Monthly Archives

June 2019

No Looking Back

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“No Looking Back”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 30, 2019

 

 

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

My aunt Phyllis lives on a farm near Amble, Michigan.  The farm has been in her late husband’s family for nearly 150 years.  Each spring the farm hosts what is called “Plow Day.”  On that day visitors are invited to come and watch Phyllis’ son and grandsons and nephews use a team of horses to plow furrows in the earth, the good old fashioned way.  It has been a while since I have attended “Plow Day” but I still remember what it was like when my late uncle and his father did the plowing.  The horses were given blinders so they could not see any direction but straight ahead.  They were hitched to the plow with a harness connected to strong leather reins which went over my uncle’s shoulders.  He then steadily took the handles of the plow and urged the horse to begin moving forward with once sharp command and then a series of more loving, clicking noises.  The thing that always amazed me was how straight the furrow always was.  I was told that keeping things straight was more important that just appearances.  Straight rows also improved the yield and made it easier to care for the crops later in the season.  It is kind of embarrassing to think that I can hardly sign my name without putting my signature on a slant but those horses and the man behind the plow always put down a perfectly straight furrow across a large open field.

This morning’s Scripture lesson from the gospel of Luke is sometimes called a turning point in the ministry of Jesus.  Previously in Luke’s account there were some rather profound teachings and some impressive miracles.  Jesus was transfigured on a mountaintop.  Bread and fish were multiplied to feed a multitude.  A woman was healed of her bleeding and her daughter was raised from the dead.  A storm upon the sea was calmed.  Suddenly everything seemed to change.

“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for him to be received up, he steadfast set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Things were about to get much more difficult.  As Jesus moved to Jerusalem, he was about to encounter the powers of the world.  Jesus knew that what had come before no longer mattered in the face of what was about to happen.

The lesson continues with an account of some messengers that Jesus sent to Samaria but were not received very well.  The disciples, notably James and John, wanted to send fire upon these rather rude Samaritans but Jesus would have nothing of it.  Raining fire upon enemies was not part of God’s plan for the building of the Kingdom.  Instead he used the occasion to warn his followers about the hardships that they would face if they choose to follow him.  For those who would follow, he said, there would be no sense of being at home and no place to rest their heads.  There would be no time to arrange for a funeral, even for a parent.  There would be no time to say goodbye to family and good friends.  No one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.  The steady hand needs to be upon the plow and all eyes should be looking forward.

Some commentators say these words come from a rather cranky Jesus.  One person said that this piece of Scripture might be entitled, “Jesus the Jerk.”  How could anyone respond kindly to such an invitation and such recruiting tactics?  Instead of showing some gratitude or sympathy for his would-be followers, Jesus seemed to be rather unfeeling.  He was tough.  He was demanding.  He didn’t cut them any slack.

I remember the movies Private Benjamin and Stripes.  In both films naïve military recruits signed up for more than they bargained for.  Goldie Hawn’s spoiled rich girl character was tricked into enlisting by the promises of seeing the world and experiencing exotic adventures.   Later in the movie Private Judy Benjamin says, “I did join the army, but I joined a different Army.  I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.”   In Stripes Bill Murray’s character John Winger was duped into enlisting into the Army by a recruiter who only cared about making his monthly quota of recruits.  When the recruiter asked Winger if he had ever been convicted of any felonies or misdemeanors, including burglaries and assaults and rapes and arson, Winger’s only reply was, “Did you say convicted?”  The recruiter quickly got Winger’s signature on the dotted line before he heard anything else that would disqualify the recruit.

But Jesus the recruiter was different.  His tone was grim but it wasn’t because he was without heart or uncaring.   He did not want to paint too positive of a picture to his followers.  Walking toward Jerusalem is serious business.  Discipleship is not something to be undersold or soft-pedaled.  It is a challenge.  It is hard work.  Before signing up, you need to count the cost.  When you put your hands on the plow of discipleship, you can’t be distracted by anything other than what lies straight ahead.

