May 12, 2013 - John 17.20-26

“The Glory of God”

John 17:20-26

May 12, 2013

 

20”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I 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.

24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

 

Just before he ended his earthly ministry, Jesus prayed to his Father. In praying Jesus said that, "The glory you have given me I have given them . . . " The them is his disciples. Now is the time when Jesus at last gives us the glory.

Glory was what we expected of him. And glory is what we got from him, but not the sort of glory we expected.

 

We humans in this world have our own definitions of glory.

There were only 25 seconds left to go in the football game.  The Seahawks actually did everything possible to keep the ball out of Matt Ryan’s hands, but the Falcons’ quarterback had all the time needed because he is the best clutch QB in the game.  Ryan drove his team 41 yards to get into Matt Bryant’s field goal range, and the kick was good.  The Seahawks were stunned.  Matt Ryan was in his glory.

She had labored in the back woods of Minnesota for 30 years, working her craft as a poet. Finally, 30 years into her labors, she began to get recognition. A book of her poems had become a bestseller in the poetry world. In June 2007 her college summoned her for an honorary degree. And this once quiet, unknown English major at the college, at last stood on the stage, receiving a standing ovation from the assemblage. She wept with tears of joy to finally have her work validated in this way. She was in glory.

In the Olympics, after the race has been run, there is that time when the three winners - gold, silver, and bronze - come to the stage, ascend the steps, the national anthems are played, and the medals are distributed. After all the work, and all their sweat and determination, all those long hours of practice on the track, this is their hour of glory.

There are other ways to experience glory.  But here in our scripture, Jesus is not talking about any of the kinds of glory that I mentioned.  Jesus is talking about God’s glory, given through Jesus, and then passed on to us.  Something is very different about the glory we celebrate in our world, and the glory of Jesus.

In our scripture, Jesus is praying.  Note the context in which Jesus prays this prayer. He is on his way to crucifixion and death. And on his way, he prays this prayer to God. And in praying this prayer he manifests his glory. But it is a cruciform of glory. Furthermore, when he says that his followers will participate in that glory, surely he means that we are to participate, at least to some degree, in the glory that is his cross.

The world looked at Jesus and expected a glorious Messiah. The world got a glorious Messiah in Jesus, but it was certainly not the kind of glory the world wanted or expected.

I imagine the disciples felt a quiver of excitement, a growing anticipation, when Jesus speaks of his glory. We have been with him on a long road, through all of the twists and turns of his earthly ministry. There has been rejection and threat. But at last, Jesus speaks of his coming glory. In today's Gospel, here deep in the Gospel of John as Jesus prays, we overhear Jesus talking to his heavenly Father about the glory that has been given to him. He is one with the Father, therefore, he shares in the Father's resplendent glory.

Furthermore, Jesus not only speaks of the Father having given him glory, but also of Jesus giving glory to his followers. For this rag-tag group of sometimes faithful, often faithless followers to be told that they are to share in his resplendence, this is, well glorious.

 

Jesus’ glory is made manifest is our Oneness – our unity in His Spirit. (v.22-23)  We cannot reflect God’s glory to the world if we are not One in Christ Jesus.  (Remember our text last week?  Gal. 3.28?)  Our unity is supposed to be a reflection of Jesus in our midst.  Unfortunately, we often fail at this.  In fact, we Baptists are famous for it.

There was famous Baptist guy who got marooned alone on a deserted island.  After a decade of living on the island he was finally rescued, and his rescuers were impressed by how well he had managed.  He had built three buildings on the island.  When asked about them, the man indicated that the biggest one was his house.  They marveled at his work ethic.  They asked about the second building, and he indicated that the building was where he went to “church.”  His rescuers marveled at his piety and dedication to God.  When they inquired about the last building, he simply replied, “Oh, that’s where I USED to go to church.”

 

Getting along with one another and being of one spirit is not only a reflection of God’s glory, it is a matter of life and death for a church.  We must understand that the reason God has gathered us together is greater than any personal differences.

