Last words. We tend to pay attention to “last words.” Martin Luther’s last words were: “We are all beggars” – a memorable reminder that regardless of what we have “accomplished” or what we want to claim as our legacy - we are all creatures in need of God’s grace.
In “The Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Melion professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at an early age with a young family gave his last lecture on: “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. At the end of his inspiring lecture, he told the overflowing cheering crowd – thank you but… I did it for my kids.
That’s kid of what Jesus says too. Our Gospel today sounds like a really complex, hard to access last lecture, full of words of glory and accomplishment and language about Jesus’ relationship with the Father – and today’s reading is just a small segment of it. But... it’s actually not a lecture at all; it’s a prayer. And.. it’s not for all the world – although Jesus’ message is for the whole world. But, in these last words, his last prayer, Jesus tells his followers: this is for you.
This prayer is for you. That’s not to lift us up as the few and the chosen. Christ’s gift is for all and we - as Luther said, “are all beggars”. But.. friends.... faithful followers who come to church even on a holiday weekend, Jesus is telling his followers - take heart. Do not be discouraged. Jesus is praying for you.
Jesus knows that, like his disciples, we too fall short of being the people and the church that God wants us to be. We aren’t one in purpose, one in mission or one in Christ. We experience division across denominations. We experience division across political, social, economical, racial lines – lines that we keep drawing. Jesus knows that it isn’t always easy to be the church – or to be followers.
But Jesus doesn’t draw lines. Instead, Jesus prays. And, from my experience, prayer leads to action. First, prayer changes the pray-er. And then…Prayer makes a difference – sometimes changing the situation in ways that we hope and sometimes in ways that we do not expect.
So what is prayer? Prayer is about talking with God – not to share information, after all, God knows the information already. Instead, prayer is about us – as pray-ers -- trusting God with what is on our hearts.
Jesus models praying what’s on his heart in the other Gospels when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prays to God to take this cup from him. But in John, Jesus models praying for someone else – by praying for us. Praying for another – and being willing to let someone pray for you -- means trusting another part of the body of Christ with what is on your heart. And that means being a little bit vulnerable.
I could talk about prayer – and why we should do it and how we can do it for a long time. But I won’t. Because in these “last words” Jesus isn’t talking about prayer - Jesus simply prays.
Rolf Jacobson, a professor at Luther Seminary, discovered that while his church assigned prayer partners – and they had the partners meet – the church never modeled how to pray. So at a class that he team-taught with another professor, they began to start each class by praying for one another. In their evaluations of the class at the end of the semester, students said that watching someone pray helped them to learn to pray.
If this is the case for seminary students? I wondered if it wasn’t also the case for other Christians. Some of you are very experienced pray- ers – and I give thanks for your prayers. But others might feel intimidated by prayer – especially praying “out loud.” And so… I’ve asked James if he and I could pray for one another today. We are going to use the same format that we ask our Confirmation and youth students to use – share a high and a low – and then pray for each other. So.. James, would you come forward? (Prayer)
Now… it’s your turn. Please turn to a friendly looking neighbor in the pew –you may have to move just a little bit if you aren’t sitting close – or group up into threes. There’s a piece of paper in your bulletin if you want to write it down – but you don’t have to…
Please share with one another – One “high” – something that makes you glad, something for which you thank God today and One “Low” – something that you are sad or anxious about or something for which you are asking God to give help or healing. I will watch the time so don’t worry about that – just share something quickly and then pray for one another as you saw me and James do. Ready.. or not… GO!.....
Thank you for being the body of Christ – praying for one another. I invite you to continue to pray for the person that you talked with throughout the week.
And now, let us pray together: Lord Jesus, thank you for praying for us and for teaching us to pray.. Help us to be the body of Christ - praying for and caring for one another just as you pray for and care for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.