Friday, 26 April 2013

The Glory of God

Peter Lockhart Easter 5

“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.”

These words of Jesus to the disciples are among the best known from all of the scriptures. Even many outside the church know that Jesus calls people to love one another.

Ironically, even sadly, despite how well these words are known, and how easily we might think we understand them, when we consider our own lives and the history of the church and the world around us we know that we fail miserably.

Loving those closest to us can be difficult – parents, husbands, wives, children, close friends – all of these relationships can cause us heartache and confront us with the difficulty we have in our capacity to love. This is before we even begin to think about loving other people in the church, and beyond, even our enemies!

Yesterday was ANZAC day. It is a day we commemorate those who have fought and died in wars, those who have lost loved ones and those who still serve. The need for ANZAC Day is an indictment on humanity in respect to the call to love one another.

Jesus love for his disciples was profound and challenging and we who follow Jesus as his disciples know this so well.

To understand the difficulty of love I want to explore a different but not unrelated theme from our 4 readings this morning – the theme of glory. It is theme which is quite pronounced in the gospel reading but rather than begin with Jesus being glorified I want to begin with the Psalm; then move to Peter’s address in Jerusalem recorded in Acts; after which, I will comment about Jesus glory; and, finally, we will hear about the promised future.

Turning then to Psalm 148 I want to begin with making a brief comment about the meaning of the word glory in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament we are taught that God in Godself could not be seen – to look upon the face of God would be death to mortal humans. Yet God’s presence could be apprehended, his radiance known, and this was God’s glory, radiating from God’s own being.

To glorify God, to praise God was to reflect that glory back and this is what we hear that the very creation is doing in Psalm 148:
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
10Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

The relationship between God and what God has made in the creation is made manifest in the idea that creation itself sings out praising God. I would go as far as to say that not only is God’s glory being sung by the creation but that creation is reflecting that Glory and God’s presence to the world.

How many of you have found yourself staring into the starlight sky, or watching the roiling ocean, or wandering through the bushland or mountains and had a sense of God’s glory being reflected in what you are seeing and feeling.

Yet as the great reformation scholar John Calvin points out despite the fact that God’s glory is so manifest in the creation which surrounds us this knowledge flows away from us without it profiting us.

Yes we know God but then we fail to be transformed into loving God and God’s creation and people as we ought. For me the importance of Psalm 148 in reminding us of the goodness of the creation is so poignant in our modern era where we have so deeply exploited the world that the scars it now bears threaten our very life and security through the processes leading to pollution and climate change and desalination and deforestation and the destruction of the oceans and the list goes on.

How have we humans sought to mute the praise of the creation found in Psalm 148? Yet God still loves us and all that God has made.

This brings me to the second reading from the book of Acts where Peter is before the Jewish Christian in Jerusalem. He is being criticised for visiting gentile Christians.

In response Peter relays a vision which he has had in which God affirms the breaking down of barriers between Jew and gentile and challenges Peter to understand that God’s mercy and grace are available to all peoples who live on the earth.

It is only after hearing this challenge that we see that Jewish Christians are silenced from there divisive ways and praise God. God’s glory and God’s love are not restricted to those whom we may think belong. Or to look at it from the other angle God’s glory and love is not held back from those whom we may think are outsiders.

As human beings we have a tendency to exclude others.  This is challenged by God and this breaking down of barriers should not be a cause of fear or consternation but an invitation to glorify the God who shares his glory with all peoples.

So God’s glory is reflected in the creation and in all peoples but the reality is that we find these messages of good news hard to accept and understand fully. Perhaps this is because it is easier to feel as if we are somehow more special or different from others, which brings me to make a comment on the nature of God’s glory found in John’s gospel.

The passage from which we read is a part of the story of the last supper. The segment we read begins with the words, ‘When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”’

This passage takes us back to that pre-Easter setting and it is important to reminded of who it is that had just gone out – Judas. It is after Judas leaves to betray Jesus; after Jesus has washed their feet; and after Peter had contradicted Jesus that Jesus says ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified!’

Jesus glory is revealed in the moments of betrayal that lead to the cross. God’s presence is seen here, glimpsed, in a way which simply does not fit with the way we think as human beings.

Instead of retaliation for the betrayal, for the doubt and even for the violence to be committed against Jesus, and so also God Jesus accepts with humility this rejection. In these moments Jesus shows that God’s love does not respond to such ignominious acts with anything but grace and mercy.

This is what God’s love is like, this is the love that Jesus invites his disciples to share in and this is God’s glory. As Christians who experience this amazing grace, this love divine, we who become Jesus disciples are taught that tolerance is not enough, that retribution has no place, and that loving one another sometimes involves sacrifice beyond our abilities.

It is through Jesus glorification that you and I are drawn into God’s glory as he carries all humanity into the space of the cross and resurrection and so reveals the promise of a new future.

This brings me to make a brief comment on the vision of Revelation 21. The overarching theme of the vision is a world at peace with God and each other living in the glorious presence of God – responding to that glory appropriately and celebrating it.

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Despite our constant incomprehension and incompetence in responding to God’s glory revealed and sung by the creation, God’s promise is or a future when will live with one another in that glory. This is God’s love revealed in Jesus, the love which we have been given to share in as good news. Possibly this is the most difficult thing to do – to love as Jesus loved.

But the glory of God draws us in and homewards to participate in God’s glory and God’s life alongside the whole creation. So let us be silent and glorify the one who shares his glory with us and let us carry the good news of grace as the heart stone of our lives: God is love. Amen.

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