May 18, 2015

The Glory We Make


Text: John 17:10: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”

This is the one Sunday in what is the shortest season of the whole church year, indeed not really a season but a kind of subseason—the ten days of Ascensiontide, the days between the feast of the Ascension last Thursday and the feast of Pentecost next Sunday. We’re at that moment of the calendar between Jesus leaving the scene and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. We are, in other words, at the point of the story in which we are left a little bit abandoned.

Sometimes it seems as though we live in a kind of long-term Ascensiontide. We live in a moment, a historical moment, after the events around Jesus, but before the end of the story, or at least before whatever comes next. To say it a little more sharply, we live in a historical moment after the high-water mark not just of the Christian story but of the idea of Christendom, of a world dominated in every significant way, culturally, politically, intellectually, by the ideas and institutions of the Christian faith.

We live well after a time that the stores closed on Sunday, games weren’t scheduled on Sunday, and alcohol wasn’t sold on Sunday. We live well after a time that you could wish someone “Merry Christmas” at the store without fear of giving offense, that the general cultural expectation was that most of your neighbors, and so of course you, too, had a church affiliation somewhere.

As though to emphasize all that, this week the news brought around the headline of the most recent survey of the Pew Research Center about religious affiliation in America. The story hasn’t changed, it has just continued; the number of people identifying themselves as Christian has dropped by about ten percent, from about eighty percent to about seventy percent of all Americans, while the number of those identifying themselves as unaffiliated or just plain uninterested rose to twenty-two percent.

We can’t help but think about this, or at least be affected by it, consciously or unconsciously. We are social creatures. It is deeply inscribed in us to want to be safe, and there is safety in numbers. If large numbers of people are tending on one direction, we will tend to want to go with them. If we are a part of something that others around us seem to be leaving behind, we will wonder about the depth of our own commitment.

Into our situation comes the proclamation of the collect of the day for today, this peculiar Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, this moment between the cloud on the mountaintop and the tongues of fire in the upper room: “O God the King of Glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven...”

They are words of victory, words of triumph. We say them, but we cannot quite grasp them. We are not so sure we feel triumphant, maybe. We are not sure what it means to believe in a God who is fashioned as the “King of Glory.”

All the things that we observe being glorified are the things of this world: celebrity, and power, and enormous wealth. We see people flocking to that sort of glory, glory in the terms of this world. A God who is glorious in heaven is interesting, but we’re not always sure exactly how relevant to our worries, our needs, our sense of value.

But there is more to God’s glory than the billowy clouds or the angelic praises of heaven. There is something to it that is as real, as concrete, as, well, us.

The little section of the Gospel of John we heard this morning is known as the “Farewell Discourse” in John’s gospel. It actually happens before the events of Easter and Good Friday, not after. But in a very real way, in the words of this moment Jesus is handing over the work of the church to his disciples—and to us.

And what he has to say about our work as disciples is pretty amazing. It is not that we are given some kind of glory because we are followers of Jesus. What he says is pretty much the other way around. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”

We sort of want to gain something by being part of any group. We want to gain reputation, or popularity, or skill, or something before we agree to join any group. But the church is not just any group, and the way it works isn’t like how any other group works.

We’re not here to do something because of what it will make other people think about us, whether it’s something good or something bad.

We’re here to worship God, follow the example of Jesus, and serve others. And Jesus says that what we do, when we do that, glorifies him—not the other way around. We’re not here for our own glory. We’re here because God in some way is glorified by us.

Now, it may be the case that God is not in great need of whatever glory we have to offer. But it does put a different light on things when we feel tired or enervated or disappointed.

When we show kindness to each other, God is glorified. When, because of the community of support and challenge we have found here, we manage to reach out in love and care to others well beyond these walls and this plot, God is glorified.

When we remember what we have learned here in ways that help us to overcome our own temptations to cynicism or despair, God is glorified.

And when we open our eyes to see evidence of God’s grace in the lives others, and to give thanks for it when we see it, God is glorified.

The masons that built the ancient cathedrals carved the most intricate designs in the stones that topped off the pinnacles of the cathedrals, knowing that they would ultimately be hundreds of feet beyond the sight of anyone who would ever see them again. But they did it anyway, not because they would be seen, but because doing it was an act of worship.

That is a little bit like our situation. We are called to worship God, not to be with the in crowd, not to be with any crowd, but because that is the purpose God planted in us at our baptism. We do it not to be seen by others, but to be heard by God.

We do it not just here for an hour on Sunday mornings, but by each choice, each act, each word, each thought, of each day. Each one of those things gives us an opportunity to be disciples. God can be glorified in them. That is our great purpose, and our great privilege. Amen.