Sunday, April 24, 2016

Glorifying God

A Sermon preached on April 23rd, Easter V, at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
Acts 11: 1 – 18, Revelation 21: 1 – 6, John 13: 31 – 35
I am going to start with two hymns or songs this morning, and then we will see if you can guess what I want to talk about:
Father, we love You
We worship and adore you
Glorify your name in all the earth
Glorify your name
Glorify your name
Glorify your name in all the earth[1]

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom
That transfigures you and me
As he died to make men holy
Let us live to make men free
While God is marching on
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Our God is marching on[2]

Any guesses? It is glory and glorify. If Jesus uses a word five times in one sentence, it must be important. “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (John 13:31)
What does it mean to glorify someone or something? The modern secular definition of glorify has a rather negative connotation: “to describe or represent as admirable, especially unjustifiably, for example a football video glorifying violence." Clearly, that is not what Jesus is referring to. The concept of the glory of God – kebod in Hebrew or doxa in Greek, which is where the word doxology for a hymn of praise comes from – has deep Old Testament roots, in fact glory is one of the most common words in scripture. God’s glory is what we praise God for: God’s power, God’s splendor, God’s saving, guiding, loving presence, God’s mighty acts. So one religious definition of glorify is “to praise and worship God,” because that is what God deserves. God is worth praise: which is what worship, originally worthship means. 

We come together every Sunday to glorify God in our worship, in our prayers, and especially in our music. We praise God in the Gloria – there is that word again – in the Psalm, which ends with a doxology, in the accounts of God’s saving acts in scripture, in our statement of faith, in our prayers, in the Great Thanksgiving. Praising God is what the first song I sang is all about: “We worship and adore you. Glorify your name in all the earth.” Glorifying God is the main purpose of our coming together, not our fellowship at coffee hour, not our extended lovefest at the Peace. I am not going to abolish them, do not worry, I love them too. But they are secondary. 

Why then does Jesus say, “now the Son of Man has been glorified” right after Judas leaves the room? What has that go to do with God’s glory or glorifying God? Because Judas’ departure sets the chain of events in motion that will lead directly to Jesus's crucifixion and death on the cross. For the Evangelist John, Jesus’ crucifixion and death are the supreme moment of glorification, when Jesus is lifted up from the earth to draw all people to himself. (John12:32)  Another religious definition of glorify is to “reveal the glory of God by one's actions.” Jesus reveals the glory of God by his trust in God’s power and love, by his sacrifice on the cross. Paradoxically, God’s might and power and strength are most visible at what seems to be the moment of God's defeat. The cross is the place where the Glory of God shines forth. God’s glory is visible in all of Jesus’ words and deeds, but on the cross more than anywhere else Jesus reveals who God is, love. 

Although St. Paul focuses more on the resurrection as the moment of glory and glorification, he too sees God’s glory as something that is revealed in and through Jesus. “For it is the God … who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” he writes to the Corinthians. (2 Cor. 4:6) The transforming power of the cross – for John – and the risen Christ – for Paul – allows us to share in the glory that Jesus enjoys with the Father. The transforming power of Jesus’ sacrifice of love is what enables our transformation and our ability to share in his mission by revealing the glory of God in our actions. We find this second meaning of glory and glorify in the second song:  “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.” 

And so, after telling the disciples that he has been glorified, and God glorified in him, Jesus tells his disciples how they can glorify God – in the new commandment, to love one another just as he has loved them. Actually, this commandment to love one another is not entirely new. In the book of Leviticus (28:18) we find the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” What is new about the command in this form is that Jesus grounds it, not in Hebrew scripture, but in his behavior, in his example, in his self-offering. What is new about the command is also the depth and type of love Jesus is asking for. To love the other not just as yourself, but to love the other as Jesus did. This is the concrete action by which they and we can glorify God and show that they – and we – really do follow in his footsteps. 

I talked earlier about worship and about how we glorify God in our worship, in our prayers, and in our music. But our worship also includes that other meaning of glorify. At the end of the service, we are sent out either “in the name of Christ,” “to love and serve the Lord,” “into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit,” or simply to “bless the Lord.” We are sent out to glorify God in our lives as our response, the only possible response, to the revelation of God’s love that is Jesus. We glorify God and we show our allegiance to God’s Son, in whose face the glory of God shines, by obeying Jesus’ commandment: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) 

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

[1] Benny Hinn: “Glorify Thy Name”
[2] "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic"

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