One of the worst train disasters did not involve a collision or a derailment. In the Balvano train disaster of March 2/3, 1944, some 426 people illegally riding a steam-hauled freight train died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the train stalled on a steep gradient in the Armi tunnel.  The two locomotives in the tunnel were trying to in opposite directions.  Their lack of unity killed everyone in the tunnel.

 

Our unity and care for one another is supposed to be a hallmark of God’s glory in us.  There is an old preacher story about heaven and hell.  A man is visited in a dream by an angel.  He asks the angel to see both heaven and hell so he can know what waits in the afterlife.  He is whisked away to Hell.  There in Hell, there is a great banquet set before all the souls in hell.  All the richest foods any person could want are there and in abundance.

“What?” asks the man.  “I thought this was hell?”

“Just watch,” says the angel.  The man notices that all the people in Hell cannot bend their arms.  Try as they might, they cannot put any of the food in their mouths.  They exist there in torment, trying unsuccessfully to fill their empty bellies, and the food is right there in front of them.

“I have seen enough,” says the man.  The angel then whisks him away to Heaven.  He is stunned to see a very similar scene in heaven.  The most magnificent feast any person has ever seen is set before all the souls in heaven.  And like in hell, no one can bend their arms.  No one is able to feed themselves.  But all the souls are happy and it is a joyous scene as everyone eats their fill – because they are feeding each other.

 

At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus gathered with his disciples at a table for a meal in which Jesus was the host (Lk 22). There, while Jesus was serving them food, "A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest" (22:24), a supreme irony considering what Jesus was doing for them at that very moment. Jesus contrasted the leadership of the Gentiles who love to lord over people with that of his followers. "The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves . . . I am among you as one who serves" (22:26-27). Jesus thus pushed a peculiar definition of greatness.

 

We Christians believe that Jesus, as the embodiment of God's love, was never a more glorious and self-evident sign of God's resplendent love than when he was hoisted up on a cross. This was his hour of glory. And in today's lesson, Jesus promises us a share in some of that resplendence.

 

Jesus says that he is going to prepare a place for us, a place so that we shall go where he goes. Today he says that the glory of God is his glory as well and we shall be privileged to share in that glory. The question is this: Are you prepared to share in the glory of a crucified God?

 

In this scripture, Jesus is praying for us, for our future.  Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples. He is walking toward his death on the cross. And on his way he tells them, “I and the Father are one. The Father is in me, and I am in the Father, so intimate is our relationship to one another. 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 . . . I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:22-23, 26).   Jesus is praying for us, that we might be unified, together as one, which is a sign of his presence within us.  How will the world know Jesus if they cannot see him in us?

 

Fred Craddock tells a wonderful story about a guy building a church.

I was walking one afternoon, and I passed a corner where a man was doing something that fascinated me, and I stopped my walk and watched him. He had a pile of bricks, and the thing he was doing was measuring each brick – how long it was, how wide it was, how deep it was. He’d throw a bunch of good looking bricks out. He said, “I’ve got to get them all exactly the same.”

I said, “Why?”

He said, “I’m building a church, and I want it to stand.”

See, there are people who think that the way to really have a church is to get people from the same economic and social and educational background, then they’ll all be together.

Boy, he started stacking those bricks; they were all just alike. I went by the next afternoon, and they were all just piles of brick. Fell down.

I went on around the corner, and I saw a man with a pile of rocks. You’ve never seen such a mess in your life – no two of them alike, round ones, dark ones, small ones, big ones, and little ones.

I said, “What in the world are you doing?”

He said, “I’m building a church.”

I said, “You’re nuts! The guy down there had them all alike, and he couldn’t make it stand.”

He said, “This’ll stand.”

“It won’t either.”

“Yes it will.”

I said, “You can’t get it to stand. The fellow down there had them all…”

He said, “It’ll stand.”

And he went over to a wood tray, took something like a hoe, and began to stir something back and forth. It looked a lot like cement to me, but that’s not what he called it. He put healthy doses of that between the stones. I went back thirty-four years later, and it was still there. It was that stuff in between, looked a lot like cement. That’s not what he called it. You know what he called it.[1]

 

[1] Craddock, Fred; Craddock Stories, p. 148-149.

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