Breaking Through

Breaking Through

About a year after Bri and I were married
I started having a tremendous pain
in my right lower back.
It was horrible and it just kept getting worse.
And no, that is not a veiled references
to Bri being a pain in my backside. It was real.

We prayed. We tried massage.
And we prayed. And we tried the chiropractor.
And we prayed some more.
We tried pain killers.
And then prayed still some more.
Nothing worked.

Finally, I got so desperate,
that I laid down on my stomach
on the living room floor
and asked Bri to jump in the air and land,
in the general area of my right kidney,
with her knee, professional wrestling style,
hoping that would give me some relief.
She refused, of course,
and that probably saved my life.

I suffered in that pain for more than a month
before it was so bad I could hardly move.
Of course the day I literally couldn’t move
was a Sunday I was scheduled to preach
and I wound up in the emergency room,
early in the morning, in excruciating pain.
A quick cat scan later
and a doctor showed up and told me
that they had it all figured out.
I had appendicitis and I needed to have surgery.

I asked “when?”
Explaining that my church was just down the road
and I would really like to preach.
I told him I could be back in a couple of hours
or we could just do the surgery on another day.

He laughed and said
“Nope. That sucker needs to come out
right NOW!” Apparently it was a big deal.
So they gave me something for the pain
and wheeled me in for surgery.
When I woke up
the surgeon told me everything went well
and that my appendix was the biggest
he had ever seen in 17 years
of taking out people’s appendixes.

He also told me that if I had waited any longer
it would have been a whole lot worse.
My appendix actually ruptured
as it was being taken out.
Minutes, seconds in fact, made all the difference.

The next day,
they were all set to discharge me,
when out of nowhere I spiked a fever.
In the 104 degree range.
And, like that, I lost a week of time.

I would be told after
that a small nub of my appendix
had been left in because it didn’t look diseased.

But as I was getting up and mobilizing
to go home it ruptured.
I had to have a second appendectomy
(not many people get to say that!).

And even after that the fever didn’t want to break.
I spent the next week in the ICU
with nearly all the fluids they pushed into me
being refrigerated to help control
the raging fever.

I can’t remember a lot from that week.
Just blurry memories of waking up in pain
and nurses packing me in ice
and giving me pain meds.

My most vivid memory though
came about 24 hours or so
before my fever finally broke.

I was awake and lucid,
which was a rarity at that point,
and my Grandpa Ken walked in the door.
He’s a retired United Methodist Pastor,
and even though our being related
is through marriage,
he has always treated me
like a flesh and blood grandson.

He came into the room
and sat in the chair by my bed.
He didn’t make small talk.
He didn’t ask how I was, because he knew.
In one hand he held his bible.
With the other he took my hand
and he began to pray.

Grandpa Ken believes in prayer.
He believes in the relationship
that he has with God.
Friends, to sit down to dinner with the man
and hear him bless the meal…
is a holy moment.
No joke,
I have been moved to tears
listening to him say grace
before eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So when he prayed for me in the ICU,
the air in the room sizzled with electricity,
like there was a hum
that hadn’t been there a moment before.

I remember his heartfelt prayer
hanging in the room
and his humble words of intercession
filling my mind and strengthening my spirit.

I had worried
about wether I would make it out of the hospital
or not.
After he came and prayed with me
I knew I would be okay.

I still didn’t have any guarantees
of what “okay” would mean,
but I had a sense of peace
that came from knowing that I was not alone,
that I was surrounded with love,
and no matter what, God was with me.

The next day the fever broke.
I was moved to a regular room
and a couple of days later I was able to go home.

The book of James tells us
“The prayer of the righteous
is powerful and effective.”
And that is no tall tale.

Grandpa Ken prayed to God for me.
It wasn’t a show, it wasn’t magic,
but it was powerful all the same.

It was just a fact that Grandpa Ken loves me.
He loves God
and has spent his entire life
cultivating a relationship with God.
Talking to God often
and believing that prayer really is powerful,
it means something,
it is not a shallow and empty exercise.
It is not something we say we will do
when we don’t know how to respond
to the pain of another.
The words weren’t flowery.
He didn’t pray expecting anything
other than God’s will,
and God’s best for me, whatever that would be.

