Sunday, May 09, 2004

Sermon: Easter 5

9 May 2004 at Holy Trinity L.C., Columbia, SC (Vicarage)
Text: John 13:31-35 (RCL)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

In today’s very short Gospel text, Jesus speaks volumes. But he uses two words that are terribly misunderstood by the world, especially by our culture. Jesus speaks of “glory” and “love.”

By the world’s standards, “glory” is about winners and losers. “Glory” is scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, and is punctuated by a dance in the end zone in the faces of your defeated opponents. “Glory” is hearing Donald Trump say “you’re hired!” after hearing your foes condemned with “you’re fired!” week after week. “Glory” is winning the American Idol singing contest, while all of the other contestants have been sent packing by the wisecracking judge in the black t-shirt. “Glory” is winning a war and expressing the glory of victory by torturing and humiliating the captured enemy prisoners. “Glory” is about winning, and is also about lording over the loser.

But is this the kind of “glory” Jesus speaks of? Jesus speaks these words only moments after his last supper, moments after Judas has departed to betray him. The passion has just officially begun, and this is what Jesus means by “glory.” In a few days, Jesus will be arrested, made sport of, stripped, beaten, and executed to the jeers of the crowd. When Jesus speaks here of glory, he is not speaking of being worshiped by the magi, nor by having the voice of God sound forth at his baptism, nor of his transfiguration, nor even of his resurrection. Jesus is calling his passion, crucifixion, and death: “glorification.”

This is why St. Paul tells us the preaching of Christ crucified is “foolishness” to the rational and worldly Greeks. In the eyes of the world, this is insanity.

One of my classmates at the seminary, a Russian pastor, was a Christian during Soviet times. He had to carry around humiliating papers identifying him as mentally ill. He was sent to “treatment” and was discriminated against in housing and employment. Christianity was seen as foolishness since the glorious triumph of Marxism. Thankfully, the foolishness of the cross has triumphed over the “glory” of Communism in Russia.

But even here in America, the glorious land of capitalism and prosperity, Christianity is seen as foolishness. A psychiatrist named George Dvorsky is pushing the mental health profession to define “religious fundamentalism” as a “psychological disorder.” He defines “fundamentalism” as the kind of Christianity that believes in Creationism and confesses Scripture as truly the Word of God, that Jesus was actually and physically resurrected from the dead, and that there is truly an afterlife of heaven and hell. Such people are dangerous, the kind of people who fly planes into skyscrapers, and should be given treatment for their disorder for the good of society.

This illustrates the incompatibility of Christianity with our culture, the kingdom of heaven vs. the kingdom of the world. The great writer C.S. Lewis argued that Jesus is either “Lord, liar, or lunatic.” We Christians see him as Lord; the world sees him as a liar or lunatic. It makes no rational sense that a painful, humiliating death should be “glory.” When the secular world’s eyes gaze upon a crucifix, they see a “loser,” not “glory.”

But when Jesus speaks of “glory,” he speaks of his Father. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” God the Father is glorified by the obedience of the Son. The cross is glorious because, in spite of its appearance, it is a glorious victory. By death, death is defeated. By becoming sin for us, sin is defeated. By carrying out the cleansing will of the Father, the filthy work of the devil himself is overcome.

Thus the humiliated prisoner is glorified, and the gloating soldiers are defeated. The meek victim on the cross is glorified, and the mighty kings and governors are defeated. The Son of God is glorified as the father’s will is carried out, and the prince of this world is defeated, as his work has been swept away. Glory is not one man’s victory over another man, but rather God’s victory – which becomes a victory for all of us.

Jesus knows this coming glorification of himself will change the way he relates to his people in the world. “Little children, yet a little while I am with you… Where I am going you cannot come.” And yet, he still promises to be with his church until he comes again, as the creed confesses, “in glory.” When Jesus returns, his glory will by no means continue to be misunderstood by the world. Meanwhile, while we await his coming, Jesus remains with us in his seemingly inglorious Word and Sacraments. His glory is veiled from the world, but made manifest to those who confess him as Lord.

And the glory of Jesus is to be displayed to the world by his church. “People will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here is where Jesus reveals the true nature of glory: it is rooted in love. The world’s view of glory is self-centered. It is an exultation of oneself, usually accompanied by the degradation of others. One can’t be on a pedestal unless others are on a lower level. There can be no winners without losers. But Jesus points us to the glory of love, a glory that manifests itself not in winning, but in serving. As he told his disciples only moments before: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

And like the world’s notion of “glory,” the world’s understanding of “love” is also rooted in self-worship. This is especially apparent with the debates over marriage. It is no longer viewed by the world as an institution we have received from our ancestors and from God, rooted in nature, and focused on raising children, rather it is seen as a “lifestyle choice.” It is treated as our own personal property to be redefined as we wish. No longer is sexual love restricted to married men and women, it is now a form of casual recreation, not only extended to non-married men and women, but also to people of the same sex. The primary goal of marriage is no longer love, commitment, and procreation, but rather a selfish union of incomes and a mutual pursuit of personal fulfillment. It’s no wonder half of today’s marriages fail.

But Jesus speaks of a different kind of love here – not the kind of love between husband and wife, between friends, for country, or even for ideals of goodness and truth. Rather Jesus speaks of the kind of love he demonstrates in his glorification: a divine love that drives a man to lay down his life for his friends. It is the kind of love that impels a parent to enter a burning building to save a child. It is the kind of love that throws all caution to the wind, and doesn’t count the cost. It’s the kind of love that is not understood by a world wrapped up in itself, in its “right to choose,” in its “lifestyle choices,” in its winner-take-all mentality. In fact, such love as Christ preaches and lives out is seen as insane, as a mental disorder, as foolishness.

And yet, Jesus uses strong language – “a new commandment” – to describe the Christian approach to glory and love. We are to glory only in our Lord’s cross, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to follow in the steps of our savior, and yet we know that ultimately, where he goes “we cannot come.” We cannot love perfectly, nor can we cut ourselves off from the world’s sense of glory. And yet in spite of our shortcomings, we take up our crosses and we follow. We know that any love we display is actually not our own, but rather the love of God that dwells in us by virtue of our baptism. We know that any glory we display is only reflected light from the glorious face of our Lord.

So, dear Christian friends, let us live and die with Christ, and let us rise again with Christ. Let us glorify our crucified Lord, and let us allow his love to continue to do the Father’s will in re-creating a new heaven and a new earth – using us, his humble and inglorious creatures, to bring that truly glorious love, to a misunderstanding and broken world.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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