How do we respond to such a rigid demand?  My gut feeling is a defensive reaction toward Jesus.  Sorry Jesus.  You are wrong.  Sometimes we have to take the time to do what we need to do.  Sometimes we have to bury our dead and you are going to have to wait for us.  Sometimes we have to take the time to say goodbye to those we leave behind and just know that we will catch up to you eventually.  Sometime we have a few things that just need our attention before we are all in with what you would have us do.  Jesus knew that our tendency to put off moments in time would make a difference in how we follow him.  When it comes to making some important decisions of faith, we think we need to be in a better place, a better time, a time in which all of the stars align to make things perfect for us to take action.  I will follow, but first……Perhaps Jesus knew that it is our instinct to stand at the Red Sea waiting for God to part the waters before we even get our feet wet.   Instead of waiting until we have all the angles figured out, Jesus wants us to jump in, get wet and say, “Let’s see what happens now.”  When our hands are on the plow, we can’t be looking around, just straight ahead.

Yet I find it hard to believe that Jesus was being completely insensitive to the human needs of his followers.  And I find it hard to believe that Jesus does not care about our losses, our goodbyes, and the difficult moments of our lives.  Jesus call is not an insensitive plea to give up everything that is important to us, and to leave behind all those who matter to us.  Rather it is a promise that if we follow him with eyes looking forward, all the moments of our life will matter.  Each one of us will count.  Maybe what Jesus was trying to say is that there is still a lot of Kingdom building work to be done.  There is still a lot of divine life to be lived.  There is still a lot of blessed opportunities and experiences and memories to be had.  Looking back, dwelling back there with something that is no longer alive or life-giving produces only crooked, ill-planned furrows.  God wants us to live and to be alive because that is what the Kingdom is all about.

And perhaps Jesus’ demand pointed toward our dangerous tendency to cordon off parts of our lives from the total claims Jesus makes upon us.  Barbara Brown Taylor writes that if a person in the church loses their job, it is natural for us to offer sympathy and prayer.  But if a person in the church gets a promotion or a job with greater pay, do we pray for God’s strength for them in the new temptations that new responsibility and more salary might bring their way.  Brown Taylor points out that there are parts of our life that we tend to cordon off from God’s intervention.  Most of the time, when things are going well, we act as though we are on own and we resist or perhaps don’t even consider any of the self-sacrificing demands that faithfulness to God commands.  She writes that the only way out is to plow a new path of life, killing off ordinary ways of defining value and bring into our lives a whole new set of priorities.  And then we look ahead and not back.

Sometime keeping our hand on the plow and keeping our eyes straight ahead is not so much an act of our human will as it is an act of active faith.  Sometimes it is not just a choice we make but a confession of our hope.  There is an old proverb which says, “When you get to your wit’s end, remember that God lives there.”  We hold on and we look ahead because we can trust in God being with us in what lies ahead.  We can hold fast to our faith and our call to discipleship not because it is easy nor because of the promise of reward.  We keep our hands firm and our eyes steady because the promise of the one who created us and who redeems the worth of each of our moments is faithful.

 

 

Magic Math

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Magic Math”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 16, 2019

 

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

 

Sometimes truth is difficult to understand.  In 1997, a student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, ID won first prize in a local science fair by his project which urged people to control or ban the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide.”  The student listed the dangers of the compound.  It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting.  It is a major component in acid rain.  It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state.  Accidental inhalation can kill you.  It contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.  It decreases the effectiveness of automobile brakes.  It is also found in the tumors of terminal cancer patients.  The student developed a website to promote his cause and even had T-Shirts printed with the logo, “Spread the Word about Dihydrogen Monoxide.”  Those of you who know anything about science may understand the actual reason the student won the award.  Dihydrogen monoxide is water, and the young man was illustrating how easy it is to spread fear and confusion through the use of science.

The universal church calendar designates this particular Sunday as Trinity Sunday.  As liturgical holidays go, Trinity Sunday is a fairly new one.  It has been celebrated since 1334 when Pope John XXII fixed it as the Sunday following Pentecost.  It is the only celebration of the church year that recognizes not an individual but a doctrine.  We don’t use any special events or rituals to observe the day.  There are no Trinity Sunday cards on the table to purchase in Fellowship Hall.  Trinity Sunday doesn’t have its own color of vestment or ancient story. Perhaps that is why it is such a difficult thing to celebrate.  Even among card-carrying Trinitarians, the Trinity is a complicated and perplexing subject, likely to cause more confusion and doubt than it can ease.  For those who are skeptical about the threefold nature of God, the observance of Trinity Sunday may be nothing more than an exercise in total frustration.

Essentially the doctrine of the Trinity says that there is one God but that this God has three persons.  We call them Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  All three are of the same substance.  All three are one.  Each is infinite in power and wisdom and strength.