I have clergy friends
who hope to someday be great
like a Martin Luther, or a John Wesley,
or a Billy Graham.

My prayer,
from that day when Grandpa Ken prayed for me, has been to be half the man of God he is.

Because if I could be just half as faithful,
and half as fervent in my prayer as he is,
there would be no limit
to the great things God could do through me.
That has been my prayer,
and continues to be to this day.

Prayer isn’t just something we do
because we have always done it.
And it is certainly not a magic bullet.

There is no correct recitation of words
that will allow us to get what we want
out of the cosmic vending machine.

But that doesn’t mean
that prayer isn’t powerful and effective.
It means we have to shift our ideas
of what real power is
and what effect it is that we are seeking.

Our scripture this morning from John 17,
simply put, is a prayer.
And not just any prayer. Its a prayer of Jesus.

This passage is often referred to
as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.

Here we get to glimpse
what the relationship
between Jesus and God looked like.
There are several places in the gospels
where Jesus goes off on his own to pray
but we are never really privy to what is said.

Here, we get to know what is said.
What it is that is on Jesus’ heart
in the hours before his death.
And as cluttered as his mind must have been
with the knowledge of the pain and betrayal
to come, Jesus is still talking about connection.

The connection between God and Jesus,
and the connection between Jesus
and his disciples,
and the connection between the disciples and us.

This high priestly prayer
is all sorts of wonderful.
This isn’t Jesus seeking escape
or asking that he wouldn’t have to drink
from this cup.

This prayer is all about his disciples.
Time and time again
Jesus is telling God about his disciples
and how they have stayed with him
and learned from him.
How they have believed in him
and the God who sent him.

Jesus talks about
how he has protected the disciples
and how he has given them God’s world.

He acknowledges
that the world isn’t going to like the disciples
very much
because they belong to a different kingdom.

And Jesus doesn’t ask
that they be spared the hatred of the world.
And Jesus doesn’t pray
that they would be taken up to heaven with him. Instead Jesus prays
that his disciples would be protected
from the evil one.

And then he prays for their spiritual growth,
their sanctification, their being set apart,
so that they can be sent into the world
as Jesus was sent into the world.

It is a beautiful prayer.
A prayer that wasn’t prayed by Jesus
off alone and on his own.
But a prayer that was prayed
within the hearing of,
indeed, in the very midst of his disciples.

Imagine for a minute,
what that must have been like.
Sitting there,
having seen all of the healings and miracles.
Knowing that this Jesus is sent from God.

More than that,
having been amongst the few to realize
that this is no mere prophet,
but the son of the most high God,
come to deliver his people
and you have been a part of his entourage.

And now, this son of God
is praying incredible blessing upon you.
This son of God is speaking
to the living God on your behalf.
Really talking you up and saying good things.

How would that feel?
Would the air feel a bit charged?
Like something big is about to happen?
Would you be humbled?
Despite the humility
would you feel a bit of holy pride?
Would you begin to feel
like maybe anything is possible? I think we might.
To this day,
one of my favorite movies
is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
This little gem of a movie
came out back in 1986
and 32 years later is still a masterpiece.

Ultimately, its a movie
about a high school kid
who doesn’t want to go to school
because its a beautiful day
and he would rather go have fun with his friends.

And so the movie begins with him sick in bed.
His parents are concerned.
He pretends to want to go to school
despite being sick
but his parents insist that he stays home.
They leave him a few instructions
and they promptly leave for work.

What sets this movie apart
is what happens as soon as his parents
shut his bedroom door.

The click of the latch is still ringing in your ears
and Ferris looks directly at the camera,
as though he is looking right at you, the audience, and says “I can’t believe they bought it!”

He then goes into a monologue,
directed entirely at the movie-going audience,
about why he faked out his parents,
and exactly how he did it,
and a bit about his epic plans for the day.

This “looking at the camera
and talking directly to the audience” thing
is what is known as breaking the 4th wall.

It happens when a character
in a book or movie
acknowledges the existence
of those reading or watching.
It happens at unexpected times
and it can break some of the tension
that was building, and, is usually, very funny.

Its at this point that your pastor
is hoping that your minds are working overtime
trying to figure out the connection between
Jesus High Priestly Prayer
and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The answer comes in verse 20.

