Love in Glory, Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28th 2013
Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28th 2013
Acts 11:1-18 Psalm 148 Revelations 21:1-6 John 13: 31-35
Love in Glory
We prayed today that “without love our actions gain nothing.” And we continued, “Put into our hearts your excellent gift of love, that made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace through your Son.” Love and glory are the subjects of our lessons today. There are the glorious new heavens and earth of Revelations, the glory given to God in our Psalm, and the glory that brought the Gospel to us Gentiles, the goodness of God like a cup overflowing from up there in glory.
The first part of the John’s Gospel lesson is all about glory of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father and us in them through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus does not glorify himself. In the same way we cannot glorify ourselves by our own strength and effort. It is God; it is the Holy Spirit, who glorifies us, just like in justification. Jesus says, if I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me. (8:54)
Jesus is speaking of his being the Son of God before the creation of the world: “So now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had in your presence before the world existed.(17:5) The Holy Trinity existed, before this whole creation was a twinkle in God’s eye.
Notice that Judas just leaves to betray Jesus and he speaks of being immediately glorified. That’s because as soon as Judas leaves, Jesus knows that he has come to the point of no return and he says, “Now the Son of Man is glorified.” Meanwhile he will be betrayed, denied and crucified. It’s paradoxical, but the suffering we do for the Gospel is glory. That’s why we sing “In the cross of Christ I glory!” That’s glory for you and glory for me, the glory of the cross. In completing his mission here on earth, Jesus glorified the Father and God glorifies the Son of Man, us mortals, in Jesus.
When the disciples tell Jesus that certain Greeks wish to see him, Jesus again speaks about being glorified. (John 12:20-26) He is being lifted up over just being a king of the Jews, to being the Lord of all the nations and his glory increases by crossing that threshold. Similarly, Peter also sees that vision of all the unclean food that God orders him to eat. Like the missionaries used to sing, “What he feeds me I will swallow, what he feeds me I will swallow, swallow, swallow, everything!”
There used to be a time when foreign people represented a real threat of danger. In the Boston Marathon, it was not because the brothers were Chechen, but because somehow they had become radicalized with hatred for us. I want to get at something else, however. Now we understand microbes and dangerous bacteria, but in the old days people did not. For example, when the Europeans, who had many domestic animals came to the Americas, the Native Americans died in droves. They did not have immunity to the many diseases we caught from our chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and other domesticated animals. In the opposite way, when Europeans first went into Africa, nine out of ten used to die. They tried to stay on the islands off the western coast just to save their lives. Now that we know what causes diseases, we can be inoculated against those diseases and different people no longer represent a threat to each other.
Jesus is introduced to those first Greeks by Philip and Andrew (John 12:20-22). Then St. Peter is told that the Romans and Greeks are not unclean. Thus, ethnic cleansing is pretty much a sin aimed at the heart of Christianity and the racism of Whites in this country and the way we segregate ourselves from people of color undermines our Christian faith. We glorify God when we overcome our bigotry, prejudice, and racism. Racism is prejudice plus power, stacking our institutions up against people of color for their untold disadvantage.
Jesus says, “My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (15:8) and he continues, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” At the time, the Jews felt privileged, so Peter bore fruit among the Romans, baptizing the military centurion Cornelius with his whole household. Philip raced alongside the chariot of the Ethiopian Eunuch and set the Ethiopian rejoicing to hear the good news. Thomas went all the way to India and bore fruit for Christ there. We have to be careful because our White privilege can make us fruitless. The hard times we have come upon in this great recession and the way even our middle class is becoming impoverished, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It may make us have to turn to Christ and get out of superficial material values and into real genuine love for each other. Just thinking about those firefighters who sacrificed themselves for the city of West, Texas shows that it is already happening. But God wants us to bear fruit, so we have to go to the highways and byways, like in our communal meal to obey the Word of the Lord!
God’s raising Jesus from the dead brings Jesus back into the presence of God in the glory of heaven. (cf. John 17:5) And Jesus goes and prepares a place for us in God to dwell forever in the blessed glory of the love and communion of the most Holy Trinity.
