A Mother’s Prayer

A Mother’s Prayer

A Mother’s Prayer, a sermon on John 17:12-24

Our scripture lesson from John 17:12–24 is one of the gospel’s most intimate and poignant moments. The setting is in the upper room the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus knew what would happen the next day, and he was preparing his disciples for his departure. He had done his best to teach them how to live a good life connected to God and being good to others. Now, he had to hand off his whole mission to the disciples.

It’s a moment that parents can relate to.

Do you remember your feelings when you handed your kid the keys, and they were going to go off in a car without another adult in it? You ask, “Did I do enough to prepare them? What about. . .?

Or, for younger parents, do you remember sending your kid off to school for the first time, hoping you had taught them enough to be okay there?

Or perhaps if you are not a parent, you can recall the anxiety after sharing a secret with someone, and you start to think, “Oooh, should I have trusted them with that? They could make my life a living hell with that info.”

If you can identify with any of that anxiety, carry it with you as you contemplate our scripture lesson and put yourself in his sandals.

Jesus’ anxiety in the upper room.

Consider what it was like for Jesus to look Peter, James, John, and the rest of the disciples in the eyes, holding their attention for the final words he would speak to them before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus knows he’d soon feel the excruciating of nails piercing his hands and feet.

Jesus holds their gaze, reminding them that he loved them—enough to die for them. He had been with them for three years and considered them his friends. For three years, he had given his heart to them, taught them, and set an example for them, and now it all culminated in this moment. If you have anything important to say, Jesus, this is the time to get it out. What are your last words?

A lot is riding on what Jesus would say. He was preparing to let go and trust everything he’d been working for and teaching into the hands of the disciples. It was up to them to carry on the mission. If they screwed it up, it could all be for naught, the movement would die with them.

Trusting the disciples was a giant leap of faith.

Letting go of control is always terrifying. How much more so for Jesus in this circumstance because the disciples hadn’t displayed many indicators that they were up to the task? They constantly missed the points Jesus tried to make.

He told them to be humble and consider themselves servants to all, and the next thing you know, he catches the disciples arguing with each other about which one of them is the greatest.

Once, the disciples faced rejection from some Samaratains, and they tried to convince Jesus to ask God to call down fire from heaven to destroy the town. As an Austin Powers character would say, “How about NO!”

Even as he spoke these last words, Judas had slithered out of the room to betray him. And now Jesus was trusting these guys with everything and sending them into a dangerous world.

There are parallels between Jesus’ prayer and Mothers’ prayers.

On this Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think that Jesus’ situation rhymes with parental situations. What is parenting if not a series of episodes where you have to let go and trust. Often you do so with a two-word prayer, “O God.”

You send them off for their first day of school, hoping you’ve prepared them enough. O God.
• Mom, can I have the car keys? O God.
• Mom, can I go on this trip? O God.
• Don’t worry, mom, I’m totally ready for college. O God.
• Mom, I’m pregnant.
• Mom, give me your car keys, we have to find assisted living for you. O God.

Prayer is the best response.

So, what does Jesus say in this tender and poignant moment? What are his last words for them? He prays for them. I imagine that he said this prayer with his eyes open (yes, that’s allowed), looking into the eyes of his friends. It’s a long prayer (I wonder if people ever invited him to give a “brief prayer” at the beginning of meetings). He prays for three things: protection, Direction, and Unification.

Jesus prays for them in a long prayer that takes up John 17. Maybe that is why people instinctively ask pastors to open meetings with a brief prayer.

Protection, direction, and unification.

Jesus’ prayer has three parts. In the first part, he prays for himself, for the strength to do what lies ahead. In the second part, he prays for the disciples, for their protection, direction, and unification. It’s kind of like a prayer a mother would offer.

• God, protect them from falling away and not rely on your strength when they face hard times.
• God will direct them by giving them wisdom, reminding them of what I’ve taught them, and showing them how to connect to a purposeful and vibrant way of life.
• God, unify them with your spirit so that they may always be able to find you within themselves and unify them with each other so they can have the support of the community. Jesus wants those he loves to be safe and secure in their unity with each other, him, and God.

In the third part of the prayer, Jesus prays for future generations of believers, like us. Maybe Jesus’ prayer is similar to our mothers’ prayers. He models for us how to pray when we are anxious. It changes us and helps us let go where we need to.

Mothers are the answer to Jesus’ prayer.

I believe that part of the way God answers Jesus’ prayer is through mothers and believers.

Mothers protect, guide, and unify.

But it seems impossible with all the competing advice and styles. New scams and outlets for predatory behaviors present more dangers than ever.

A mother’s prayer is a tender and sacred thing. I remember my mom praying at the communion rail where after receiving communion people were invited to remain kneeling for as long as they wished to be in silent prayer. I remember a few times where my mom stayed up there way longer than other moms. I assumed it was because she was praying for my little brother to stop being such an annoying dweeb. But those were my prayers, not hers.

I always knew I was held in her prayers. Helped me get though hard times. Knowing she on my side. Jesus’ prayer shows he is on our side, and it helps us get though.

The role of the church.

Part of our job as a church is to listen to and help mothers in their roles. At the same time, we understand that not everyone has a nurturing and supportive mother. That is why we take our role with children so seriously: to be a positive influence whenever we can help children and families through our programs or partner groups. It’s how Jesus’ prayers get answered.

So today, we lift up mothers and other women who have given us protection and direction and blessed us with unification. But what is the best way to do that? Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins, wrote this poem:

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the “L” section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.

But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.

“Here are thousands of meals” she said,
“and here is clothing and a good education.”

“And here is your lanyard,” I replied,
“which I made with a little help from a counselor.”

“Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.” she whispered.

“And here,” I said, “is the lanyard I made at camp.”

“And here,” I wish to say to her now,
“is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.”

No gift or grand gesture can ever make it even with our mothers who have given us so much. Or with God. But that is not the point. The best we can is to try to be good people, thoughtful, considerate of others–especially those in need. Pay it forward as they say. And find ways to embrace the advice for protection, direction and unification they offered.