Jesus continues in his prayer saying
“I ask not only on behalf of these”
meaning those who are with him physically
at the last supper,
“but also on behalf of those
who will believe in me through their word.”

People will try to tell you
that it was Laurel and Hardy
or the Villains of Vaudeville
who were the first ones to break the fourth wall,
but ladies and gentleman,
I think its pretty clear that Jesus has them all beat.

Jesus is in the midst of fervently praying
for his followers, the disciples with whom,
he has just broken the bread and
shared the cup for the first time,
and then, in the midst of that prayer,
its as though Jesus looks at the camera,
recognizes the audience reading this prayer,
and says, “by the way, I’m praying for you too.”

So now friends,
we don’t have to imagine
what it would be like to have Jesus
pray all of those wonderful things for us,
because he already has,
way back two millennia ago,
Jesus prayed for his disciples
and he prayed for all of us
who would believe because of their word.

If that doesn’t blow your mind
and melt your heart I don’t know what will.
Pastors talk all the time
about the connection of Holy Communion
reaching across time and space
and connecting everyone
who has ever celebrated that meal
with everyone who ever will.

And here, in the 17th chapter of John,
Jesus reaches through 2,000 years of history,
reaches right through these pages,
and prays for you.
Because you are one
who has believed
because of the words of the first disciples.

And the connection, of course, does not stop here. Jesus isn’t just praying for us to be nice,
he has a purpose, he always has a purpose.

See if the disciples hadn’t taken Jesus seriously
that they were being sent,
as Jesus himself was sent,
then we would not be here
to bear witness to the fourth wall break,
to the reality of Jesus’ prayer for us.
Jesus prayed for the first disciples,
and for us, for a reason,
and that reason is so that the world will know
who Jesus is,
that the world will know that God sent Jesus to us,
and that God loves us, and that,
when they believe,
they too can bear witness to the life of Jesus
in this world and bring in still others
to the family of faith in Christ Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be spared pain
or to be whisked away to heaven
because there is work for us to do here.
Lots of it!
Work that has been continuously
handed down through the ages,
work that, is now ours.

All of us have been prayed for.
All of us have been sent.
Just as Jesus was sent
to bring a message of forgiveness
and return from exile.

So are we sent.
And that sending,
the ministry we are called to do,
it doesn’t all look the same.
But it all begins in the same place.

Right here,
with the understanding that Jesus has called you,
has prayed over you,
and expects others to believe in him
because of your words. And it starts with prayer.

Friends, start praying for yourselves.
Not to win the lottery or drop that last five pounds. But pray for your relationship with God
to be strengthened.
Pray for the ability to be bold and to take risks, knowing that if the prayers of Grandpa Ken
for your pastor can be powerful and effective,
that the prayers of Jesus for you,
on the mission he has sent you on,
can give you the power to move mountains.

And once you have prayed for yourself
and found the courage
to take that next step of faith pray for each other,
pray for protection from a world that,
once we truly start building God’s kingdom,
will hate us with a passion.
And don’t just pray to be protected from the world –
pray for the world,
for the world to be transformed.
There is no shortage of evil at work
that we can and should be praying against.

But as we pray friends.
As we pray for ourselves,
and as we pray for others,
and as we pray for the world,
we must pay attention
because if God has given us the power and insight to pray for something or someone,
chances are God has also given us the power
to affect that someone or something.
To make a difference.

We don’t have to be able
to pray through the ages like Jesus
to be able to affect generations of Christians.

We just need to be able to pray
a little more like Grandpa Ken.
From a place of relationship with God.
From a place of familiarity with the divine
and humility in the face if its awesome power.

To pray not with our own agenda
or our own ideas about how things should be.
But with the desire to see
God’s will accomplished
on the earth as it is in heaven.
With the desire to see God’s best at work
in the lives of those around us.
With a heart to bring others
into loving connection with the living God.

When we pray, it matters.
And when we get up from prayer,
what we do next matters, too.

May we be people who never forget
that Jesus’ blessing is on us;
may we never forget that,
long before we were born,
he already prayed that our lives
would make a difference,
that we would be bound to God
and to one another with love.

May we be people who pray,
and people who work, for our own sake,
and for the sake of our loved ones,
and for the sake of the whole world. Amen? Amen.

John 17:6-21


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