SERMON Not All There is to the Glory of God

I did not preach this last weekend, but if I had, it would have gone something like this.

Transfiguration Sunday (Year C)

  • Exodus 34:29-35
  • Psalm 99
  • 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
  • Luke 9:28-43

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”— not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. (Luke 9:28-43 ESV)

And they kept silent and told no one in those days.

You’d think the disciples would have told the whole wide world who and what Jesus was, especially given that the entire light of heaven shined upon him, that God has — again — formally and very publicly adopted him. Proclaimed Jesus the Chosen One, the one at lease the disciples should listen to.

Here, after all, on this mountain, eight days after asking his followers who the crowds thought he was, who they thought he was, and then telling those same disciples about his coming fate — “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” — Jesus has again gone to pray alone. And again, he has been followed by his closest disciples.

But instead of Jesus telling them what is to come, God shows them. Instead of Jesus questioning his disciples, “who do you think I am?”, God shows them. In a brilliant, overwhelming flash of light. “This is my son, the one I have chosen, listen to him.” And where Moses and Elijah — the giver of the law of the prophet of Israel who showed all of us how to live faithfully in the face of our own faithlessness, who showed the enemies of God’s people “that there is a God in Israel” by healing them rather than striking them down — stood, there is just Jesus. Alone.

And they — the disciples — kept silent, and told no one in those days.

We remember the Jesus of the Great Commission in Matthew, who goes and tells his disciples to preach, and teach, and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We remember the Holy Spirit setting a crowd on fire, we remember public testimonies and mass baptisms and crowds following. None of this was accomplished by silence.

But Jesus, at times, commanded silence. When Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One of the God, Jesus sternly commands them to tell no one. Early in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals a leper, and commands him — tell no one. Go make the offering to the priest, he says, but tell no one.

It didn’t help. The fame of Jesus — as a healer, as someone who could command and cast out demons, and as a man who could a feast miraculously appear from a few loaves and fishes — spread far and wide. This was the kingdom, and this drew the crowds.

Even in his own day, no one kept silent about Jesus.

But Jesus is reminding his disciples, and reminding us, there is more to glory of God then a brilliant white light, than the power to cast out of demons and make the sick and the broken whole. I’m not denying this is the glory, the grace, and the love of God at work in the world. But it isn’t all there is.

There is suffering. There is weakness. There is helplessness. There is pain. There is despair, and loss, and loneliness, and isolation. There is fear. And there is death.

These things too are the glory of God. It’s hard for us to see God in suffering. It is hard for us to understand God in fear. And it is nearly impossible, I think, for us to really grasp the presence of God in death.

We want the 5,000 fed, and we want to see it and do it every day. We want the demons cast out into the swine heard, where they drown themselves. We want the power to make the world right. We want to get even, see our enemies underneath our feet, take some pleasure in their fear, in their suffering, in their defeat. We want the power and glory of God from on high to make us strong, mighty, rich, in charge. We want to be great, whether it is for the first ever or simply great again.

But that is not all there is to the glory of God.

Jesus told his disciples, tells us, that he will suffer many things, and that he will die. This is what it means for him to be Χριστος, Christ, the Anointed One of God. Today we may see glory, and tomorrow we may tell of it, but right now, we understand — sometimes silence is better. Because sometimes we don’t understand everything.

We haven’t seen all of God at work. We haven’t held God dying, ministered to a lonely and frightened God, or just been with and cared for a God who languishes unloved and unwanted in prison or on the streets or in a foster home without any real family. Because there too is the glory of God.

Because Jesus also tells Peter, as he commands silence, that the Son of Man will be raised on the third day. But to be raised from the dead, he must die first. We must kill him. And so there he is, the beloved Son, the Chosen One, lifted high upon a cross, a God who suffers torture and death to show us — to show the whole world — that death has no power and no hold over us, and is no real end.

Resurrected life, eternal life, out of death. The promise and the glory of God.

We do not keep silent about this, about an empty tomb, about the Beloved Son claimed and loved and given to the world. But too often we are silent about the suffering God — and the very human suffering he became a part of — because we see no glory and no power and no good end in any of it. And we want no part of it.

But the glory of God is right there. In front us us. To behold.

So, do not be silent. Do not be silent about the wondrous deeds of power, of healing, feeding, and casting out demons. Tell the world what you have seen. Remember, however, the cross, and the God who suffers with us. That too is a wondrous deed. And that too is the glory of God.

 

SERMON – Give Us the Glory

I didn’t preach today, but if I had, it might look something like this.

SERMON Lectionary 28 / 20th Sunday After Pentecost 2015 (Year B)

  • Isaiah 53:4–12
  • Psalm 91:9–16
  • Hebrews 5:1–10
  • Mark 10:35–45

The disciples of Jesus didn’t get it. They didn’t get Jesus. They didn’t really understand who he was or why he had come or what he had come for. I’m not sure, half the time, they were really listening.

And so, in a bit that should have been part of our reading today, left out of both last week’s and this week’s gospel passages, is Jesus, telling his disciples what they are actually going to Jerusalem for:

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:32–34 ESV)

Mark is the shortest of our gospels, but this little bit has some fascinating details. Jesus walked ahead of his disciples, they were amazed, and following Jesus, they were afraid. All this before Jesus describes the awful things that are about to happen to him — betrayal, arrest, condemnation, humiliation, death.