Just to be clear about things myself, I visited an internet web site this week to see what other clergy might be saying about the Trinity in their sermons.  I found a rather humorous video in which St. Patrick was explaining the Trinity to a couple of young monks.  With each explanation, the monks accused St. Patrick of embracing a heresy.  The lesson of the video was that we preachers should not attempt to explain the Trinity lest we also venture into the land of historical heresy.

On a preaching website I found this paragraph which attempted to explain things rather well.  Eric in Ohio wrote, “In Western theology, the explanation of the Trinity is focused on three or four latinate terms:  coexistence – all three persons of the Trinity exist together; coinherence – all persons mutually indwell in one another; consubstantiality – that all three persons share one being; and circuminsession – that all three persons are active in the activities of each one.”  I think you will agree that Eric in Ohio has explained things quite simply and clearly!  He has certainly illustrated the problems of explaining the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity has been a source of controversy for centuries.  Is it God in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-one in three?  Or is it the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together in God- three in one?  Years and years ago the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was a source of intense theological debate.  The distinction you would make about how and where God was present in each of the persons of the Trinity made you either a heretic or a candidate for sainthood.  Because the stakes were so high, one’s position on the issue was crucial to one’s future in the church.

The Trinity isn’t good math.  One plus one plus one doesn’t equal one.  The Trinity isn’t rational.  Do you want to believe in one God yet worship three?  And there are all sorts of other complications.  How can God live in human flesh?  If God was in Jesus, then who was up there running the universe when Jesus was down here?  Was it God who died on the cross that Good Friday?  And if it was God, then who raised Jesus from the grave on Easter?  Good questions, all!

The Trinity isn’t even Biblical.  The standard Trinitarian formula is only mentioned once in Scripture when shortly before his ascension into heaven the Risen Christ encourages his followers “to baptize others in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  According to most historians, the word Trinity was first used to describe God in the second century by the early church leader Tertullian.

Throughout the years the concept of the Trinity has been described through analogies.  God is like a clover, growing in the meadow, with three different leaves.  God is like water, available in the substance of your choice- liquid from the tap, ice from your freezer, or the steam from your morning shower.  In his book To Begin at the Beginning, Martin Copenhaver describes our modern yearning to describe the Trinity in such analogies as a tag-team wrestling match.  When one image of God can’t handle our needs, it tags another and gets out of the ring so we can send another image in to take on the evils of darkness.

Despite all of this, I think it is important for us to contemplate the idea of God in three persons at least once a year.  It is important because the Trinity is an essential part of the substance of Christian faith.  It is important because I believe the Trinity is not just a theological doctrine or mathematical puzzle.  Instead it is a belief born out of the experience of ordinary Christians as a real life answer to the question, “Where do we find God?”  The Trinity is a way for us to know that the God who was present at creation, and the God who came in the person of Jesus the Christ, is the same God who works in us and through us this very day.  The Trinity is not simply a teaching to be imposed upon our skeptical minds.  It is a celebration of a relationship between God and the people of God.

There is a familiar story that every preachers has used at least once.  A little girl was drawing a picture in a Sunday School class, totally focused on what she knew would be a fantastic creation.  Her teacher walked by and asked the girl what she was drawing.  “I am drawing a picture of God,” the little girl said.  The teacher replied, “But dear, nobody knows what God looks like.”  Without any hesitation the little girl answered back, “They will when I’m through with this picture!”

The concept of the Trinity is very much like that little girl’s drawing.  It paints a picture of God that helps us understand what God is all about.  It is a portrait of God that we can put our hands upon and our arms around.  In the symbol of the Trinity, God becomes a personal thing, described in the kind of relational terms we can all understand.

The concept of the Trinity is something else.  It defines the greatness of God, greatness that words fail to grasp.  God is the source of all that is and was and ever will be.  God is the source of power that keeps creation and the universe in relative order.  At one time God came to earth in the form of a human being, born as we are all born, living through joy and sorrow just as we must live, and dying a human death just as we must die.  And God dwells with each of us today, inspiring us, teaching us, comforting us, and encouraging us.  How can you describe such a presence?  The metaphor provided by the doctrine of the Trinity implies that God is great enough to be beyond our understanding yet as near as our every breath.  That is power.  That is greatness.

