Easter VII – May 17, 2015
One Last Prayer
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
There is a tradition in academia called “The Last Lecture.” The challenge for professors is: “If you had one last lecture to give before you died, what would it be?” On October 18, 2007, 48 year-old Randy Pausch stepped out into the stage of a packed lecture hall at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to give his last lecture entitled “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It was literally Randy’s last lecture ever. He gave this talk as a gift for his children as the family was preparing for his death from pancreatic cancer, a death that was expected to occur in just few months. Professor Pausch’s lecture was turned into a New York Times best selling book, and the video of the actual lecture has been viewed over 17 million times. Randy’s parting message to his children was full of life, joy, words of wisdom, and heartfelt truth. I commend the whole lecture to you. Here are a few of Randy’s parting words of wisdom:
- “When we’re connected to others, we become better people.” “No job is beneath you.”
- “Go out and do for others what somebody did for you.”
- “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”
- “Apologies are not pass/fail.”
- “Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.”
- “If I could only give three words of advice, they would be ‘tell the truth.’”
Randy’s messages have a familiar ring to them, don’t they? …words of wisdom with ancient roots.
In our Gospel lesson from John, we are hearing Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples. It had been a full evening, an evening that will be ending in betrayal and with Jesus’ arrest. In John’s account of what we now call Maundy Thursday, we don’t hear about the gift of bread and wine at the last supper as we hear in Matthew, Mark and Luke. What we do hear in John’s account…is that Jesus got up from the supper table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin and then proceeded to wash the disciple’s feet. He then gave them a “mandate.” The Latin word for “mandate” is “mandatum.” From the Old French and Middle English versions of the Latin word we get the term “maundy” and our Holy Week term “Maundy Thursday.” This was the night in which Jesus directed his disciples to do as he has done: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Jesus is not telling the disciples what to “believe,” he is showing them how to care for one another, and how to share the love of God in the world by doing the same. There is more… Jesus says to the twelve:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The next four chapters of John are called the “Farewell Discourses” that are Jesus’ final words to his disciples. Chapter 14 begins, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14:1-2)
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15)
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (Jn 14:25-27)
Jesus says to the twelve:
“I am the true vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…”(Jn 15:5)
“I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling” (Jn 16:1)
“I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” (16:28)
After three chapters worth of messages to the disciples, Jesus looks up toward heaven and begins praying for his friends, his students… for this rag-tag bunch that has been at his side these past three years. There is deep stillness and a sense of timelessness… the prayer is for us… Jesus prays… saying that he has done the work he was sent to do… that he has loved the disciples and through that love the disciples have come to know God… a God who is real, and close… a God who challenges our thinking, and shows us that, though discipleship does not promise to be easy… it is full of life and blessing… that we are to love those who scare us the most… the stranger and the enemy… and we are to plant seeds of life and to do so with depth and richness… and at all times… we are to stay connected to the source that we know in God… our creator whom we know in Christ Jesus…
Jesus continues to pray that even though the disciples have struggled and fumble and sometimes fallen…. their successes have glorified Jesus! ….of that Jesus is certain. …. breath taking….
As the disciples continue listening to Jesus pray for them…. they hear a petition for protection. Big events are about to occur and all is soon to change…. betrayal and arrest are imminent. Through the pain and loss and challenges that are to come, Jesus prays that his followers receive God’s protection that will shield and support them through the hard times that lay ahead… … a prayer for protection in the deep knowledge that the beloved are bound to God in the big love that birthed Jesus and brought him among us.
Jesus says, “I speak these things in the world that they might have joy”… complete joy, not a saccharine emotion, but the deep abiding light of love that perseveres even in amidst the greatest of threats. Dear God: Protect them. Sanctify them. Sanctify them in the truth of your word. I am now sending them out into the world. My work with them is done. I release them to witness what is about to happen to me, … my death, my resurrection, as hard and as shocking as that may be. I release them. The first lessons are done. Their work in the world, without me is soon to begin. Bless them and keep them. My prayer is finished. Thank you.
In our psalm, the very first of the psalms, we have even more ancient words. We hear about those who delight in the law that is the Torah, the way of God, the way of God that continues to call to us… the way of life. Those who meditate on this way of God, day and night… are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither. For those who walk in the way of life…everything they do shall prosper. It won’t be so for the wicked, for the wicked are like chaff which the wind blows away without substance. We have a choice… to walk in the way of God… or not. God’s way does not promise to be smooth, but it does promise to be filled with joy, blessing and delight. Just as the tree draws water from the stream… we draw strength and nourishment from the source that is God. In God we are grounded and we bear fruit in due season.
Jesus has prayed his final prayer for his disciples. We are nearly through the 50 days of Easter that will take us to Pentecost. Next Sunday we celebrate the promised gift of the Holy Spirit being sent to further to enlighten and empower God’s people… that we may continue Christ’s work in the world by sharing the Good News of LIFE, by seeking justice, and in helping to build up the Reign of God on earth. For today, we receive a rich blessing. Today, we receive Christ’s prayer and we allow it work deeply in us.
I would like to leave you with one more prayer adapted from “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for ordinary Radicals.”
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever Christ may send you. May Christ guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May Christ bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13