jonathan Holston is senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, Atlanta, GA.

Member of:

United Methodist Church

Representative of:

St. James United Methodist Church, Atlanta, GA


Somebody Prayed for Me

John 17:20-26

May 23, 2004

May 23, 2004

It is often stated that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Life in all of its intricacies is a journey. From our beginning at birth, we are pilgrim travelers seeking our place of self-worth.

A story is often told of life's travels when it is said, "One cannot control when you are born, where you are born, or either to what family you are born." Likewise, "One cannot control when you die, where you may die, or even the circumstances of one's death." Yet, the one controlling element of life is the "dash" between birth and our time to be with the Lord. What contributions will we make to the society in which we live and what will be said about our existence? Did we make a difference? Will our communities lament our absence when we are no longer on the scene? To make it plain, our lives are more than the possessions we accumulate or even the knowledge we acquire. Our existence is more than the status we often crave or the positions of power we seek. We are spiritual beings as well-pilgrim travelers to say the least. There is a revival hymn that says as much; namely-"I want Jesus to walk with me; all along my pilgrim journey; I want Jesus to walk with me."

John shares with us Jesus' walk. Jesus' journey includes the upper room meal with his disciples when he washes the feet of his disciples. Remember Jesus needing to convince Peter of his servant role. Also, he names the conflict in the room by informing the group of a betrayer at the table. It is always our nature not to be the one identified as the snitch or mole in a group. Peter inquired of Jesus, because often inquiring minds want to know. Surprisingly, Jesus continues the conversation as he moves us from anxiety to anticipation, gloom to gladness, helplessness to hope, pain to possibility, realizing his victory and the peace that victory makes possible.

John shares with us Jesus' journey-his pilgrim walk. Between the Last Supper, his final discourse, and walking across the Kidron Valley near the Mount of Olives being met by a platoon of soldiers, priests, Pharisees bent on arresting him, as his betrayer, Judas, stood within the crowd, Jesus takes a moment to be in conversation with the Father. John 17:1 records the words: "After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed."

In Eugene Peterson's "The Message," he paraphrases the passage in saying, "In this godless world, you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I have conquered the world!" Jesus raises his eyes in prayer. He shares a meal, states the conflict, addresses the moment, gives significance to the journey, and he prays! Jesus is between human existence and the resurrection, and he enters a time of prayer on behalf of his disciples and the community.vJohn invites us to hear Jesus' words offered to God in prayer to come to an understanding that "we are persons who are part of a larger community for whom Jesus prays."

You and I are on this journey through life-this pilgrim journey-traveling a road that the Lord has set in his purpose. What will we do? I believe the Scripture provides for us some direction; namely, Jesus prays for us that we may believe, and we are invited to receive the gift of prayer that we may be one.

Now Jesus prays for us that we might believe. In a world of perplexity, complexity, and confusion, we feel the need of guidance. Questions abound, such as--

* What shall we do?

* Where shall we go?

* What decision do we make?

* Are we doing the right and wise thing?

People are looking for guidance in many places.

Recently I visited a bookstore just to browse and noticed how large the self-help section has grown. There are how-to books for every subject from belief to baking, from finding friends to developing faith, romance to every diet ever created, from exercise of all shapes and forms to creating a new you! We learn how to dress for success, influence people, and learn to become wealthy. Yet John shares with us the ultimate concern of a Savior who prays that we might believe that God loves us and is seeking a relationship with us. The belief that Jesus seeks in us is not a self-centered trust of our own knowledge and skills but a true understanding of the Father's love for us, that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing we may have life in his name.