Yes, three days later, Jesus tells his amazed and frightened disciples he will rise again. Not dead. Very, very, not dead.

And how do James and John respond to this?

Give us a place of honor at your side, in your glory.

Glory. They want glory. Literally, here, they want the attention, the honor, they want the eyes of all the world upon them, thinking those eyes are on Jesus. They want to share in the light that shines upon Jesus, their teacher and friend. They want to be part of it.

Now, maybe they think this walk to Jerusalem is about a kingdom that will look and smell and taste and be like Rome. Power that can do what it wants, when it wants, where it wants, how it wants. Power that knows little restraint upon passion or desire or avarice. Perhaps they think this kingdom is like that, and whatever power is coming to Jesus, they want a share of that.

Well, who wouldn’t?

There’s nothing in the passage, though, that suggests they think that way. I like to think sometimes that the disciples were good, earnest revolutionaries on their way to Jerusalem to seize power, ends the Roman occupation, and create what they truly believed was the kingdom of God, but honestly, we don’t know what was in their minds. Perhaps all that is happening here is callow ignorance and boasting, like Peter, who will later swear that he will never leave Jesus when the Lord described how he will be abandoned by all who follow him. Maybe they are humoring the boss, or sucking up, or maybe they think that whatever is coming, they really, truly, honestly want part of it too.

But they don’t really understand Jesus. They have no idea what they are asking for. They will know, eventually, after Jesus is dead, and risen, and ascended. They will know. But not that day. Not on that road.

Can you drink the cup that I drink? Jesus asks.

A cup. Jesus will later gather with his disciples, in what must have struck them as a weird and terrifying meal, break bread with them, and pass it around. “This is my body,” he tells them. He then takes a cup, he gives thanks, and he passes it around. “This is my blood,” he says.

Later that evening, as Jesus struggles with what is about to happen, what he has time and again told his disciples will come to pass, he will pray in the garden of Gethsemane to the Father to “remove this cup from me.”

This cup. The cup that Jesus drinks. That he shares. The cup he asks — no, he pleads — with the father to take away.

[Pause]

Jeremiah speaks, in chapter 25, of something called “the cup of the wine of wrath.” God tells the prophet to give this cup to all of the nations I am sending you — beginning with the Kingdom of Judah — and make them drink of this cup. And when they drink, God tells Jeremiah, all of these nations shall “stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

The sword. War. War without mercy, without limit, without pity is coming, and it will begin with Jerusalem, which will become a desolation and wasteland. And then it will seep outward, to Egypt, to Moab, to Edom, to the Philistines, to the rest of Israel’s neighbors, and eventually, to the north and the south, far and near, and all of the kings of the earth shall drink of this cup, ending with the King of Babylon — the Rome of Jeremiah’s time.

Then Jeremiah writes:

“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” (Jeremiah 25:27 ESV)

The cup of the wrath of God, full to overflowing, filled with war and violence and fear and death. No one with any sense would take that cup and drink it. Not gladly. Not happily. Only in fear and trembling. And even then, not if you absolutely had to. I’d refuse it if I could.

And God knows this. Which is why he tells Jeremiah:

28 “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! 29 For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.” (Jeremiah 25:28–29 ESV)

What if this is the cup Jesus passes around the table, the cup Jesus begs the Father to take from him, so that he doesn’t have to drink it?

[Pause]

On that night when Jesus was betrayed, he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

All of them.

All of us.

When we gather at this table, when we celebrate this supper, when we eat bread and drink wine, we think of reconciliation and forgiveness, of belonging and unity, of the grace and mercy and God, a self-sacrificing gift of salvation made in fear and trembling. But what if this bread, and this cup, is also the wrath of God, poured out upon the world, swords loosed against all who dwell on earth, a judgement upon us, for our sin, our violence, our desire for wealth, and power, and glory?

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been comfortable with saying that Jesus somehow takes the wrath of God for me, so I don’t have to. That Jesus dies for me. I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it. My eyes tell me a different story, one of sin and suffering and death. Everywhere. So much. If Jesus is busy dying for us, taking wrath in our place, drinking a cup that we cannot drink because it is too much to bear, then honestly, I don’t know what to do. Because we all still suffer. We all die.

We all drink that cup. Without even thinking about it.

I think it’s better — and a great deal more correct — to say Jesus lives and suffers and dies with us, drinks this cup with us. Does it first. Is out in the lead, amazing and terrifying us at the same time. And then he rises, defeating sin and death and showing us that the wrath of God looks more like resurrection than it does a rain of fiery stones from heaven.

Or a Babylonian army besieging the city. Or Roman legions laying waste.

In taking the wrath with us, and then rising on the third day, Jesus shows us that the wrath of God is not something to fear. It will not make us fall so that we will rise no more. We are free to live without fear of that wrath. Because it cannot leave us dead and desolate.

Jesus tells John and James, “That cup that I drink you will drink and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” They will drink — oh, will they drink. They will preach and teach and heal and raise from the dead. And like Jesus, they will suffer. And they will die.

And like Jesus, they will rise.

We will rise.

So as we gather at this table, take this cup, each and every one of you, and drink. Drink of the wrath of God, poured out upon the world. Drink also of the mercy of God, the promise of God, poured out for many. Drink of the life of God, given, so that we may live.