The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s102g12    Fifth Sunday in Lent  25/3/2012

‘I will glorify it again’   John 12.28

This is John’s version of the Transfiguration on the mountain, otherwise missing from his account of Jesus’ life.   It is strange that John wouldn’t include what the others do, as he was one of the trio who were with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and who heard the voice of God there.

For John, God speaks when others come to Jesus, whereas for Matthew, Mark and Luke, it might seem it happens when the select group is alone.   So the context is important.

God, most reliably, comes to us when we are in communion with others.   The spiritual experiences we have when we are alone may be profound, but if they mark us off as especially privileged then they are not of God.   And if this is true on the personal level, it is also true on the corporate level.   So the church which sees itself as apart from the society in which she is set is not in communion with God, no matter how faithfully they read their bibles, celebrate the sacraments, and / or pray without ceasing using the name of Jesus.

Right throughout the history of the ancient people of God, God is hidden.   No one could look on the face of God and live.   Those who wanted to know the name of God were turned down or given conundrums as answer.   In this sense the Jewish tradition of not using the name of God more accurately reflects this truth.   And the same is no less true for Christianity, for Jesus is ascended, the risen Jesus is always going before us to Galilee; the risen Jesus is never ‘ours’ and thereby not someone else’s.   And we need to admire rather than criticise Buddhists for whom ‘Gods are the conception of a particular time and culture, and may be used more or less wisely in the development of one’s spiritual practice.’

We cannot have a relationship with God without being in communion with others – and, as I say, this is both personal and corporate.   Indeed I would say that our communion with God comes as a result of our communion with others.

And I suspect that this accounts for some of the church’s frustration with society, for those who live in community know the blessings of community without necessarily acknowledging any God behind that community.

If we were simply to follow Matthew, Mark and Luke, we might be tempted to conclude that God speaks when the faithful few are gathered – yet it is clear that on the high mountain, Peter got the wrong idea.   He wanted to stay in the holy huddle on the mountain rather than return to the world.   For John, God speaks in the midst of the crowd, in all its diversity.   Indeed we get the impression that the crowds were so numerous that the message of these Greeks had to be relayed through the disciples.   So for John, communion with diversity is vital to hear God speak.   We don’t hear God speak in a mono-culture, no matter how fervent.  

And this incarnation and diversity is God’s glory.   God will be glorified, not by the loudness of our praise using the name of Jesus, but by the quiet yet profound inclusive diversity of our fellowship.   God will be glorified when our faith is not ill-disguised sacred selfishness, but where we do unto others – particularly when those others are not our physical or spiritual children.   God will indeed be glorified by others when we, as the church, cease to be evil.

If the purpose of his death was ‘to draw all people to’ himself – the ‘ruler of this world’ is that which seeks to keep others away from God.   Again, secular authorities are generally agnostic about peoples’ religious and spiritual practices unless they result in civil disobedience or disturbance.   The ‘ruler of this world’ who would seek to keep others from God is thoroughly devout and orthodox and insists on others being the same.   Just as the devil was well able to quote scripture to Jesus, so ‘the ruler of this world’ uses religion for their self advancement rather than for the benefit of others and for humanity in general.   As I say this is merely dissembled selfishness and arrogance justified on scriptural or theological grounds.   And if one acts for the benefit of others and for humanity in general, most likely one will side with those authorities in their desire for civic duty and peace.   Of course, where minorities are marginalised, there may be a call for action, but experience tells us that historically it is the church which is the chief offender of marginalisation, alienation and discrimination.   As the Rev’d Canon Jeffrey John said recently to Ruth Gledhill in ‘The Times’: the ‘Church is the last bastion of prejudice’.

And if our justification by faith means that we justify our dissembled selfishness and arrogance, is it not still selfishness, and if so, can it be of ‘god’ by whatever name we call him or her?   Will God be glorified among anyone else if our witness is seen to be dissembled selfishness and arrogance?   Indeed the real question is: Is this actually faith?   It seems more like license to do anything to anyone else.

A while ago I heard an evangelical preacher quote the text: ‘For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires’.  (2 Timothy 4.3)   He was railing against other Christians who do not follow his version of the gospel.   He had no perception that this betrayed his own scriptural and theological selfishness.   Will God be glorified by people other than 'christians' of his particular flavour, when they see through this?

We are justified by faith only when we operate for the benefit of others who are not our physical and spiritual children, and when we operate for the benefit of society as a whole.   Even if we break scripture or tradition in so helping others, our faith, that this is what God would actually want and prefer, justifies our actions.   As Jesus says: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  (Matt 9.13, quoting Hosea 6.6)   God and Jesus have no use for our mercy, God and Jesus want us to be merciful towards others, especially those who are not our physical or spiritual children, for then God will be glorified for the right reasons by more and more people.   In fact, God is less interested in being praised as God is interested in us being merciful to those who aren't our physical or spiritual children, for this might possibly lead to the world being a more humane place.

For if the Cross of Jesus teaches us anything it is surely that God doesn't act out of thinly disguised spiritual selfishness and arrogance.

God will glorify the name of God again and again as others continue to see that all are accepted without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation and that it is only this sort of God that is worth worship and glory, worth our love and devotion.

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