The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s102g06 Lent 5 2/4/2006
"I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." John 12.28
It is interesting that here in this most significant moment in the life and ministry of Jesus, a time when his message seems to have extended so far as to find an interested audience in the wider world -- personified in the Greeks who wish to see Jesus -- Jesus himself is led into a personal debate about how he was to accomplish his own ministry. He debated within himself -- should he pray to God: "Father save me from this hour". We have here in stark relief, the humanity of Jesus, the person who struggled with prayer and how he was to fulfill God's purpose. So if we too find our prayers contradictory and hesitant, we are in good company.
This particular passage in John is likened to Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain recorded by the other three evangelists but not by John. For me, it is a mixture of the transfiguration and the time in the wilderness, that other significant time in Jesus life, recorded by all the evangelists except John. The time in the wilderness was the time when Jesus struggled with how he was to fulfill God's purpose.
The question of how we bring about God's purpose can be debated while we are alone in the wilderness as well as when we are surrounded by people, "on a roll", as the old phrase goes.
I conclude that the experience of God is so often here, lurking all the time -- in our times of wilderness when we only seem to be beset by the devil, as well as in our everyday conversations, when it seems even God is speaking. However it happens -- our prayers are still rather contradictory and hesitant.
Jesus is visited by some foreigners and this prompts him to speak about his coming death. He says a simple prayer to God, and God answers. The prayer is significant, and so also is the answer.
The prayer Jesus chooses is: "Father, glorify thy name". Jesus asks that, however things turn out for him personally, that God is glorified. Jesus is surely not just being devout and self-depreciating. This thought leads me to ask just who is going to give God this glory? We might think that God might be content with the worship of Jesus and the angels and archangels. But God doesn't want worship to satisfy some deep need in the Godhead. God wants our worship, not even as a sort of distraction -- to give us something to do rather than hurt others. God wants our worship, because real worship stems from our perception of the love God has for us and for all.
God wants our worship only because that is the measure of how much we know of that love in our lives and how many know this. God doesn't benefit from having more and more worshippers, and nor does God berate him or herself if there are a few less Christians today. God is not the heavenly scrooge, endlessly counting and recounting his or her followers each day; getting angry if there are less and being placated if there are more.
God wants our worship because God wants us to know the extent of the divine love for all.
So the prayer that God's name is glorified actually means that through Jesus' death and resurrection, many, many people will come to realize the love of God for one and for all, and they will be moved to love others, an essential corollary, and all will come to worship the One.
It is important not to go too quickly from our appreciation of the love of God and our response back to God. If this is all, then few if anyone else will come to know of God's love for all. They might come to know that God loves us, but they will never appreciate that God loves them too.
The history of centuries is littered with examples of people and groups who think god loves them but others have to become like them before god can love thems others. And so it has become a competition of who is right, or more right. Whose offering to god is more acceptable and whose is less acceptable ..
God will not be glorified while this continues - no matter how beautiful our worship, how sincerely we praise the Lord, or how deep is the mystery of our experience of the divine.
To turn to the answer. The very voice of God tells us that the death and resurrection of Jesus is only another occasion when God has extended his love towards all of humanity. He has glorified it, means that it has happened before.
So the ministry of Jesus is only another example of God telling us how much we are loved. Now this means that God tells us that the ministry of Jesus is not unique, that it is in fact something that God has been doing, in many and various ways down through the centuries -- trying to show us and all people how much we are loved.
Now if this is true, and surely we cannot doubt the very voice of God recorded in the gospel, I would point out that the voice does not say: I have glorified it to the descendents of Jacob and will glorify it again. It is here implicit that God has made the divine love known to every people and race and nation. We are not told how God has done this -- but we stand on dangerous ground to suggest God is here lying!
Someone might protest that this flies in the face of the ancient promises to the patriarchs and negates the uniqueness of Christ. To this I would reply that I would not worship a God who allowed every other people and race and nation to be without the civilizing force of that commandment to love one's neighbour as oneself. If nothing else, this would make it a very dangerous place, especially for those who know God loves others!
And the voice of God goes further. God promises that this revealing of the love God has for all will continue to be shown to humanity. It hasn't stopped with Jesus' death and resurrection.
So when we look around us and see people living in a civilized way even if they don't worship at our church, or even worship at all, take time to thank God that somehow God has touched the life of those people and that they are trying to act peaceably in their lives. Just think of what life might be if God stopped doing this! If we think that the world's in a mess at the moment, it could be a damned sight worse! And the world will not become better if everyone comes to believe in my terms, even if that were in the least bit likely, which it certainly isn't. The world might just possibly become a better place to live in -- if we forget about the uniqueness of our faith and get on with appreciating how God has touched others as well. Appreciating it and saying so!
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