Why do we bother with Trinity Sunday?  Why should we cling to a doctrine that we can’t explain to ourselves, much less to the questioning of others?  Perhaps because it really does help us explain the power and presence of God in our world and in our lives.  Peter Gomes, professor and chaplain at Harvard University writes, “We must remember that the object of Christian theology is not to reduce incomprehensibilities to our small size but rather to make us grow up in some small degree to the capacity of the subject…The Trinity is the attempt of the church to paint the big picture of God and to understand it in ways that extend and expand the ordinary consciousness.”

Yes, it is probably a good idea to reflect upon the significance of the Trinity this day.  The Trinity allows us to consider the entire being of God.  It helps us to get a grasp on the mystery and the greatness.  It offers us metaphors to gain some understanding of how God is with us in our daily lives.  It informs us as to who God was, who God is, and who God will be.

 

Power of Babel

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Power of Babel”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 9, 2019

 

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

 

            I am not a big fan of jazz.  I admit that I am very much set in my ways and when it comes to music I have strong opinions.  I like strong melody lines and meaningful lyrics and jazz doesn’t seem to supply either for me.  I once had a conversation with a jazz aficionado and he explained that my problem with jazz was me.  I am too much of a music conformist.  I was told that while jazz relies on a foundational melody, the deviations and improvisations from that melody are what make the genre unique.  Good jazz musicians rely upon the melody and harmony but also upon the spontaneous contributions of other band members and the audience.  “Jazz,” Duke Ellington wrote, “is freedom of expression.”

I saw a new item this week that caught my attention.  The headline read, “Jazz Has Become the Least-Popular Genre in the U.S.”  The article said that jazz is now tied with classical music as the least-consumed music in the nation, after children’s music, both representing about 1.4 percent of total U.S. music consumption.  However, classical music album sales are higher so this puts jazz at the bottom of the barrel.  I was curious so I read on as to the reasons.  It was quite interesting.  New listeners are not engaging with jazz music as they once did.  While there has been much sharing and crossover of the genre, music specifically labelled jazz has not caught on with younger listeners.  The article also said that traditional jazz followers are less likely to listen to new artists thus ignoring new musical styles and opportunities.  They prefer listening to their favorites thus limiting the market for new artists.  Finally it seems that jazz listeners are the slowest of all music lovers to adapt to new listening technologies.  Jazz is the only music genre to have declining digital music sales.  As I read over this article it seemed to me that jazz is suffering from a desire of its listeners to remain traditional and uniform, perhaps the very antithesis of its nature which is creativity and diversity.  According to the article jazz is declining because jazz listeners are behaving unjazzy!

In the eleventh chapter of Genesis, following the flood, people migrate from the east and build a city in the plains of Shinar.  Their goal is to construct a tower to reach the heavens and to make a name for themselves, lest they all be scattered across the face of the earth.  It was a unifying plan to build a place where people could live and abide with one another.  The author of the story then says that God was not happy with such a plan.  “Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  I don’t know who God is speaking to here but clearly someone or something is working with God.  And as a sign of judgement God created different languages and scattered people across the face of the earth.

I was always taught that this story should be a lesson of caution to human pride and arrogance.  We should not make ourselves or think ourselves to be as God, building or planning or navigating our own way to heaven.  If we do, we will be brought low in failure; confused, divided, and defeated.  The lesson is to avoid pride, to be humble, and to know our place in God’s eyes.  A side interpretation of the story seems to hold that human success can only be found with universalized speech and thought.  The more we are alike, the greater we will be.  Thus the introduction of differences was a punishment which caused the destruction of plans to reach the achievements of the gods.

But this week I read a couple of others interpretations on this ancient Biblical story.  Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein submits that God’s plan was never punishment.  God simply wanted to teach humans that the path to heaven was not in uniform thought and one single tower to heaven.  God did not want us to look the same, speak the same, or act the same.  God knew that humankind must be scattered, must be different in order to fully experience God and to thrive.  The lesson of the Tower of Babel is that we get closer to God not through uniform towers but when we seek different backgrounds and embrace diverse experiences.

