Sermon: Glory Days
Text: John 17:1-11
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 5-28-2017)
In two years, Cove will celebrate its 250th anniversary. No doubt, hours of preparation will go into honoring this momentous celebration as we look back over a long history of ministry and mission here. Just this past Tuesday, Jennell and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary. We enjoyed looking back over more than four decades of married life. There is something about anniversaries that invite us to look back, to remember important moments in days gone by and most of the time, to conjure up our “glory days.”
In the Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days” are seen in the rear view mirror. Springsteen sings:
I had a friend was a big baseball player back in high school He could throw that speedball by you Make you look like a fool boy Saw him the other night at this roadside bar I was walking in, he was walking out We went back inside sat down had a few drinks but all he kept talking about was
Glory days well they'll pass you by Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye Glory days, glory days
“Glory Days” for Springsteen are days gone by, days when we excelled in life, days when we were lifted up for everyone to notice and applaud.
Anniversaries rightly call us to look back, often on our “glory days.” In the case of a church anniversary, it calls us to look back on those who have gone before us, to give thanks for those who worked hard to assure the future, now, our present. On our 250th anniversary, we will surely look back in thanksgiving, much as we do on this Memorial Day weekend. We look back and give thanks for those who have served and sacrificed on our nation’s behalf.
Anniversaries that give glory to God, though, are ones that not only look back but propel us forward, casting our gaze into God’s future. For glory is the true nature of God and whenever you and I swim the currents of God’s eternal love, we are living in “glory days.” So, just how do you and I swim the current of God’s eternal love? Pause for a moment and listen to Jesus. Look at Jesus.
Jesus puts an altogether different spin on “Glory Days,” a spin that looks more to the future than the past. In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays, “O God, glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” It is hard to miss the irony here. “Jesus is about to be lifted up and put not on a pedestal but on a cross. He is soon to receive a most unglorified treatment, reserved only for criminals,” writes Buz Wilcoxon.
Jesus does not spend his last sermon looking in the rear view mirror, recounting his “Glory Days” of feeding five thousand hungry souls or healing Peter’s mother or exorcizing demons from a Gerasene madman. Jesus does not instruct his followers to obsess on the past, but to lean into the future that God is making possible. We give God glory not simply by cranking our necks backwards, but by trusting in God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. We give God glory by paying attention to the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, Jesus.
Living into God’s glory is not holding onto everything we have for dear life, but paying attention to the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, who says, “those who try to hold onto life will lose it” (author’s paraphrase), so Jesus invites us to let go of all in life that keeps us fixated on the past and fixed in the present, so that we might learn to live for others in the future God is creating.
The Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, also says, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He then goes on to explode any parochial idea of “friend.” His “friends” include Judas who will betray him for chump change and Peter who will deny him three times on the same night. His “friends” include those not welcome to step foot in any religious establishment, those who are forced into ghettoes because of their disease.
What if we were to follow the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, and welcome those who are cast aside in our society today? When is the last time that you heard a political leader of any party speak passionately about providing for those in the greatest need around us? What if you and I refused any longer to let the poor be blamed for their poverty, the infirm be punished for being sick, the unstable cast to the streets because mental health care costs society too much money?
Warning about the faux-glory of prosperity, Pope Francis writes: “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” What if you and I were to follow the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, into God’s future as relentless champions for the poor, the infirm, and the mentally unbalanced?
The Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, says: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” What if we were to excel in tending to those who are flat out weary? They are not hard to find. They are sitting in these very pews and they are living in the hollows and coves and cities nearby, and more often than not, they are us. What if we were to follow the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, the One who promises rest, into migrant camps and college campuses, into local prisons and into the homes who have given up on the church and mostly on God?
The Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, ends his sermon with this prayer: “O God,
as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” What if we were to give God the glory by getting out more and loving the world as Jesus taught us how to love? What if we were to live into the prayer of Teresa of Avila: “God of love, help us to remember that Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours. Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world. Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now. Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.”
This past week as a bomb exploded in the concert in Mancester, England, I relived many of the feelings of living in the D.C. area when the plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11/2001. I felt the fear again, not knowing when and where violence would strike next. I felt the rage again, wanting others to pay for all the suffering they had caused. I felt the grief again, my heart aching for families whose lives were forever changed in a horrible instant.
I preached the Sunday after 9/11 and the Sundays following, but, in all honesty, it took some time for my faith to re-ignite. I was too sad, too angry, too vengeful to give anyone glory. What if you and I were to reach out to those whom we fear the most? What if we were to trust in the promise of the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”? What if we were to do what the Rabbi Jack Moline did on 9/12/2001 and go to the Muslim bookstore in Alexandria where the glass had been shattered and curses shouted, go and stand in solidarity with those far different from us, and yet, who are also beloved children of God?
I look forward to celebrating our 250th Anniversary at Cove, but I am convinced that as we follow the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker, the “glory days” for Cove are before us. We will find them whenever we live out the answer to the Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of humanity?” “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.”
Follow the Glory-Giver, not Glory-Seeker. He is the best guide I know to the delightful land of “Glory days.”