Meditation on John 17:1-11, Graduation Sunday
Pastor Karen Crawford, The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio
The little ball of fur underneath my forget-me-nots didn’t move as I reached my hand close to it, without touching it. It was early evening, not yet dark. Rain pitter-pattered on the hood of my jacket pulled up over my head. Jim and I had just come back from a walk with our dog, Mabel.
What startled me was that I had already been standing there for a while without noticing it. I had been talking with and listening for the Lord. I often find myself still and quiet when I am in my garden, sensing God’s presence. It just happens. The Lord finds me.
It was a chipmunk. I thought it must be dead. Why else wouldn’t it scamper away when I came near? I felt sad for the creature, and I didn’t know why. For I have complained about the little diggers and chewers in my garden often. Just ask Jim. So many holes in my yard! Chipmunks, squirrels and yes, the moles are back, too, making their mounds of dirt on my nice, green lawn. Bob Bish! I need you to come and help me, again! I have encouraged and routed for the cats that visit our yard and wait patiently, stationed at the critter holes, hoping to catch one in their paws and jaws as they pop up out of the ground.
But then, as I ponder all these things, in the stillness and quiet with the Lord, I see the little guy or gal breathe. “He’s not dead,” I sigh with relief. “He’s sleeping.”
I can’t feel anger or fear in the garden. Only peace. I remember what a funeral director in York, PA, told me when I asked her how she dealt with the stress of her job. “I work in the garden,” she said. “I can’t be sad with my hands in the soil.”
With rain pattering on my hood, I feel the Lord speaking to my heart about His love for all Creation—including me. Every life is precious to God. Scripture tells us that the Lord knows about and grieves for one small sparrow when it falls from the sky. It’s funny how we like some critters and plants—and don’t like others, depending on the circumstance. What we call weeds are God’s wildflowers—the “lilies of the field.”
Sadly, that’s how it is with human beings, isn’t it? Our likes and loves are conditional. We have opinions about everything and everyone. Why can’t we all just get along, accept one another and be gentle, patient and kind to each other? Especially during a global pandemic, when we are all in this together—the entire human race. We don’t have to agree all the time. We need to share different ideas and perspectives. We certainly don’t all have to think the same way about everything. That’s the beauty of humanity, to me, how wonderfully unique each one of us is—and yet all of us created in God’s image. How can that be?
What does Jesus think about His Church, the Body of Christ, being so divided? Do we really need to have as many denominations and non-denominations in our country as flavors of ice cream? Why aren’t we praying every single day, like Jesus did, that his followers would be ONE?
When Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17, we have the rare opportunity, as the disciples do, of listening in. No retreating to a mountain or garden alone for Jesus, this time. He just pauses in his teaching and raises his eyes to heaven, speaking aloud so they will hear him! He is still teaching them.
Before the prayer, he has told them not to be troubled and promised His Spirit. He urged them in John 15:4-5, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” He commanded them in 15:12 to “love one another as I have loved you.” “No one,” he goes on in 15:13, “has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He prays that they will know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God has sent. He intercedes for them, claiming them as his own—given to him by the Father. “I am asking on their behalf….All mine are yours and yours are mine…. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
The lectionary passage leaves off an important piece of the prayer when in verse 20, Jesus prays for ALL his followers—including we who came to believe from the testimony of others. “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” he says, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Today, on Graduation Sunday, while I don’t have the pleasure of being with our graduates in person, I pray that they will hear this message—if not through me, through you. For we are called to support and encourage all the children and youth of our community, though our own children may be grown. We promise this at every baptism.
We have to be good examples of mature Christians for all our young people. But we can’t be unless we are living as One with each other, in Christ. Young people are smart. They listen and watch us, all the time. So be careful to build up with your words, bless others, in their hearing and when they aren’t around. We have to be faithful to Christ’s command to love, not just on Sunday when we worship, but every day.
To our graduates, I say this to encourage you. Our wounded world needs you desperately. I am sorry that adults behave the way they do sometimes. Please forgive us. I am sorry about COVID-19 ruining the last quarter of your senior year and cancelling so many of your plans. But you are ready to move on. Trust yourself and the Spirit that lives in you. YOU ARE needed. All your gifts and talents. Your unique personality. Your intelligence, creativity and compassion. Everything that makes you YOU. Don’t worry about the whole job thing. You will find jobs, but remember that a job doesn’t limit or define you. You ARE a child of God and always will be, no matter your paycheck or benefits package.
You will always have your church family. You can’t get rid of us that easily! We are still here for you, as we promised, long ago when you were baptized. You have been raised in a faith that is going to stick with you, though you might journey far from your church and community. Just when you come to a fork in the road and have to make a difficult decision, the Spirit will guide you and you will have peace, knowing the way the Lord wants you to go. And when you encounter difficulties and disappointments, because we all do, the Lord will be there for you, strengthening you to carry on.
You will be stronger if your make time to be alone with God; so find that quiet place to think, listen, and pray. For me, it’s a garden, but for you, maybe some other place. Just talk with God and He who loves you will hear you and answer you. And when you can’t find any words to say because your heart is breaking, remember this. The Lord is still praying for us, like he did with his first disciples, who were scared and confused. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes (meaning, it prays for us) with sighs too deep for words.”
We will continue to think about you and pray for you. We love you.
May you be one with God and each other—but that doesn’t mean you have to be like everybody else! You need to be the unique person God has made you to be.
Be a peacemaker—in the classroom or on the job, at home, wherever you are. May you be the one who speaks truth and walks in gentleness, though you may be the only truthful and gentle person in the room.
And may I ask one thing of you? Please pray for us. For your church and hometown. Pray that we will be One with each other, in the Lord, living in peace, each being the person God has called us to be, encouraging one another to be our best selves. Pray that we may love one another, as Christ loves us.
This is the way the world will know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God has sent.
Please join me in a prayer for our graduates.
Heavenly Father, We pray for our graduates today and lift them before you. Thank you for the gift of their lives and that you have a wonderful plan for each of them. They are so precious to us. During this season of new beginnings, we ask that you would make their way clear. Keep their footsteps firm and remind them that you are with them and always will be. May they sense the freshness of your Spirit over their lives and may they be strengthened and instilled with hope for their future.
We release our children into your tender care, trusting that you know what is best for them and that no one loves them like you do. Hold them in the palm of your hand. Hide them in the safety of your powerful presence. We thank you in advance for all you have in store. Guard and protect them—body, mind and soul—as they come in and go out, as they journey far away for new opportunities and as they stay close to home, working and serving in their communities. Give them wisdom for the decisions that they will need to make. Walk beside them, draw them close to you, and reveal your will. Build up their faith. Grant them boldness, confidence, and courage to take risks and see beyond what is here and now and imagine what could be. Stir them to step outside what is comfortable, knowing that you will keep them safe and that there is no “failure” in the Kingdom of God—only love, mercy and grace.
Help us to minister to them and encourage them to become their best selves and fulfill your will for them. May they be a light to their friends, families, churches, and neighbors. Use them, Lord, to help bring hope and healing to what is broken. Give them patience, gentleness, and strength to proclaim your truth and overcome and not be overcome by evil. May they be persistent laborers for peace and justice and channels of your love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.