A Generous Glory
A Sermon for Covenant
“A Generous Glory”
John 17:1-6; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
June 1, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Glorify—it’s a word I trip over. We hear it said, “Glorify God,” but, first of all, it doesn’t seem to me God really needs help in the glory department. The Bible says if we are silent, even the rocks will cry out and that’s not to mention the boom of the sunrise, the song of mountain peaks, or the chorus of whales on ocean waves. Seems to me like there is little we can add to the majesty—with or without us, the choir sings on.
Second, it also seems to me God is quite generous with the glory. After all, God could have made a drab, dark world such that God’s light would be the only beautiful thing we saw. Instead God made bumblebees, acorns that become oaks, sand dunes, sunflowers, and galaxies. God is generous with the glory, leaving most of his art laying about without a signature, letting wildflowers grow in forgotten places where no eye may ever see, spinning planets in orbit that no one may ever visit.
In fact, you might go so far as to say God seems to give the glory away. Instead of coming as a king, God came as a baby. Instead of winning like a warrior, he died beside criminals. The way the book of Philippians describes this is that Christ, though he was God, he “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him.”
So when Jesus prays here in the Gospel of John that he be glorified and that the Father be glorified, I have to wonder what that really meant. Glorify—it’s a word I trip over, so I did what you do with confusing words and I looked it up in the dictionary.
One definition of glorify is “to make something seem much better or more important than it actually is.” This seems all wrong to me, but perhaps at its shabbiest and most dishonest, worship does just that—tries to make a spectacle of God—on Sunday we make enough noise so that is seems like God is more important to our actual lives than God really is on Tuesday or Thursday. This is not the kind of glorifying we hope to participate in. But, do not fear. Like most words, there is more than one definition. We don’t have to keep that one.
One definition of glory is “great beauty.” I like that. In Hebrew, the word for glory, kabod, means heaviness or weight and has to do with honor, which makes me think of purpose or meaning in a life. One way we could understand glorify is to make more beautiful, or to impart significance.
In the seventh Harry Potter novel, Bill Weasley marries Fleur, who is one-quarter veela. In case your knowledge of the wizarding world has gone a little rusty, a veela is a semi-magical, semi-human creature of extraordinary beauty who can make men do very silly things in her presence. Generally a veela makes other women seem dull and plain by comparison. But on her wedding day, Fleur has the opposite effect. Emitting a strong, silvery glow as she walks down the aisle, everyone around her grows more beautiful. The bridesmaids sparkle prettier than they’ve ever been, and you cannot even tell Bill’s face was ever attacked by a werewolf.
This, as best I can gather, is a picture of glorification. When Jesus prays to the Father about glorifying one another, he asks for it, he says, because he has been given authority to give eternal life. Jesus’ concern has to do with people, with people gaining life. God ever only seems interested in a glory that can be shared, in glory that imparts life.
I sometimes hear people talk about how glorious God is compared to us. In comparison to our sin, our limitations, our mortality, our weakness, God is very righteous, very big, very eternal, very strong. And I suppose this is true. But God doesn’t need the contrast in order to be those things. God is who God is regardless of who else is in the picture. If God needed our measly-ness to make himself look good, I suppose God could have made everyone into a dung beetle or an earthworm. (No offense to beetles and worms.) Instead, God took God’s beauty, flung it far and wide as if God weren’t the least bit threatened by sharing.
One fascinating choice is that God thought a human body a good enough thing to pay us a visit in, perhaps not so much to show us how bad we are by comparison, but how beautiful and loving we can be. When a human’s got God in them, this is what can happen, so the life of Jesus demonstrates. God in Jesus is Fleur on her wedding day—proximity makes the rest of us glow.
Glorification: not so much about shining a spotlight in one direction, but the idea that if one shines brighter, we all shine brighter. Sometimes people fret about whether or not they are glorifying God with their lives, but I am inclined to think you cannot diminish the glory of God anymore than you can diminish the sunlight. The real question is whether you’re out basking in the beams or whether you’ve hidden your life in a closet where the sunlight cannot reach you. Nothing we do adds to the glory or makes it bigger. We do little by way of upholding God’s glory; we simply enter the light and soak ‘til we glisten.
William Blake said it this way:
Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.
Maybe this is glory, that “we are put on earth a little space/that we may learn to bear the beams of love . . . For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear/the cloud will vanish and we shall hear his voice.”
What kind of glory are we talking about? The flashy, attention-seeking kind of beauty or something else entirely? When Jesus prays to the Father, he says, “the hour has come.” Which hour is it, but the hour of his death? Jesus is about to undergo the ultimate emptying and giving up of his power on the cross, and this is when he prays for glorification. Jesus is not begging the heavens for fame, popularity, and a fan club. Jesus is asking for a paradoxical miracle, in which the cruelest, ugliest moment of all might be transformed into a thing of beauty for all. He gives his glory clean away, trusting that in this generous, self-emptying act of sheer love, God’s glory will be revealed in a whole new way.
1 Peter echoes a similar idea about glory being linked to suffering, but the focus shifts to us: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you as you are sharing in Christ’s suffering, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” Throughout chapters four and five, the words suffering, glory, and glorify appear side-by-side, much like they appeared together on the cross, and this passage is hinting that what happens to Jesus can happen to us. The cruelest, ugliest moments in our lives can be transformed into things of beauty.
This does not mean God wants or needs us to suffer. Suffering is merely part of the human condition. “Your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering,” says the text, and this includes Jesus himself, who did not deem the suffering of humanity unworthy and unfit for divine habitation but chose to dwell in and among us, bringing forth the beauty of God and the beauty in us. To be alive is to suffer heartache; to be alive in Christ is to watch beauty come from ashes. In your suffering, your brokenness, your weakness, your folly, there you will meet the crucified God. In that unexpected place, you will know glory.
Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Vv. 22-23 from John 17: “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.”
May we be like wedding guests made radiant by the union we witness, the union to which we aspire, the union made possible by the love of Christ. Amen.