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A Father's Prayer

Text: John 15:9-17


The letter I am about to read is fictional. We do not know if the author of John’s Gospel,

         had a child or if he ever wrote a letter to his daughter if he did. What we do know is that

         John’s entire Gospel is a powerful illustration of the appeal of this letter. Listen now to “A

         Father’s Prayer.”

 

My dearest child,

         What are the last words that a father speaks to his daughter? I could tell you how proud I am of you, but there are not enough words. I could tell embarrassing stories of you as a child, but not in this letter. I could play the wizened, old sage and warn you of life’s hazards ahead. But by now, you already know the consequences of choosing the road that you are traveling.

         As I thought about my last words to you, my mind wandered back to my last days with Jesus. I suppose dying, almost by necessity, makes one nostalgic. I still cannot say why your uncle and I left everything to travel with Jesus. We were young. That was surely a part of it. But it was infinitely more. I could never put it into words, but it was as if there were no other option, at least, no other option that made any sense.

         At the time, I did not know that they would be our last days with Jesus. I had hoped that our grand adventure would go on and on, but I suppose, deep down I knew that our days together were drawing to a close. The words he spoke to us during those last days have never left me and I find myself thinking more about them now as I face my own death.

         Your grandfather could never make heads or tails of why I left a secure job to follow an itinerant rabbi. And, he was not wrong. From strictly a financial view, it was irresponsible and foolish. And, it was not an easy life. More than once we made our beds under the shelter of a tree and far too often we wondered where we would find our next meal. None of us could understand why Jesus would spend his time with some of the people that he did and so little time with others. Despite it all, his life and his words have been my life’s joy and hope.

         So, as I write my last words to you, it only makes sense to share some of Jesus’ last words to us. He spoke these most amazing words only days before his death. We were all gathered and he had that look in his eyes, the look that said, “Pay attention! Listen!” My mind has always tended to wander off, but never when he had that look.

         I can remember his exact words as if he spoke them to us yesterday. With conviction in every breath, he said, “This is my commandment to you: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

         Thinking back, I keep asking myself, who were we for Jesus to call us his friends? We misunderstood him. We disappointed him. And, can we ever be forgiven for betraying and denying him when he needed our friendship the most? Yet, he called us “friends.” My child, what Jesus taught me is that a friend is someone who knows us better than anyone else, who knows all the ways that we are lacking, all the worst of us, and still cares for us no matter what happens.

         There was one condition, though, that Jesus placed on our friendship, but it was unlike any condition I have ever had placed on me. He called us friends if we loved each other as he loved us. Love is a word that sometimes means so many things and is used so casually that it has no real meaning. Some people use the word to describe passion and enchantment with someone. Some use it describe their deep affection for a piece of music, a painting, a sports team.

         When Jesus told us to love one another as he had loved us, he did not have to define “love.” His life did that. Love was embracing a leper that no one else would touch, much less sharing a meal with a leper. Love was finding food to feed hungry people when all we could see was that there was not enough to go around. Love was fighting the human urge for retribution, to fight back, to get even, as he reminded us, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

         Jesus taught us that there is nothing sentimental about love, nothing safe about love. It stretches us beyond where we want to be stretched. It introduces people to us that we have been taught to hate or to think less of or to stereotype in one of a thousand ways. Love makes us break out of our condensed view of the world and our unexamined assumptions and our silly stereotypes. 

         Many days I longed for a simpler life, the one I led before I met Jesus. I grew up being taught to avoid Gentiles and I did, but Jesus would have none of it. I would go out of my way not to deal with sick and disabled people, but Jesus had us spend almost every waking hour with them. I definitely did not want to get into a power struggle with the leaders in the Temple but Jesus did and when he did, it was always in the name of love.

         My prayer for you is that you will grow in the love of Jesus. If you do, his love will not likely bring you an easy or serene life, something that every parent, including this one, wishes for their children. Living in the love of Jesus, you will no longer be able to walk down the street and close your eyes to one begging on the corner, for the love of Jesus makes the invisible visible. You will no longer be able to close your ears to the cries of children who are punished by the hubris and neglect of well-educated and powerful adults, for with the love of Jesus is born a love for all children. You will no longer be able to tune out racist words and sexist jokes as harmless fun simply because you are not the butt of the offense, for the love of Jesus just will not allow demeaning another child of God.

         Perhaps, a father should not make such a prayer as this for his child, but I can do no other. For how could I wish for you less than what I have known in my friendship with Jesus? There is no greater joy that I have known than my friendship with him and my love for him and his love for me. There is no finer life lived than one lived in his name and in his love.

         My beloved child, I wish you a long and meaningful life, and I pray that in your living and eventually in your dying you may know what I know, the constant presence of my friend. For a few hours after his death, I lost that trust. I gave up on God and thought of myself as the worst kind of fool to have listened to Jesus. But it was not long before I saw my risen friend and was reminded of a love that will not let us go. 

         My daughter, you have always been the joy and light of my life. May your joy and light shine into the lives of God’s world with the love of the One who will not let us go, who will never let you go. That is my prayer and those are my last words to you.

         Your loving father,

                  John

 

        

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