5-11-15 - Eavesdropping

Everyone knows it’s bad form to listen in on other people’s conversations, tempting as it may be. Yet, that’s exactly what we’re invited to do in the gospel passage appointed for next Sunday. We are eavesdropping on Jesus’ conversation with his heavenly Father on the night he takes leave of his beloved disciples and prepares to enter into the suffering which will complete his mission in this world.

We will explore the text of this prayer, but first I feel the need to deal with a “meta-question.” How is it that we know what Jesus prayed that night? Was one of his followers listening and feverishly writing it all down as a transcript which got passed along for the forty or fifty years before John’s gospel was composed? That’s possible.

Or perhaps what was passed down was the tradition of what Jesus prayed. “And then, do you remember, after he talked to us all that while, he started to pray for us, that we would be protected and know the truth….”

It’s also possible this is a literary device used by the author of John to reiterate the themes he has been emphasizing all along. Would that make this text any less valid for us? It doesn’t have to. Remember, what we receive as Holy Scripture bears the fingerprints of many, many fallible human beings. We receive it as holy and authoritative, not as a court transcript, but as a document given authority by the early church and generations afterward.

In other words, it is holy in part because it has been regarded as holy, and because it gives life to the communities that regard it as holy. This “high priestly prayer,” as scholars call it, has given life to generations of Christ-followers, who have been encouraged to persevere in mission by the promise of belonging and love and intercession encompassed in these words attributed to Jesus.

In a sense, we are always eavesdropping when we read Scripture – we overhear God’s words to other people, their stories about their encounters with God, their letters to one another about their encounters with God. But this is not meant to be a passive overhearing. We are invited to join this conversation and bring to it our own stories and doubts and connections and joys.

God also speaks to us directly through prayer, through proclamation, through encounters that we realize are “God-moments.” If the records we leave in our journals and testimonies last a fraction of the time these stories did, we might find they’ve been smoothed out and edited a bit too. I hope you are leaving a record of God’s dealings with you. That is precious and holy writ, if not Holy Scripture.

We believe, by faith, that the pages of Scripture are not merely human documents, though we needed human beings to record and preserve them. We believe these are Spirit-inspired, God-breathed words of life. It doesn't matter whether or not these are the exact words Jesus prayed. The Holy Spirit was with him when he prayed. The Spirit was with those who remembered it. The Spirit was with those who eventually wrote it down, and those who saved it, and those who wove it into the record we now call the New Testament.

And the Holy Spirit is with us as we encounter it and ask God to bring it to life for us. This week, as we explore this prayer, let’s keep asking where we find ourselves in these ancient words. The Holy Spirit with us - that’s what makes this holy for us.

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