Thomas J Parlette
“The Final Prayer”
John 17: 20-26
In May 2001, journalist Giles Brandeth interviewed South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As you know, Desmond Tutu dedicated his life to bringing justice, peace and equality to the people of South Africa. There were a million questions Brandeth wanted to ask Tutu. But the Archbishop had been diagnosed recently with prostate concer, and Brandeth realized that this interview might be the last one Desmond Tutu would ever give. So he asked the Archbishop to choose the topic of conversation.
What would Tutu choose to talk about? Giles Brandeth wondered. Tutu had played a leading role in transforming his country’s politics. He had worked with the most powerful leaders around the world. He had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Those topics weren’t Desmond Tutu’s priority, however. He said, “If this is going to be my last interview, I am glad we’re not going to talk about politics. Let’s talk about prayer and adoration, about faith, hope and forgiveness.” This great world leader wanted his final message to be about his faith in God.(1)
If you knew that the prayers you offered today would be your last, what would you pray for? I imagine you would focus on your truest priorities and most heartfelt desires. That’s what Jesus did. Our passage for today is part of Jesus’ final prayer before his arrest and crucifixion.
He had just spent three years in intense ministry with his disciples. Thousands of people had heard his message and seen his miracles. By his coming death, he would save humanity from the power of sin and open the door of eternal life. What else could there be on Jesus’ to-do list?
What Jesus prayer for was – Us. “My prayer is not for them alone – meaning his disciples. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…” First, Jesus prays for his disciples, the ones who have been physically with him during his ministry. Then he prays for all those people down the line who will come to believe because of what the disciples will do in sharing the Gospel. That’s us! Jesus’ final prayer was for his disciples and for us. Why would Jesus pray for us?
One reason is that there is more work to be done to satisfy Jesus’ agenda. And you and I are an integral part of that undertaking.
Bill Crowder tells of his best friend from Bible College, Macauley Rivera. Macauley had two great dreams in life – marry his college sweetheart, Sharon, and start a church in his old neighborhood in inner-city Washington DC. Everyone who knew Macauley knew of his passion to spread the Gospel in the inner city.
Sadly, just before graduation, Macauley and Sharon were killed in an automobile accident.
At the memorial service, the pastor proclaimed, “Mac is gone.”
Then, quite dramatically, he asked, “Who will serve in his place?”
And over 200 students stood up to commit themselves to spreading God’s word in Mac’s old neighborhood!(2)
Football coaches have a saying, I think it exists in the military as well – “Next man up” It means if one person goes down, someone else is to step up and take their place. In football, it means that every player should be ready and willing to step up and get the job done even if one of the star players get hurt. Next man up. No matter what, the work goes on. Christ’s work, the bringing of the Kingdom of God to earth depends in part on our readiness to do our part. That is true of being a part of any team.
Jesus shared the love and message of God with thousands of people while he walked this earth. But he left plenty of work for us to do. Today we see that Jesus prays for our success in continuing that work.
And in addition, God will give us what we need to get the job done. We have been entrusted to carry on the work of the Messiah. And God will give us what we need to be successful in that work.
There was once a young man named Pat Dirken who loved to surf. However, one day when he was on the water, he was a hit by a particularly large wave. He was tossed around, and injured his spine, which left him a quadriplegic.
Pat spent months in physical therapy, and traded in his surfboard for a wheelchair. Pat never lost his faith in God, but after the accident he had trouble understanding why God would allow him to endure the loss of his arms and legs. And then Pat’s church joined a ministry of the Wounded Warrior Project. This wonderful ministry provides lunch and a listening ear to the injured service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Pat discovered that his disability allowed him to earn the trust of the injured soldiers. They saw that he understood their suffering and their scars, and they listened to him when he told them about how God had given him strength. Pat now see this ministry as a place where God has put him. He says, “It’s a God thing. I feel called.”(3)
What is it you feel called to because of your faith in Jesus Christ? Maybe you think to yourself, I don’t know any calling I am qualified for. But God does not call the qualified – God qualifies the called. God assures us, “I will give you what you need to do what I call you to do.” In Jesus’ final prayer, he says in effect to God, “If the believers just stay in relationship with me like I stay in relationship with You, You will enable them to do my work.” We don’t need to rely on our own talents, strength or intellect to do God’s will. It is God’s power working in us that allows us to have an impact on the world.
