Winston Churchill’s last words were, “I’m bored with it all.” Immediately before his death, the comedian Bob Hope responded to his wife’s question of where he wanted to be buried with, “Suprise me.”
We recognize that last words have a certain special import not afforded to normal “every day” words. Well, if last words are so important, what about last prayers? In John 17, we get a peek into the last prayers of our Savior Jesus Christ. As Jesus was taking his final steps in his three year journey toward the cross, what was on his mind? What did he value so much that he was driven to plead for it before his heavenly Father?
In our Gospel reading on Sunday, Jesus pleads for his disciples and those that will believe in their message. Jesus prays for us to be unified! This should make us stop and pay attention.
Jesus knew what the future held for his church. His message would propagate throughout the entire world. People of every culture, color, income bracket, employment, political party, and baseball team would be brought into fellowship with one another through his body and blood. But this is a major problem, because we all naturally tend to congregate around those that are most like us. It’s difficult to befriend those that are different and we generally don’t like doing difficult things.
Yet Christ prays for us to be one. He says that it’s important because he and the Father are one. God is one. He says it is important because it is through Christian unity and love that people will know the truth of Jesus’ message, that God is love and Jesus is the only way.
I must confess that this makes me incredibly sad. I look around at Christ’s church and words like “unity”, and “love” are not the first words that come to mind. Tragically, they aren’t even the second, third, or fourth words. In fact, some of the first words I think of are “disunity” and “contention.” We have a problem! Suddenly it becomes clear why an increasing number of Americans are turning their back on Christ. We must remember, as the saying goes, that the finger pointing out at “them” has four fingers pointing backwards at us.
But in all this darkness we have a solid, immovable hope. Christ didn’t leave the success of his church up to us. Despite us, his promise remains true, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).” If you remember, Peter wasn’t so great at the Christian unity thing either (see Gal 2:11-14). Yet God still built his church. The gates of Hell never had a chance and they still don’t. Jesus built his church through his Holy Spirit bringing repentance, faith, and love to the messed up churches in Galatia, in Corinth, and in Jerusalem. He worked in them, not some faux unity that denies truth, but a unity of love around the Truth himself, Jesus.
Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:23). Remember, Jesus perpetually prayed perfect prayers. He always prayed according to God’s will and when one prays according to God’s will, God always hears and acts (1 John 5:14). It is Christ’s work on the cross, his perpetual intercession before God’s throne, and his Holy Spirit in us that will fulfill his desire for our unity. We are no worse or better than the ancient churches with their unity problems. And we worship the same God who has promised to work through us as he did through them. Let each one of us turn from our comfortable, divisive, unforgiving ways and embrace the love and forgiveness of God. Then we through the Holy Spirit can love and forgive our fellow believer in Jesus, no matter how different they are or how difficult it may be.
Then this nation will know that God is love and Jesus is the only way.
Father Kurt Hein