Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’
When I worked in hospice and most of my patients had some kind of memory loss, I learned one particularly important lesson. If my patient was a Christian, even if their memory was so poor they couldn’t remember how to speak clearly, they would still likely know the Lord’s Prayer. When I visited, I would do my best to connect in whatever way was possible... looking at pictures, reading, watching television, mentioning things I knew that they had loved in their lives, and praying together. I learned that if I started the Lord’s Prayer, I could almost always count on them to pray with me. Some would pray clearly, saying the most clear sentences that they had said during the whole visit as recited the familiar phrases of the prayer. Some would remember the rhythm of the prayer, mumbling alongside of me, saying a few words clearly. Sometimes they would only remember the Amen, but would make sure to say it with me. Sometimes they would just hold my hand tightly while I would pray.
In thanksgiving for their lives, would you say the Lord’s Prayer with me:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
I tried to remember where I first heard what’s known as the Serenity Prayer. I can’t remember. It might have just been at church. I was a pretty churchy teenager and paid attention to prayers. I also watched a lot of television and read a lot. Maybe I came across it there. It could have been that time in college that I went to an AA meeting with someone who need to go to one and hadn’t been in several days. I don’t know if you’ve been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting before. The founders of the program had deep roots in the Episcopal tradition. Somewhere along the way, AA meetings incorporated this prayer, likely originally written by UCC theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. I mean, he probably used the first versions before the United Church of Christ even became a denomination in 1957. In one article I saw, it suggested that some folks from AA came upon the prayer after it had been shared with service members by military chaplains.
The first version I remember hearing goes like this: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. There is a different version that Rev. Dr. Niebuhr evidently preferred: God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. As much as I like this prayer, I also appreciate Dr. Angela Davis’ reminder that we don’t have to be serene in the face of that which is unacceptable. She said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” That’s a prayer I’ve needed sometimes, too.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been preaching from the part of John that scholars call The Farewell Discourse. It is the part of John where Jesus is preparing his disciples, his friends, for his eventual death. At this point in the story, it has become clear to him that they will need to know how to preach the Gospel without him. So, he spends what amounts to four chapters of this Gospel preparing them for what will come next. He washes their feet, teaches them about being a servant, reminds them that he will guide them as a shepherd guides sheep and that they are so close to him that they are likes branches on the vine that is Christ. He makes sure that they know that God will abide in them, just as God has abided in him. They will be able to preach the Gospel because Jesus will abide in them, as well. He tells them to love each other, because they are going to need it. And, then he prays. That’s the last thing he does in the Farewell Discourse. He prays.
The scholar Cláudio Carvalhaes, in his commentary on this text, says that this final prayer is “as if Jesus is wrapping up his ministry by telling God what happened and what will be needed as the disciples move forward.” In essence, he is praying for his friends and asking God to tend to them and empower them. These disciples who have become friends, these vines that he prays will grow good fruit... his last action, as he teaches them for the final time before his arrest, will be to pray for them. Dr. Carvalhaes also points out that in his prayer, Jesus beautifully reasserts the relationships that connect the disciples to him and all of them to God. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Jesus prays for their protection, asking God “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus knew that they must work together... that their many must also be one if they are to help the kindom come. Jesus wanted his joy to be complete in them, for them to be made holy in God’s word, and for them to be protected from evil, even as they find themselves in conflict with the powers of the world.
What I was reinforced for me in my prayers as a chaplain and in hearing people pray together in AA is that sometimes it just really helps to hear someone pray for you. It matters deeply to us that we are listened to, remembered, that someone hopes good things will happen for us. I imagine that you have experienced the grace of being prayed for. I don’t mean those passive aggressive prayers, when someone says “I’ll pray for you” and really means they are cussing you out in their head. I mean when someone sees and hears what’s on your heart, and acknowledges it before God, and then prays for your relief or your protection or clarity or a change of heart. It is powerful to hear yourselves be prayed for. And, it seems like Jesus’ disciples, his friends, heard him praying for them.
I didn’t necessarily assume that he would have prayed where they could hear him. I don’t know why. It says right at the beginning of chapter 17 that after he stopped teaching, he started praying. He didn’t go off on a mountain for quiet time this time. He prayed in earshot so that they knew he was praying for them. Jesus want joy for them, even as he knew that their mission would sometimes be painful. Jesus wanted love for them, even as they lived in a world where they were often at odds with powerful people. The last thing he will give them before he is arrested is love and joy. Joy that they are tended to. Joy that that are cared for. Joy that they are empowered, in Christ, by God, to love one another and love the whole world. This is him doing that Good Shepherd thing again: making sure they know they are not alone in the valley of the shadow of death. Dr. Meda Stamper, in her commentary on this text, puts it this way: “There it was that they should have joy in his command to them to abide in love; now they are to find joy in overhearing Jesus’ prayer on their behalf for the same thing — that they should be protected for love by the one in whose love they dwell.” And, having been bolstered by this love, they will be able to enact the same love in the world.
What prayers remind you that you are loved in this world? Is it the Lord’s Prayer, likely taught to you by parents or beloved Sunday School teachers, one that you’ve known so long that you may even remember it when you’ve forgotten so much else? Is it the Serenity Prayer, said alongside others who are taking it one day at a time, making the best choices they can, and showing up for one another, night after night, in church basements and community centers across the country? Maybe it’s the prayers that are only in your heart, heard best by God, even in your silence. When we pray for each other, we are repeating this action of Jesus, showing love by speaking love aloud and listening to the needs of each other. Did you know that Jesus prayed for us, too? In the part just after this one, Jesus prayed for those who will come to believe because of the words of the first disciples. That’s us, many generations removed. This week, I hope you can live out the Gospel like you know Jesus prayed for you, and that you will get the chance to love the way he first loved you.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted:
Cláudio Carvalhaes: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/seventh-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-176-19-5
Meda Stamper: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/seventh-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-176-19-3
About the Serenity Prayer:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.