It reminds me of something Bob Goff once said. Goff is the founder of “Love Does,” an international humanitarian organization. He says, “God asks what it is that capture our attention, what feeds that deep indescribable need of our souls to experience the richness of the world.” And then God leans in and whispers, “Let’s go do that together.”(4)
God wants us to do God’s work with joy. God knows that we yearn for a greater purpose and calling than just taking care of our own needs. We were created for noble and heroic work, work that has an eternal impact. And God is ready to equip us for that work. God leans in and says, “Let’s go do that together.”
One more thing about Jesus’ final prayer – this prayer is a reminder that we are supposed to work together to complete the mission to which we are called. This last prayer of Christ is often called the Unity Prayer. Jesus knew that a unified effort multiplies our individual efforts far beyond what we could accomplish on our own.
In the last decade, Google has spent millions of dollars on something called Project Aristotle – a project aimed to create the perfect team. What mix of personal character traits or habits would lead to the most productive, most unified team?
Project Aristotle involved measuring nearly every aspect of Google employee’s lives. The company’s executives interviewed hundreds of employees over several years, and analyzed all sorts of data on the productivity and innovation of almost every team in the company.
What they found was that the best teams have members who are sensitive to one another’s needs and who listen to each other. That was the result of these years of work. Education, skill sets, charisma – none of those matter most in creating successful teams. What matters most, according to this Google task force, is creating an atmosphere of “psychological safety” where members are respected and listened to and able to contribute their best work.(5)
Jesus had the power to heal the sick, cast out demons, multiply food to feed thousands. He had the power to come back from the dead. After his resurrection, he was going to grant all these powers and authority to his followers. And yet, the greatest power Jesus desired for his followers was unity. Why? Because our unity is proof to the world that Jesus is who he says he is.
Unity is an interesting idea when we see the division all around us today.
Listen to what Jesus says in this passage: “I have given them the glory you gave me – the glorious unity of being one, as we are – I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one – so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me.” Nothing is as important as our unity in Christ. Our unity will prove to the whole world that Jesus is the Son of God, and that God loves us.
Composer Giacomo Puccini wrote a number of famous operas. In 1922, while working on his last opera, Turandot, Puccini contracted cancer. He told his students, “If I don’t live to finish Turandot, I want you to finish it for me.”
Shortly afterwards, Puccini died. His students studied his opera carefully and soon completed it. In 1926, Arturo Toscanini, a student of Puccini, directed the world premiere of Turandot in Milan. When Toscanini reached the part of the opera where Puccini had to stop, he laid down the baton and said to the silent auditorium, “Thus far the Master wrote, but he died.”
Then he picked up the baton and smiled and said, “But his disciples finished his work.” When Turandot ended, the audience broke into thunderous applause.(6)
There is more work to do to spread the message of Jesus around the world. “Thus far the Master wrote, but he has ascended… his disciples finished his work.” We, his followers, are an integral part of Christ’s plan to spread the word about the love of God, just as the first disciples were. Our unity multiples our efforts far beyond what we could accomplish on our own.
What is God calling each of us to do for the sake of spreading the Gospel message?
How can we join together with other believers around the world to accomplish it?
That is the task that awaits the 21st century church.
So let’s go do that together.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXV, No. 2, p.56.
2. Ibid… p.56-57.
3. Ibid… p.57-58.
4. Ibid… p.58.
5. Ibid… p.58
6. Ibid… p59.