We may follow Jesus, but he says that we cannot follow him where he is going. But Jesus comes to us in order to take us there. Jesus is the Son of God who came from his divine origins in the Blessed and Holy Trinity and it is back into the glory of the Trinity that he returns and into which he will one day bring us.
I have avoided 25 cent words, but you may just want to hear them. The triune God who existed before our creation is called the immanent Trinity and when dealing with our creation, redemption, and sanctification to bring us salvation, we speak of the economic Trinity. In the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Three Persons in one God, perfectly bear each another’s burdens, because the Son and the Holy Spirit also work with the Father in creation; the Father and Holy Spirit also work with the Son for our redemption, and the Father and Son help the Holy Spirit make us holy. The word for this perfect mutuality is perichoresis from the Greek or circuminsession from the Latin. I’ll give you a quiz after the sermon! In Greek “peri” means around and “choresis” comes from the Greek for dancing. So they even dance with joy to stand in for each other in creation, redemption, and sanctification! That is the glory of the most blessed Trinity.
From the loving communion of the Three Persons in the blessed Trinity, Jesus shows us the love that marks us as being Christians:
I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (13:34-35)
It is not because of the law that we love one another, but because of the love that Christ showed us. We love one another the way Christ loved us first. Here in our text is the only place where John says “little children” the way he does so often in his letters.
Our love is not experienced as sacrifice, but giving away our lives and living fully out of God’s grace, like the Blessed Persons of the Trinity, dancing to shoulder each other’s burdens in the joy of their complete unity.
In the online commentary, Brian Stoffregen mentions some congregations who fall pretty far short of the mark that should describe us Christians. He tells of congregations where the members won’t speak to each other, where members are in court suing each other; where they leave and attend other churches because something a pastor did. He mentioned one pastor who went into early retirement, at age 55, mind you, saying he no longer wanted to deal with those “clergy killers.” That’s what he called the members of his congregation! Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) said that sometimes “we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” (Thoughts on Various Subjects: from Miscellaneous 1711)
I have often been unemployed because of my going to graduate school, and I come back among the pastors in their Bible Study and I sometimes can’t believe how burnt out, cynical, and down-hearted they have become. Sometimes a very un-holy spirit comes over a congregation. We need to keep on praying for the Holy Spirit. A congregation needs to be mission-based and not pastor-based, as if everything depended upon him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and really present also for the pastor.
We need a vision of where this loving one another can bring us. Relationships can become more meaningful and deeper than even those we have in our families, which then can deepen as well. God in Christ through mission gives us an upbringing that begins where our upbringing left off, so that we mature into the children of God. The first Christians shared all their resources together so that no one would be in need. It did not work out very well, but we are still searching for a way to follow Jesus marked with the love he bade us have.
Let me end with an experience we had in Coney Island on the last day of our Vacation Church School Day Camp. We had two or three buses and after the children had been swimming in the pools of Jones Beach, we took them to some dunes where the teachers grilled sloppy Joes and refreshments for the children. When they had eaten, they went and played king of the hill on the sand dunes. Ordinarily, the bus drivers would say, “Round up the kids. Let’s go. We want to beat the traffic.” But suddenly they said nothing. We became transfixed. The whole scene with the children playing suddenly seemed to go into slow motion. Have you ever seen the picnic scene in the movie Bonnie and Clyde? It was like that: things going into slow motion. It was as if happiness transfigured the children and made us all bathe in a wondrous light that overcame our togetherness. Slowly it subsided and we pulled up the buses and we drove our precious cargo back home. We all saw how these rough inner-city kids were strangely changed there before our eyes! We have to know what joy lies before us in order to keep on keeping on so we get there. Amen.
 I thank Brian Stoffregen on CrossMarks, the online commentary, for listing all these glory-verses from the Gospel of John that made it possible for me to react to them in my own way.
 This should be sung to the tune, “Where He leads me I will follow.”
 Once a month Our Redeemer’s serves a wonderful dinner to fifty or so poorest of the poor. The members serve the guests who come and also clothes, tooth brushes, tooth paste, soap, shampoo, and many other items are donated to help fill their needs.
 This quotation also comes from Brian Stoffregen’s online commentary CrossMarks.