I came to grow in God's love for me on a mission trip to India. Having flown into Bombay with several other persons, I looked forward to a wonderful opportunity. I soon found out the group was expected to separate and I would be traveling on my own for three weeks. It was completely unexpected. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. I had become fearful of the opportunity that became a bundle of stress. Waiting for a taxi to the airport, I encountered a great deal of disappointment. I did not speak the eight or more languages and was at a disadvantage in my own mind. As I waited in the center surrounded by darkness, I lamented my fate. It was as if the Lord heard my cry as a gentleman, who I later learned was a pastor, arose and startled me. We entered into a conversation, and I mustered enough courage to tell him my plight. He indicated to me that a taxi was waiting. I could not believe it, but it was true. I thought to myself that God is good. As the taxi driver proceeded to the airport, I realized either he was lost or I was about to be left on the side of the road. He pulled over and proceeded to unload my bag. I became disillusioned again. Why is this happening to me? I'm 8,000 miles from home; and there was no phone booth in sight, and if I could call home, no one could assist me. I began to pray. In my spirit, I felt a sense of relief and a thought came to my mind. Really, three questions arose in my thinking; namely, what would my wife do in this situation? Well, she would put her luggage back in the taxi, so I did. The second question that came to mind was what would my then-14-year-old son do in that moment. He would get back in the taxi, so I did that as well. The third thought that came to my mind was, essentially, what would my then six-year-old daughter do in that situation. She would be scared and would be hysterical in the moment. I felt that I had nothing to lose at that point and proceeded to yell and draw attention to myself. The taxi driver was dumbfounded with this behavior, yet there was several men waiting by the road. One of them walked to the car and asked in English whether he could help me. I was astounded! Yes, you can help me! He explains to the driver where I needed to go and I arrived. I thought about Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me," but it was not about me. It was about Christ whom I trusted to deliver me, and he did.

A simple story of trust and belief but one Jesus prays for us to believe. I was (un)able to grow in my appreciation of self, but in the tremendous work of mission being done. My expertise was useless for that moment, but God's grace was sufficient. Jesus prays that our relationship with God will be like his and that we will believe. No aimless wondering but a deliberate effort to seek a living relationship through Christ's love for humankind.

This road we travel is now Jesus' road leading us towards the future. In fact, God's preferred future will depend upon the decisions we make. In choosing the journey of faith, we practice living as redeemed men and women building relationships of love, kindness, and joy. We learn what it is to be on the cutting edge of ministry, making a difference for the sake of Christ.

We are invited to receive the gift of prayer that we may be one. As we share the privilege of overhearing Jesus' prayer to the Father, you must be struck by the intentionality that for those who believe they may become one. "As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

This unity or oneness with the Father and the Son is a relationship that is a firm desire to be in tune with God in prayer, worship, and the study of Scripture. Simultaneously, as we nurture a relationship with the Father and the Son, we must build a relationship amongst believers. For those who we have not seen to make a difference, relationships between believers are essential. In other words, how can you love and serve a God you have not seen and hate your brother or sister you see daily? As we seek a relationship with the Father, we are daily working to build friendships on earth.

I participate in a mission initiative called Hands of Hope begun out of a small membership church in North Georgia. In the mountains of West Virginia in McDowell County, this mission begun as one man's initiative to seek the call of Christ in his life as he sought to alleviate need and offer Christ. On a trip with my friend, I drove with him into the mountains. Truly separated from everything, I met Mary. Reclusive in her home, my friend has worked for a year to build trust, and he brings me to visit. Having an African-American in her home was a first, yet we both were sharing a need to explore faith together. The soot from the coal furnace filled the air, the darkness was pervasive, the stench sometimes taxing. As we began to leave, he asks Mary if she wanted to pray. She leaped as fast as an elderly woman in her 80s could and reached her hand to me. This was a defining moment. She wanted to know if I would touch her or be repelled by her. Is this faith real? Would I be one with her this day? As I took her hand for prayer, it was a new day for me and for her. Separated by geography and ethnicity but united as one in faith, we prayed for each other to receive God's abiding spirit. It was as if the Scripture came alive: Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them and will make it known so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them. For that day I felt the faith journey complete, all because on this day-a day that the Lord had made-somebody prayed for me.

Let us pray.

Lord, thank you for the gift of prayer that teaches us that we abide in you. Help us to journey together in faith seeking to share your word in new and exciting ways. Help us to love you as well as each other and that we would be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, for it is in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.


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