If you were presented with an opportunity to impart your wisdom to the world, what life nuggets would you offer? If you could determine what your legacy would be now while you are still active and alive, what would that legacy be?
I doubt that most of us will be asked, but it is common practice on college campuses for professors to be invited to present series of lectures addressing just those questions. One such professor, the late Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon, wrote a book about the experience, titled The Last Lecture. Pausch knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer leaving a wife and young children behind. His intentional legacy of “Follow Your Childhood Dreams” was left not only for his family but for millions of readers.
This past week Oprah’s millions of fans were tuned in to catch what her parting words would be as she brought 25+ years of her Chicago based talk show to a close. Hers was a message of the importance of loving each other and finding your own power within. Unlike Pausch, hers was not good-bye, rather it was until we meet again — on her new cable television network! She hopes her millions of fans will follow.
Last lectures. We have one left for us by our savior Jesus Christ. It’s found in the gospel of John, chapters 13-17 and is known as “The Final Discourse.” Jesus knew he was going to die. He knew what he wanted to say to his followers. He lectured them about how they must live according to his commandments. His commandment to love even your enemies. His commandment to love and serve God. In its first hearing, only the disciples were in the audience. Jesus must have wondered if the disciples would know what to do without him. He must have wanted to know that his words would have an effect beyond those who were listening that day.
I believe it is human nature to want to know that we’ve been listened to. Even if we don’t consider ourselves wise, we’ve learned important stuff through the years. We want to know that something we did mattered to someone or something. We need to know that we mattered enough to be loved and remembered.
It’s likely we won’t know in our lifetimes. It’s even more likely that whatever our effect, it won’t be for an audience of millions. And rarely are we afforded the opportunity to direct our legacy with our final words.
We are back at work now following Memorial Day weekend. We have put flag and flowers on the graves of our fallen military heroes, our sons and daughters, fathers, and those unknown to us. As a congregation, we are grieving the loss of two of our 90 year olds. One was a man who never missed a Sunday morning worship and coffee hour if he could possibly help it. He was friend and quiet example to all, even the newest among us. The other a woman who had far too many health issues to be anywhere but home or hospital or healthcare facility, but is remembered as one of our first women in leadership. Hard to believe women were not elders or moderators or pastors just decades ago!
Neither of these special people were able to leave last words for us. There wasn’t time. And probably neither one of them expected that we would hang on their words listening. This is what makes Jesus’ last lecture so critical for us.
We need his words to provide the answers to the questions: can we still love even when our hearts our breaking? Will our futures be filled with love even when people of significance are no longer here with us?
Yes, we can, and yes, we will. Jesus said: I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. The world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
And just as critical as Jesus’ words are the people who heard them and lived them. Deaths that are still fresh in our minds and hearts, alongside the great cloud of witnesses who not only professed Jesus, keep him alive for us. They lived as he commanded. In obedience. In prayer. In service. In love.
Now it’s our turn to begin living our legacy.