Lifting one another in prayer has many benefitsPublished 10:07am Friday, January 18, 2013
Column: Across the Pastor’s Desk, by the Rev. Mark Boorsma
Ascension Lutheran Church
While traveling farther north than usual, Jesus polled his closest followers, asking first a general question, “Who do people say I am?” Maybe John the Baptist or Elijah? Perhaps Jeremiah or another one of the Hebrew prophets? The question permitted his followers to summarize then-current speculation concerning the identity and importance of Jesus in the unfolding plan and purpose of God. In the follow-up question, Jesus gets personal: “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter replies, “You are the messiah — son of the living God.” No verifiable proof of this bold claim is offered. It is a statement of Peter’s faith. Jesus affirms Peter’s response, attributing this insight as revealed to Peter by “my father in heaven,” and promises to build his church “on this rock” (Peter himself? Or Peter’s faith? All future bishops of Rome? All who will, like Peter, confess faith and trust in Jesus as messiah and son of God?)
Today is observed in portions of the Christian family as the “confession of Peter” and as the beginning of a week of prayer for Christian unity. Prayer for unity among the followers of Jesus has always been necessary, because those followers have never once been in full agreement on the particular articles of faith. Sects and denominations have arisen based on differing interpretations of what Jesus taught and did.
Prayer for unity underscores the persistent divisions within the Christian family, yet also appeals that the same father in heaven who gave Peter the gift of faith will do so still for the scattered and divided seekers of Jesus.
If I were you, I would not bet good money on Christian people coming to substantial agreement anytime soon. They, like all people, will disagree about whom and how to worship (or not). They will come up with strikingly different answers to the question posed in Micah 6:8 — “What does the Lord require of you?” They will quarrel about social issues and the best form of government. They will occasionally become quite shrill and uncivil as they loudly assert the absolute rightness of their own beliefs.
If this were a movie, the camera might now pan to John 17, to Jesus himself praying fervently for his followers, “that they may be one.” There the eyes of faith might begin to see that Jesus prays without ceasing for every and all of his divided followers. There I might see that Jesus prays for those in the Christian family whom I think are “wrong.” And there I might also comprehend that we are never so close as when we lift one another in prayer.
Jesus, I will never agree completely with all of my sisters and brothers in faith. Still, I ask that you sustain and encourage them in their faith and in their serving, for with the father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and forever.