In Christianity Today, Pastor Peter Hong, of the New Covenant Community Church in Chicago writes that God’s spreading out of the people was actually not a punishment but a correction.  “In choosing to remain together in their safe, homogenous existence, instead of spreading out over the earth, the people were thwarting God’s purposes.”  God corrected that by scattering them.  Walter Brueggemann writes that “the fear of scattering is resistance to God’s purpose for creation.”  Unity based on strong bricks and towers is grounded in fear, seeking to survive on its own resources.  Instead God wishes for us to get out of our comfort zones, reach beyond walls that keep us comfortable, and venture out into the world to fulfill God’s mission.  Don’t build up.  Reach out.

On the day of Pentecost, it all changed.  We are quick to remember the tongues of fire and the mighty wind, but what about the words that were spoken that day?  Instead of everyone hearing one language, the message being shared that day was heard in many different languages.  While one message was preached- the power of God as found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus- there were many different voices and languages preaching it.  One common message- spoken and heard in diverse ways.

This ancient story plays itself out in our lives today.  Churches are formed with excitement and energy and vision to reach out to others.  But over time churches began to pour their energy and resources into building towers and keeping the institution itself safe.  As believers we are struck with the good news of the gospel and how it can change our lives and our world.  As time passes we begin to use our faith less as challenge to our world and our own behavior and more as a way to make ourselves comfortable and to justify our thoughts and actions.

There is a comfort and predictability to living in Babel.  But that is not where the spirit of God wishes for us to be.  The power of Babel is the call to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar, to leave the comfortable for that which causes us discomfort.  The power of Babel is a lesson that we are to live faith as on a journey, leaving behind what we know and moving out beyond our field of vision.  That is what God wants.  That is how we come to know the divine.

 

Glory

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Glory”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 2, 2019

 

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I have shared this Anthony De Mello story before but it came to my mind again this week when contemplating the Scripture lesson.  An oil well had caught fire and experts were called in to fight the blaze.  But the heat was so intense that the experts could not get near the blazing rig.  In desperation, the managers of the well called the local volunteer fire department to help in any way they could.  About thirty minutes later, a rather decrepit-looking fire truck rolled down the road at a high rate of speed, drove past the gathered crowd at the safe distance point, and then came to an abrupt stop just fifty feet away from the flames.  The men jumped out of the truck, sprayed one another, and then went on to put out the fire.  Those in the crowd were amazed at the courage of these amateur firefighters.

In gratitude, the oil company held a special ceremony a week later to honor the courage of these local volunteers.  An enormous check was presented to the chief of the local department.  When asked by reporters what he planned to do with the check the chief replied, “Well, the first things I’m going to do is to take that firetruck to a garage and have the darn brakes fixed!”

The words from the gospel of John we heard this morning are taken from Jesus’ farewell discourse.  The discourse is really a long prayer for his disciples and his followers.  Our lesson this morning is only part of the prayer, about one-third of Jesus’ departing wishes for his friends.  Jesus had shared a meal with his disciples.  He had spoken of the upcoming hour of conflict.  He had addressed the significance of the moment, of the time and situation in which he found himself.  And now he raised his eyes and hands in prayer.  Some commentators call this the actual “Lord’s Prayer” because it is the prayer in which Jesus actually prayed for us.  Jesus gave thanks for the glory of God that had been manifested in him and gave those who would follow him guidance as to how to live in that glory in the future.

Jonathan Holston writes of a recent visit to a bookstore, something of a dying breed in today’s world.  He discovered that the largest section of books there were in the self-help section.  There was everything from spiritual belief to baking, from finding friends to finding faith, from dressing for success to creating a new you.  People are looking for advice and guidance in how to be better or how to do something better.

Perhaps Jesus sensed that such questions would abound in the future of those who would follow him.  What shall we do now?  Where shall we go?  What is the right thing to do?  What is the wise thing to do?  How can we continue the ministry that Jesus begun?  And so Jesus prayed.  And he prays for us.  He prays that we might come to understand our purpose as a Christian.  He prays that we might believe.  And he prays that the glory given to him might be now passed onto us.

This is where things getting a bit confusing.  Jesus spoke of glory.  Glory can be defined in ways that are very appealing.  The dictionary terms it as “splendid greatness.”  We like that.  We like thinking of glory in those terms.  Glory is praise and honor.  Glory is success and attention.  Glory is looking good in front of others.  Glory is winning.

