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A Giving Prayer

Reverend Philip Stringer

John 17:9-16

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN

Happy Mother’s Day.

Anna Jarvis hated Mother’s Day --

not really. She hated what it became.

She created it to honor mothers — most notably, her own.

It became something else, which she abhorred — what she viewed as a commercialized feeding frenzy of greedy retailers.

Our scripture readings today declare to us that God has created us for a holy purpose. And even though we often twist what God has given into something else, God continues to love us and continues to give, continually drawing us into a new creation.

I thought it would be interesting to do a little research on the origins of Mother’s Day — and it turns out that the story of Mother’s Day fits pretty well with the theme of our readings for today.

Anna Jarvis established Mother’s Day to honor the life of her own mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, who was born in 1832 in Culpeper, VA. What Anna wanted to celebrate about her mother was her tireless efforts to make the world a better place.

Ann Maria gave birth to as many as 11 to 13 children, but only 4 of them survived into adulthood. The rest succumbed to diseases: measles, typhoid fever, diphtheria. So, she organized groups to combat childhood diseases and to help young mothers care for their children. They gathered medicines for children and provided nannies for families in which the mother had TB or some other ailment that prevented them from caring for their children. They organized to educate about sanitization and even began a program to inspect milk.

During the Civil War, Ann Maria insisted that her clubs remain neutral, and throughout the war they cared for sick and injured soldiers on both sides of the conflict. After the war, she worked to reconcile the nation by bringing together mothers and sons from both sides.

For the rest of her life she worked, lectured and taught for the purpose of bettering the lives of others.

A year after her death in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, began to organize a service to honor her mother’s life and work. The resulting observance was eventually established as a national observance of mothers by Woodrow Wilson.

All of that is to say that the impetus behind Mother’s Day was to honor a woman who gave tirelessly for others.

In our gospel reading, Jesus offers a prayer. It is actually the center section of a larger prayer. It’s a complicated prayer that often leaves people feeling he is going in about a dozen different directions at once. And yet it couldn’t be simpler. It’s a prayer about giving.

In fact throughout the prayer (which is 26 verses long), Jesus talks about giving 17 times!

13 times God gives something to Jesus, and 4 times, Jesus gives something to people -- in each case, what Jesus gives, he has received from the Father. The Father gives to the Son, and the Son gives to us. (A-B-C).

But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus follows this same pattern for giving with us. Jesus gives to us, and we are to give to the world. That’s the idea, anyway.

A number of years ago my brother crafted a sermon, entitled, “A Guide to Arresting Jesus.” He was referring to the passage in our gospel reading in which Peter states, ““Brothers and sisters, [a] the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus,”

But my brother then turned the phrase’s meaning into a “How to” guide on how to follow in Judas’ shoes — and as it turns out, it’s pretty easy! All you have to do is stop. Stop giving. Stop caring. Stop trying. And instead, twist what God has given to you into something else.

History is full of examples of how the church has forgotten to give. Too often the church has locked away the Good News and has sought instead to build and preserve power.

You and I do it, too, whenever we think that what we have is ours because we have worked for it — earned it — deserve it. When we forget that the fullness of life that Jesus modeled is to love others, we arrest our growth in faith. We arrest what Jesus is doing in our hearts and what Jesus would do through us. We arrest the passage of giving that started with the Father and the Son — and is intended to continue through us to others.

The Gospel — the Good News — is that the arrest of Jesus that Judas facilitated could not contain him, and neither can the arrests that we facilitate. They could not stop Jesus then and we cannot stop him now. They could not make him stop giving then, and he continues to give now — even when we would arrest him and what he is doing.

I’m telling you this, not so that you can be ashamed or afraid because of the ways that you fail, but to help you see that the ongoing giving of Jesus for you is an invitation to the fullness of life.

The giving never ends, actually -- it just moves from one to the next. You might think of it like a waterfall.

If you have been in the mountains, you have certainly seen some waterfalls. Not necessarily big gushers, but the kind where the water spills over the edge of a cliff and cascades down into pools. A pool might be quite a far drop below another -- and not all of the water makes it into the pool. It splashes and sprays the plants and trees on the side of the mountain, giving them nourishment. Some of the water is carried away as mist. A waterfall isn’t the most efficient way to move water, but it is beautiful to behold.

You and I are like that -- we are in a cascade of God’s grace. The love of God is pouring down upon your life -- and in Jesus’ prayer, he not only gives thanks for that, but prays that it will continue. Not only that you will continue to receive from God, but that what you have received will spill out from you onto others. Like a waterfall spilling down a mountain, it’s a beautiful thing to behold when Christians offer to others what they themselves have received.

The world doesn’t quite know what to do with that. In a world of selfishness, living to give to others doesn’t make much sense. Jesus knew it would be hard, and he prayed that God would sustain you and me.

Today’s readings are a reminder and a warning as well as a message of Good News. The reminder and warning is that we are continually in the grey zone of betraying Jesus and abandoning our purpose of giving ourselves away. The Good News is that none of this changes who the Father is, who the Son is, and what they do. They continue to give to us — which means they continue to invite us into new life. The abundance of life is ever before us.

I’ve noted before, Martin Luther’s comment in the catechism regarding the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…”, which is applicable to so many things. He wrote, “God’s kingdom comes whether we pray for it or not, but in this petition we pray that we are a part of its coming.”

The Father gives to the Son, and the Son gives to us. The joy of God is giving out of love. The Son gives to us so that we, too may give. He gives to us so that we may give to the world.

God will give to the world whether we give or not, but my prayer is that the world will receive God’s gifts through us.



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