As a pastor, I have the wonderful privilege of sharing not only the best of life with people, but also the worst of life. I have the privilege to celebrate the joys of life as I will with Ashley Mozingo and Bryant Watson this week when they are married, and I have the privilege of suffering through the sorrows of life as I have this past week with Shirley Meeks as she buried her husband of 57 years.
Now, I do realize that may sound rather peculiar to call sharing the sorrows of others, a “privilege”; however, when you witness the miraculous strength and extraordinary courage; when you witness a faith that never fades, but only grows stronger in the midst of the suffering as I have, when you visit people amid suffering and leave feeling, not sad, but inspired and uplifted, you would understand why I call it a “privilege.”
Some of you know what I am talking about. There is no other word but “miraculous” to describe how some of you are you able to be here in this place today, and doing as well as you are doing, in spite of everything that you have been through. Some of you have lost persons that you love the most in this world. Some of you have suffered a heart-breaking divorce. Just this past year, some of you lost your job. Some of you have had major surgery. Some of you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Some of you have lost your siblings, and some have lost your very best friends. Yet, here you are. Somehow, some miraculous way you have survived, and you are somehow making it. And not only are you here, but your mere presence, your smile, your hugs, the faith and love that we see burning in your eyes is more of an inspiration to us than you can possibly begin to understand.
But how do you do it? How do any of us really do it? How do we keep on keeping on in a world of gloom and doom? How do we maintain our sanity in a broken world of sickness and strife? How do we keep the faith in a world of doubt and disbelief?
Shirley Meeks who faithfully and graciously cared for William during this last difficult year as he suffered with cancer, told me that she believes she knows exactly how she has made it through, how she has remained so strong. Besides her sewing room where she would escape for a few moments during each day to create something with her hands, needle and thread, she said there was one other thing that has seen her through her suffering. Last Saturday, standing on her front porch she confidently said to me: “Jarrett, the Lord answers my prayers.”
One of the greatest things that happens to me as a minister, and it happens very frequently, is when I go to the hospital or to a home to minister to someone, and the person to whom I am ministering, ministers to me.
There is no doubt that Shirley believes in the power of prayer. Right before William passed away, his body began to shiver as if he had a chill. The very first thing that Shirley did was grab the prayer quilt that the women of the church had made for William, the one that the church had consecrated with prayer for William. She picked up that quilt and lovingly and graciously wrapped it around him.
Shirley is able to be here this morning because she believes in prayer. She believes the Lord hears her prayers and the prayers of her church family and friends. However, our scripture lesson this morning suggests that there may be much more to it than that!
For here we learn that Jesus, as he was preparing to leave this world, prayed for us. Think of that for a moment, God within the three persons of the holy Deity prays for us.
We read in 1 John 2 that we all have an advocate with God the Father, we all have someone on our side, praying for us, supporting us and loving us. He is Jesus Christ the righteous.
The writer to the Hebrews assures us that “he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” The writer is saying that Jesus lives to make intercession for us. Jesus lives today to pray for us (Hebrews 7:25).
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans writes: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that the very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
If you ever worry that no one is praying for you, the apostle Paul says that you can stop worrying. If no one earth is praying for you, Jesus certainly is. Jesus is our High Priest. He is our intercessor. He is our advocate. Christ lives today to pray for us. Even when we don’t know how to pray for others or for ourselves, even when we cannot find the words to pray, Paul says that the Spirit of God intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
This wonderful truth should be bring us great comfort. For sometimes the pain of life is so great, the grief is so overwhelming, that we don’t even know how to begin to pray. I have heard someone say that sometimes when the pain is so great, when they pray they don’t pray words at all. They simply “pray their pain.” They pray their pain and trust that Jesus hears, Jesus understands, Jesus intercedes and Jesus answers.
So, what does it truly mean for us to be prayed for by Jesus? Let’s look again at the words found in our lesson this morning.
There are several petitions to God that are offered by Jesus on our behalf. Because of time, I just want to point out two of them that I believe explains a lot. First, Jesus asks that the Christian community exhibit the same oneness that exists between Jesus and the Father. There is an edifying mutuality which exists between Jesus and the Father. Each glorifies the other. John 15:8-10 reads: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
Jesus prays for us to share this oneness between Jesus and the Father by keeping his commandments to love others as he loves us.
As I met with Ashley and Bryant to plan their wedding celebration, we talked about love being more than a mere feeling, for feelings cannot be commanded. Jesus commands us to love others. He does not say love others, if you feel like it. If you have feelings for another, then love them. No, he says to love others. Love is always a verb. That is why I told Ashley and Bryant that they will never hear any minister ever ask in a wedding ceremony, “Are you in love” or “do you love” but always, “Do you promise to love.” Love is always action. Love is not a feeling, but Love is selfless, sacrificial service. Jesus prays that we will love one another.
Another petition offered to God by Jesus is that God sanctify the church. The verb translated “sanctify” here belongs to the cultic language of the Old Testament, where priests and animals were set apart for sacrifice. And it belongs to the Holiness Code of Leviticus where the whole nation was directed to live as a special people separated for the service of God. Jesus prays that we will understand that we have been ordained, set apart, and sanctified for selfless, sacrificial ministry.
This is how I believe Shirley Meeks was able to minister to the minister. If God has ordained us for ministry, then God is always going to give us the strength and the courage we need to be an inspiration to others, to love others, even when we do not feel like it loving others, even in the face of suffering and grief. God is always going to do all that God can do to help us to love others, to be selfless servants to one another. For this is the prayer of Christ for each of us.
So, this is how I believe we do it. This is how we keep the faith in a broken world of doubt and disbelief. This is how we keep on keeping on in a world of gloom and doom. This is how we have been able to make it through this last year amid so much loss and grief. This is how we can be an inspiration to others amid the worst in life. We are prayed for. We are prayed for by others, but more importantly we are prayed for by Jesus Christ himself. The Spirit of God is interceding for us with sighs too deep for words. Jesus, our advocate, is praying that in this world of despair, we will abide in his love, and be sanctified and set apart for ministry.