Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Wyoming, MI

 

Sermon: Glorified Through Love

the Rev. Mike Wernick

Year C

Acts 11:1-18

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

May the words of my mouth O God…  speak your truth…

In today’s Gospel…  Jesus is on a cusp…  he’s just been betrayed into the hands of the authorities…  but he’s also just been glorified…  his glorification is the divine expression of how love saves human life…  and it tells us that God is a verb…  a sacrificial flow of life and love…  which comes to us in each moment…  but also in our most vulnerable experience…  our deaths…  and Jesus knows how hard it’s going to be for the disciples…  he calls them little children…  he knows how dependent children are on their parents…  and how dependent we are on God…  and he knows how abandoned they’re going to feel when he’s gone…  but he also knows that children can’t be with their parents all the time…  and part of his glorification is found in the supreme sacrifice he makes for those he loves…  a sacrifice not like the world makes…  but the self-emptying sacrifice that God makes…

 

So he instructs the disciples…  and us…  to love one another…  now we may think this is something new…  but Leviticus 19:18 says:  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people…  but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…  and all three synoptic Gospels affirm the two Great Commandments…  to love God with all your heart…  soul…  and mind…  and love your neighbor as yourself…  and we can almost hear Jesus saying…  for pity’s sake…  just love one another…

 

But when he said this… who did he mean…  was Jesus crucified only for his own people…   or for the neighbor and the stranger too…  did Jesus mean that the earliest Jewish Christians ought to love only each other…  and forget about everyone else…  did he mean for us to love only those who belong to our religion…  our denomination…  our congregation…  and not visitors or guests…  at least not until they “join up”…  or do we follow the example of the Good Samaritan and care for the other regardless of who they are…

And where the writer of this Gospel…  really outdid himself…  was the insight in 1John 4:19-20…  We love… because he first loved us…  but those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters…  are liars…  for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen…  cannot love God whom they have not seen… 

 

And some of us have heard the story about the child who came into their parents bedroom during a thunderstorm… dependent on their protection…  only to be told to go back to bed…  that God would protect them…  but they would not be comforted… and said…  But I need God with skin on

 

People already had this idea that God loved them…  and some of this love was expressed through the Law and the Prophets…  through the Exodus…  through the Temple…  but you know…  it could still be difficult to get your head around it… to feel this transcendent love…  but then God came as Jesus with skin on…  and Jesus made it clear…  if you have seen me…  you have seen the Father

 

And this change from no skin to incarnate Word…  made God’s love through Jesus more tangible…  created a significant psychological and theological shift described by James Mackey…  who wrote…  We think that we ought to feel…  and perceive…  all life…  all existence…  as grace…  and based on this [thought alone…  that we ought to be able to be gracious to others…  but for most people…  we must first feel the grace of some human presence…  must feel loved…  forgiven…  accepted…  and served…   and then we can begin to feel life and existence as grace…  and then be inspired to be gracious to others

 

And as Thomas Troeger of Yale Divinity School wrote…  the disciples struggled with Jesus’ radically transformed understanding of Glory…  the church at this point in history was still a relatively peripheral movement amid the global economic and military might of the Roman empire…  for John’s community…  the signs of Caesar’s worldly glory abound…  his head is on coins they exchange…  his standards are carried by occupying troops…  his governors and proconsuls live in splendor…  how can the church…  living in such an environment…  and feeling the pressure of its material and cultural forces…  begin to understand why Jesus would say at the moment of his betrayal to suffering and death…  Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him…   

 

It is because the Glory that Jesus achieves…  is found at the opposite end of the spectrum from which the world operates…  the end of the spectrum at which Jesus operates is filled with self-sacrifice over self-protection…  forgiveness over accusation…  unity over division…  humility over self-promotion…  being last instead of first…  being who we are instead of who we think we must be…

 

In the movie…  A Beautiful Mind… we learn about John Nash…  a math genius who’s able to solve problems that have baffled the greatest minds…  and about how…  in spite of a life-long struggle…  he won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to geometry…  the study of partial differential equations…  and game theory…  you see…  Nash had schizophrenia…  and all too often…  he saw people standing nearby…  and heard them speaking to him…  for many years he believed they were real…  and he struggled as he eventually came to understand that they were not…  and he learned to ignore them…

 

We have the same kind of difficulty ignoring the world’s definition of glory…  we see it right next to us…  hear it speaking to us…  sometimes making demands of us…  and we give in sometimes…  we even talk back to this false glory…  engage it in conversation…  mistake what it says as being valid… may even make decisions based on what it says…  and by doing so…  we fall short of fulfilling the baptismal vows we made to strive for justice and peace for all people…  and to respect the dignity of every human being…  it’s almost like falling prey to the Stockholm Syndrome… we’ve become the world’s hostages… and we express empathy with the world’s idea of glory…  we may even defend it…  but the glory of this one commandment to love one another…  doesn’t just fulfill the Law and the Prophets…  it becomes God’s Law written on our hearts…

 

Like the disciples…  who didn’t quite know what to make of Jesus’ death… and whose plans were shattered because they expected to enjoy the world’s glory…  we too face an uncertain future…  attendance is down…  and cultural and political divisiveness are at an all-time high…  and some of us are still working through the trauma of the pandemic…  but we remember that Jesus loves us…  and simultaneously lays his life down for us… and we continue to be born into a new paradigm…  as 2Corinthians 5:17 says…  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new…  a new creation…  in which we’re less and less of the world…  and more and more just in it…  and that we can be reconciled with each other by being vulnerable…  and by dying to the guile of our false selves…

And while we have received the sacrament of Christ’s presence…  the forgiveness of sins…  and all the other benefits of Christ’s passion…  Jesus continues to be present in scripture… in the bread and the wine…  and in community…  so we can love one another… by giving up the glory of the world…  by leaning away from the voices of unreal people…  and false prophets speaking to us on TV…  and talk radio…  and on highway billboards…  and by leaning towards the guidance of the Holy Spirit…  who speaks to us in sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26)…  and who…  though ephemeral…  really is beside us…  and who like a prompter just off-stage…  helps us remember our lost lines…  and helps us see less in a mirror dimly…  so that we can see each other more fully as the Children of Light that we are…  and then our actions can’t help but reflect God’s will for all of us…  Holy God…  make it so…