Rev. Dr. Scott Herr


"The Strange Glory of Jesus"                                        Please Read:

A Sermon by the Rev. Dr. R. Scott Herr                       Psalm 51:1-12

The American Church in Paris – March 25, 2012                   John 12:20-33

          This past week has been painful for many people. The senseless murders of the teacher and three children at the Jewish School in the south of France on Monday has left us all quite stunned and shocked by random violence in the name of religion. There was the attack at the mosque last week in northern France. There was the bombing in Syria, and the murders of innocent Afghanis recently by a crazed American soldier. In the US there is an uproar over the unarmed teenager who was murdered in Florida very possibly simply because he was a different race than his attacker.

          Did you read the editorial by Greg Smith, former Goldman Sachs executive director and head of one of the firm’s equity derivative business? He laments the shift in corporate leadership from “doing the right thing” to ripping off the “muppets” [1] (the muppets being the clients of the company).

In various sectors of society we see moral deterioration and injustice. As Cornelius Plantinga put it, the shalom of God has been vandalized beyond all recognition. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be and we are experiencing various forms of social and political instability and disintegration. Did you see what was touted as the “Woodstock for Atheists: A moment for Nonbelievers”? Perhaps the largest gathering of atheists in history turned out yesterday on Washington’s National Mall for a “Reason Rally.” They gathered to celebrate not believing in God.

          Increasing numbers of people are disillusioned with faith. I suspect this is because they are tired of the massive hypocrisy of so many Christians, or the violence that we hear about in the name of religion.

Perhaps it seems strange then to talk about the glory of Jesus. But Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."   

There are over 25 Hebrew words for "glory" but the main word in the New Testament for "glory" is doxa.  C.S. Lewis in his fascinating sermon, “The Weight of Glory,”[2] talked about the two main meanings of the word as “fame” and “luminosity.” Most of the glory in Scripture refers to God’s fame and greatness above other gods, or God’s brilliant light revealed in all of God’s works and creation. But another meaning comes from the Hebrew word, Kavod, which means heavy, or something with substance. It comes from the word for a rock which jutted out from the cliff, something that was strong so you could hold on – that could take the full weight of your body…

          In today's Gospel lesson, I think Jesus talks about this weighty, heavy glory; a strange glory, to be sure...  Some Greeks came wanting to see Jesus just before the Passover festival. This is important for us to note: They were outsiders, not insider Jews. The were probably Hellenists, Greek-speaking Gentiles who were interested in the God of the Jews… They perhaps were friends of Philip, or had heard of Jesus’ many signs and wonders.  Who is this illustrious worker of miracles?  A fairly glorious person, no doubt... Jesus confirms,  "The hour has come for me to be glorified."  At last,  at long last,  the Son shall be glorified, thought his politically-minded disciples.  Enough of this Galilean flesh-and-blood, defer to the Romans thing!  At last Jesus shall throw off the cloak of his humanity and reveal his divine "glory."  At last is the hour for doxology,  for the weighty, the illustrious, the high and lifted-up God to reveal his power and might.

          Jesus' announcement could not have been more shocking:  "Unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and dies..." Jesus here speaks of divine glory as something small and common: a seed falling to earth, and dying. The glory of God here is not in his exaltation, but in his humiliation;  God's stooping down...

          The Greeks came saying, "Sir, we would see Jesus."  We want to see who is the glorious one come from a glorious God.  And they were shown one who spoke of his life as a grain of wheat,  dead in the earth; his glory as his death; on who,  when struck on the cheek,  would offer his other tear-stained cheek as well…

          Jesus here gives a new distinction between divine and worldly glory. Those weighted with this world's glory make the cover stories of news channels and blogs. They do the victory dance around the field after the goal.  They chant, "We're number one!"  They get the spoils of war, or a building or monument named after them. That's worldly glory, fame and luminosity… and you can tell a great deal about us and our cultures by watching whom we glorify (make famous/put the spotlight).

Jesus’ way is so different than what we think of as glory...  When we are so preoccupied with loving ourselves, Jesus talks about hating life ( about hating anything in this life that comes between us and God). When we want so desperately to find ourselves, Jesus talks about losing ourselves.  Indeed, Jesus challenges us to see a different kind of glory… and to take a different way to glory!

