Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
June 2, 2019
”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.