We’ve all know those who enjoy seeking glory, whose purpose seems to be in standing out from the crowd, in making themselves better than everyone else.  Comedian Brian Regan talks of the “me monsters” who dominate conversations with talk that points only to themselves and their special nature.  Regan says these are the people who interrupt your story of having two wisdom teeth pulled by telling you that they have had four wisdom teeth pulled, all impacted.  He finished his routine by saying that the only people who can really talk about themselves with being “me monsters” are the twelve men who actually walked on the moon.  Now they have something to talk about!

But this isn’t the kind of glory that Jesus was describing.  Jesus wasn’t talking about the ticker-tape parades, the medal ceremonies, the newspaper headlines, and the election victories.  He wasn’t emphasizing the power or accomplishment or rightness.  He wasn’t even point out that he could turn water into wine, calm a storm at sea, restore sight to the blind, or raise people from the dead.  Now those things were really something but they weren’t examples of glory.  He was pointing to something less obvious, something he would experience:  sacrifice, the cross, obedience to God’s intention, and the true glory of God.  And he said that his followers would find the same kind of glory when they followed his path in service to others.

Jesus spoke of glory as the way in which we are united to him and with one another.  Glory is grounded in what God has in mind for us and our acceptance of that purpose.  Glory is found in our letting go of ourselves, of losing our need to be right and first, of losing our worries and our agendas and letting God move within our plans, letting God inhabit our thoughts and actions, and letting God shine through our words and deeds.

I recall reading an article in Sports Illustrated about a former successful baseball player.  He was asked about the moment when he realized that he was actually in the major leagues.  He talked about walking out of the clubhouse, putting on the uniform, running onto the field in front of thousands of fans, seeing his picture on the scoreboards and hearing his name announced through the stadium speakers.  But yet he said that wasn’t yet the moment.  His realization that he had reached the place of his dreams came during his first at bat.  Growing up he had dreamed of the moment, standing at the plate, perhaps hitting the first pitch thrown to him over the fence for a home run and then rounding the bases to the triumphant cheers, reaching home plate where he would receive the accolades of his teammates.  However when he first stepped to the plate, he looked down at his third base coach.  And he received the bunt sign.  He had to sacrifice.  He had to intentionally make an out to move his teammates along the basepaths.  That is how he knew he was in the major leagues- a place where his success would be measured not by his statistics but by his team’s success.

Biblical scholar William Barclay defines Jesus’ glory in this way.  It is suffering in love for the sake of others.  It is obeying God, out of the love of God.  It is in acting so people can see God when they see you.  It is in speaking so people can hear God when they hear you.  Jesus believed that his glory came when he manifested God in all things.  Jesus believed our glory will come when we are one with him, offering to others with our lives, the glory of God.

The glory that God gave to Jesus and that Jesus promised the church is not in bright lights and media attention.  It is not be being great or in getting credit.  This glory comes when the reality of God become flesh, dwells here in the mess and mire of this world and our human situation.  God’s glory is the glory of serving not of being serve.  It is the glory of cross not of throne.  Debbie Blue, founding pastor of the House of Mercy Church in St. Paul, Minnesota writes, “Glory doesn’t shine.  It bleeds.”

Scott Hoezee relates a story by surgeon Richard Selzer.  One day Selzer operated on a young woman to remove a tumor from her cheek.  Following surgery, the woman’s mouth was left twisted in a “palsied, clownish” way.  A tiny twig of a nerve had been severed in the operation.  As her lay in her hospital bed with her husband in the room, she asked the surgeon, “Will my mouth always be like this?”  “Yes,” the doctor replied, “the nerve was cut.”  The woman nodded, fell silent, and look broken.  But her young husband smiled and said, “I like it.  It’s kind of cute.”  And at once Dr. Selzer saw glory in the husband.  He saw Jesus in the man’s gentleness and love, in his sympathy and brokenness.  And then he saw glory again when the kind husband bent over and kissed the mouth of his wife, carefully twisting his own lips to accommodate her lips, showing her that their kiss still worked and would always work.

Perhaps that is what Jesus was praying for us.  May we find glory in the reality of our everyday walks of faith.  We don’t have to wait for special seasons of blessing to see glory.  We don’t need angels’ wings or heaven to break open the skies.  We don’t need to be transported away from our everyday lives and routine.  Nor do we need to be lifted from our sorrows and our difficulties.  As followers of Jesus we testify to the glory of Christ that we have witnessed around us.  Sometimes it is in moment of rapture and transcendence but more likely it is in those simple times, in humble acts of kindness and in quiet words of gratitude and support.