          We come in here and stand before a golden cross.  Jesus carried a wooden cross.  We put on glittering jewels.  He put on a crown of thorns.  We work, and study, and strive so that we might be weighty enough so as never to bow to anyone.  He bowed down with basin and towel.  We want to hail him on Palm Sunday as King.  But by Good Friday,  we nail him to a cross as a despised criminal.

          Jesus, you see, redefines God's glory and our own. His glory is in his going down, in his self-emptying, in his becoming small.  His glory is not in giving the punishment of his justice, but in him taking the punishment for our injustice.  Not transcendence or even immanence, but condescendence.  He became as a grain of wheat cast to the earth, buried under sod,  suffered, died.  His glory,  his exaltation,  was when he finally got his opportunity to be "high and lifted up,” when he looked down from the cross.

          This is hard for us to hear. In fact, that’s very likely what was going on with the first hearers of Jesus’ revelation about his true glory. Some heard God’s voice confirming how Jesus was glorifying God’s name, but many just heard thunder. What Jesus was saying was unintelligible for them! …As eager as we are to get on with resurrection “glory,”  there is no getting there without facing crucifixion "glory."  And that, my friends, is hard… You know most of the time we think about sin and brokenness in the world as something “out there…” But the Psalmist admits openly, “I’m the problem: “I was born guilty, a sinner…” I love the prayer that we sing, “Have mercy on me, O God!” Take these crushed bones and let them rejoice again, restore to me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me

          This strange glory of Jesus is an issue of faith. We are called to live by faith and believe in the promise that what Christ accomplished on the cross is not only central but completely sufficient for our salvation.

This is the heart of the gospel for us: Christ draws us and all people to himself, through what he has accomplished for us on the cross, not so that we might be brought low, but so that we might be lifted up with him to new life... Restore to me the JOY of your salvation! Paradoxically, we are called to pick up our own cross, to let go of our lives, so that our joy may be complete with the new life Christ offers us.

It was the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter who suggested that the real work of our lives as Christians is to learn to delight in the crucified-risen Lord.  This requires letting go of our idols, those lesser gods whom we serve like the idols of money, sex and power… I was reminded by the Rabbi recently that the golden calf to which the Hebrews bowed in the wilderness while Moses was up on the mountain with God was probably a golden calf from all the jewelry melted down, but a better translation of the actual Hebrew name is the “Masked Calf!” The significance is obvious: Our idols disguise themselves. They don’t show us their true life-taking selves, until it’s too late!

In a world where the shrill posturing and politicking of presidential candidates makes it seem like real glory is all about materialism and might, we in the church preach Christ crucified, not so that we will mourn and wallow in death and guilt, but so that we will be liberated from our own shallow glory, and be open to the deeper glory of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  That means that the glory of God, in the end, is all about self-giving love. About giving of ourselves to love our neighbors and love our enemies…

And that’s the most stunning aspect of the good news for our broken and suffering world. God has not caused our suffering nor is God indifferent to our suffering. God has entered into our suffering… and calls us to do the same. When people ask where is God in the midst of suffering, the real question is “Where are the Christians?”[3] Have we picked up our cross?

C.S. Lewis, says the most amazing thing about why we are to love those around us: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. …Our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses…for in him [or her…] Christ  the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

Isn’t that amazing? The glory of God revealed in Jesus giving himself for us on the cross is a glory that we also can reveal as we love our neighbors, as we love the unlovable, as we give of ourselves to serve the poor and the forgotten ones of this world, as we not only receive forgiveness and are restored to the joy of salvation, but as we offer forgiveness to others and share in God’s work of restoring them to the full dignity and worth they have in God’s eyes…

          This is the strange glory of God: Jesus, God on the cross…lifted up high for you and for me, lifted up for the world. This is the glorious truth into which he calls us to believe and live.  Jesus draws us to himself, and calls us to follow, even in the midst of great suffering… so that we might receive and share the glory of his love for all the world.

          In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

[1] Greg Smith, "Why I Am Quitting Goldman Sachs" (International Herald Tribune, Views: Thursday, March 15, 2012), 8.

[2] C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941, and by the S.P.C.K, 1942.

[3] George Hobson said something along these lines in the "ACP Today" radio interview of March 5, 2012.