Protection and pear-shaped days: John reflects on this morning’s wee talk from Duncan
Wee thought from John on Duncan’s sermon this morning:
This morning’s Duncan was speaking about Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and he began with some context.
The night before he died
This prayer took place at the end of the evening Jesus spent with his disciples the night before he died. The meal they ate is described in some detail by John, from chapters 13-17, and the description is ‘bookended’, as Duncan put it, by Jesus washing his disciples feet at the start of the meal (chapter 13) and Jesus praying for himself, for his disciples, and for all subsequent believers (chapter 17)
In other words, the bookends are firstly, Jesus’ humble act of service, and secondly Jesus’ expression in prayer of love for God and for his disciples. And in between these bookends, there is the community of a shared meal. It reminds us of the Shema, about which we learned so much with Duncan before the lockdown, with the instruction to ‘love the Lord your God….[and] love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31) Service, prayer, community.
And then Duncan turned to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 where Jesus spoke about glory, and eternal life, and the coming of hour which he had known for a long time awaited him.
John, Duncan said, does not give us a template ‘Lord’s Prayer’ as the other gospels do – instead John shows us the master at prayer. Duncan said it would take hours to unpack this chapter, but he focused in particular on the two requests Jesus made on behalf of his disciples in John 17:11:
Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you give gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Jesus prayed for the unity of believers. Duncan pointed out that given that we are all deeply flawed, and have different views on many things, the fundamental unity which we have as Christians is not easy to work out in practice. We need, Duncan urged us to be continually forgiving one another, and receiving forgiveness, and we must pray for unity.
And Jesus prayed that the Father would protect believers. What does this mean, Duncan pondered. ‘It’s not about safety so much,’ he said. ‘I don’t think we’re promised a safe and easy journey in life.’ But he suggested that we pray that God will ‘protect us for settling for second best, protect us from going the easy way rather than the way that God is calling us, protect us from not going for the life in all it’s fullness.’
A personal reaction to Duncan’s sermon
I found this a very helpful thought. When Duncan said that we are not guaranteed protection from bad stuff, I thought he was going to say that even though bad stuff happens God is present with us, and will protect our souls, our essential selves, no matter what. Which of course is true too. But I wasn’t expecting Duncan to suggested we seek protection so that we don’t settle for second best, so that we make the right choices, and embrace life in its fullness.
Intriguingly though, it’s us who decide to make these less-than-ideal choices. So what are we asking for protection for? From external malign influences, or from ourselves? So often what happens is that we ignore the inner ‘red stop light’, we make wrong choices and then find our lives going pear-shaped – and its in the pear-shaped days that we realise we’re on the wrong pathway, and desperately seek God’s help. So maybe God’s protection involves letting us have a hard time to draw us back to the Way!
The secret of entering into God’s protection, I think, lies in unity – particularly our unity, with God, our connectedness with God who meets us deep in our hearts. The more we are able to cultivate that connection with God, the more we will sense the gentle nudges which help us choose well.
But what if the well within us has run dry? What if we have chosen, not second best, but third, or fourth or fifth best? What if it’s days or weeks or years since we felt life was worth living, and sensed the flow of zest and energy and joy?
The well can flow again today. Our lives can be transformed as we are slowly disentangled from the tentacles which stifled us in the jungle of wrong choices, and find grace to embrace the consequences. This Jesus who knew his ‘Holy Father’ so well, prays for us. And when Jesus prays the Father responds, because Father and Son are one.
No feet are too dirty for the Son of Man to wash clean, and then, as a further act of grace, gently dry with a towel of love.