Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 06/05/2011

What is glory?  What do you think of when you hear that word?  Glory and being glorified are prominent in today’s gospel and actually mentions of glory are prominent throughout the Bible and also in the hymns of the church; glory is all over the place.  In a way though, it’s one of those words that we kind of know what it is, but it’s still hard to define; it can be easier to think of examples of what we think represents glory than it is to define it. 

In a human sense, glory has something to do with honor, something to do with making someone more than what they are or what they were.  You think of the victorious politician on election night, surrounded by a sea of supporters, just kind of soaking it all in, but for the moment anyway, kind of in an elevated state, things are changed so that his or her words and actions have greater weight; something is different and we call it glory.  Same as the team that wins it all, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, whatever it might be, at that moment of triumph or maybe it’s later during the parade, those players are given a status that changes them.  It changes them in a way that you can’t really measure, but it’s real as they are called champions and again, we call it glory.

It’s hard to define but we know what it is and have probably experienced it ourselves, most likely on a smaller scale.  I think of our graduates today.  You’ve all had your moments in some fashion, whether it’s been in the realm of athletics or on the stage or in the classroom for some of you maybe it’s all of the above.  Even the other night or in Tory’s case next week as you come forward to receive your diploma, you perhaps sense that moment of glory, all eyes on you, people looking at you differently…or maybe you’re just thinking “I hope I don’t trip and make a fool of myself” and so the moment of glory escapes you.  I think you know what I’m talking about though.

The Bible talks more about God’s glory than human glory and God’s glory is a little different.  Human glory tends to be attached to some accomplishment, God’s glory just is; it’s a defining quality of God, a quality  having to do with power and splendor.  The most literal definition of the Hebrew word for glory used throughout the Old Testament is heavy or weighty.  Somewhat humorously I think, the same Hebrew word is also the word for liver which was thought to be the heavy organ.

Today’s gospel that has this talk about glory and being glorified is part of Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples in John’s gospel, this part being a final prayer for the disciples.  This entire address is not thought to be a verbatim account of what Jesus actually said, but instead is seen as a masterful and divinely inspired piece of poetic interpretation on the part of John, interpretation and reframing of things that Jesus said.  For example, in the passage for today there are parallels between this prayer of Jesus and the Lord’s Prayer that everybody knows.  The theme of glorification and “protect them in your name” found in John kind of echoes “Hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer.  “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s prayer parallels the theme here in John of Jesus completing the work he was given to do, doing thy will in other words.  So again, John picks up on these things that Jesus said and imaginatively works with them to create images for us to imaginatively work with. 

Chronologically, as John tells the story, this prayer is placed just prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion but more fittingly the prayer and what comes before it can be seen as Jesus’ address to all of us, an address from beyond the grave, after he has ascended into heaven, the event that we celebrated last Thursday.  Now again, if John were trying to write history as we understand it, he couldn’t and wouldn’t do any of this, he wouldn’t write this way.  But remember the words of John at the end of the gospel, “These things are written that you may come to believe.”  That’s what John is up to.  This is not meant to represent an account of history but instead it’s meant to help us hear a living address by the Risen Christ, to us right now; that’s how we read it.

That means we don’t try to figure it out.  Instead we kind of poke around at this text, we prayerfully probe these words and try to hear what they have to say to us on this seventh and final Sunday of Easter.  We try to hear what they have to say to us on a day when we honor those who are graduating from high school and also what they say to us as we welcome as our guests, members of the Ishpeming Township fire and rescue department.  Is there some point of contact?

Thinking about it that way, I still come back to the idea of glory and being glorified, but this prayer of Jesus takes us in a different direction as we think about glory.  Jesus, addressing his words to the Father says, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.”  In John, Jesus had revealed God’s glory by changing water into wine near the beginning of the gospel, he had revealed God’s glory as he raised Lazarus from the dead closer to the end and there were other miracles in between.  All those things revealed God’s glory and that’s the kind of glory that makes sense to us.  Finishing the work however, meant going to the cross to die.  Finishing the work meant being mocked and ridiculed, not basking in the acclaim of adoring crowds.  Somehow God’s glory is revealed in the event of the crucifixion itself which doesn’t make as much sense to us. 

In the other gospels there are divine signs that accompany the crucifixion; darkness covers the earth, the temple curtain is torn in two, the earth quakes all of which could be seen as divine manifestations of glory as we understand it.  In John though, there is none of that as Jesus dies, yet this is where we get the talk of being glorified.  So where do we find glory in Jesus finishing his work on the cross?

The short answer to that question is that God’s glory is revealed in the crucifixion as divine love is revealed.  Jesus’ work is completed as he lays down his life and gives himself completely so that the world may know of his love for God and of God’s love for the world, God’s love for us.  In ways that can be hard to understand, the crucifixion reveals the depth of divine love and we call it glory, glory that contradicts how we usually think about such things.  Then, as a result of what Jesus did, we are able to become part of that glory, we reflect the glory of God in our own acts of love and sacrifice.  In doing so, we don’t glorify ourselves, we glorify God.

We’re attracted to the kind of glory that kind of magnifies us; it’s nice.  We’re also attracted to the glory of God revealed in majesty and power.  We like all that, but we’re called to a different kind of glory.  For Mindy and Katie and Tory and Alex, like I said, you’ve had your moments of glory and I really hope you keep having them, even today as we honor you is something of a moment of glory for you.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying those moments.

But I would also commend to you the group of firefighters who are here today.  They are a group of people who exemplify that other kind of glory, the kind that glorifies God.  In a very real way they give of themselves on behalf of others.  They put their own lives at risk in order to help others and by doing so they model in a very tangible way the community and the kingdom that Jesus talked so much about.  I don’t know if they think about it that way, but that’s what it is.  They don’t do it for applause, they do it because it’s work and service that needs to be done, and it does glorify God.

Now I’m not saying that you should all sign on as volunteer firefighters; they didn’t ask me to look for recruits today.  But as you move on to the next phase of your life and the phases beyond that, there is always the call to serve others, you know that; you’ve already been involved in various service activities and projects along the way.  For all of us though, when life gets busy and complicated (and it does) it’s easy to lose sight of the opportunities to serve whether at church or at school or in the community, wherever.  But those are opportunities that witness to the kingdom of Jesus and to the glory of Jesus.

Don’t miss those opportunities, because, as we serve, we answer the call to be witnesses for Jesus, and it does glorify God.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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