What Glory is this
The following sermon was preached by Changjwok Nyikako, M.Div. senior, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, April 3, 2006.
In the ancient world glory belonged to man declared gods. Today, glory symbolizes the highest achievement of a nation or a particular individual. Symbols of glory are the signs that represent it or remind us about it.
The Statue of Liberty, for instance, is a great example of a sign that symbolizes the great idea of freedom. "Centered in the Gospel and Open to the World" was a sign that met me when I first came to LSTC.
Sometimes signs disappear as they serve their purpose. Others live forever and gloriously become a legacy and a heritage that is handed down from generation to generation.
The Gospel message today brings us a sign that changed the world forever: a sign that is unique in content and purpose. It is not about a rising star, but about a dying God. The visit of the native Greeks mentioned in the text served as the sign that paved the way for a new life in Christ for all humankind.
"The Greeks are here!" This might have been the welcome of Philip and Andrew to those strangers.
The protocol here seems strange and out of place because it contradicts the local tradition and culture that cherishes hospitality, especially when the guests are strangers. Some commentaries indicate that the Greeks approached Philip and Andrew because their names were Greek. Others speculate about geographical connections, because Philip was from Bethsaida, which was located on the Eastern bank of the river Jordan.
What is most astonishing in the text is Jesus' response. He was pictured as ignoring those gentiles from a far. Instead of welcoming them, he began to lament about the coming of the hour.
The question that begs for answer here is, why Greeks are showing up now, three years after the start of Jesus' ministry? Did they not come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival? What is at stake here is not access to Jesus, but the message that he delivered when the Greeks were brought to him. Their appearance forged a new reality that needed to be addressed, which was the coming of the hour.
Jesus' discourse in verses 23-33 may give us the answer that the disciples and the Greeks needed to hear. A message of dedication, obedience, and service.
Whatever, human glory may be, it is self-satisfying, oriented to personal wealth and fame. Unlike human glory, Jesus' Glory seems strange if not awful by our human measures and perceptions. His Glory comes through death. His death is the economy of Salvation. The grain of wheat must die if there is to be a harvest. Unlike the synoptic gospels, the gospel of John has no account of the institution of the Eucharist and the account of agony. Before the moment of glorification, there was an hour of bold expression of fear of the unknown.
That was a time of struggle even for the Son of the Man. His lament and his cry for help receive an answer to his cry to God to glorify his name. A consoling voice sounds out from the heavens, saying "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." In this hour of distress, Jesus demonstrated obedience and kept his promise, by answering 'No' to surrender. While Jesus is the mighty Son of God, he comes, lowly and meek, to be crucified, that sin and death may be destroyed. In the Gospel of John, Jesus' Glorification takes place throughout his life. It shines in every sign he performs. It reaches its climax precisely in his death on the cross and resurrection.
Those who belong to Jesus must live a life worthy of his Glory –the gift of eternal life. In this connection, he teaches "He who loves his life must lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." The saying itself enunciates a truth which is difficult for the believer to accept. Here, Jesus seems to be changing the code of discipleship. He is no longer saying he who loves me take your cross and follow me but he who loves me is the one who will serve others in my name after I am no longer on this earth. His death is both the revelation and the proof of this love, and can therefore be spoken of as Jesus' glorification.
Followers of Christ hate the world and in their hatred of their life for the sake of others, the Father will honor them, and they shall be where the son is. The death of those who serve and follow the Lord is an ascent to the Father where the Son is. By their service, followers of Christ provide irrefutable proof of their possession of eternal life he brought them. To confess Jesus as the Son of Man involves the entire being and life of the believer. Those who follow the Son of Man must follow him both by their obedience to the will of the Father and their love of one another.
This moment of Christ's glorification carries the weight of the whole gospel message of the Word that became flesh and lives among us so that those who believe in him will have eternal life. But only the eyes of faith can say, we have believed in his Glory, the glory of Christ, as the only son of the father-- John1:14b. On the other hand, to refuse to see who he truly is and to shut our ears to what he says is to be judged already. The decision wholly is ours. To believe in him is to have eternal life. That is the gift. To refuse to believe is the judgment. "Satan" cannot be used as an excuse any more.
Living in today's world, those words of the Evangelist sound harsh if not impossible. Signs of our glorification of Christ are in living his humility and serving with dedication and total obedience. As Evangelicals we ought to live in accordance with our Evangelical identity. We need to prove who we claim to be--messengers of the Good News.
Each of us, present and future Christians, is that same grain of which Christ has spoken. The grain that, in order to multiply, first must die. It is not easy to be such a grain in a World where glory is measured by material wealth. However, the continuous decline and even death, of our churches today needs each of us to be a genuine planter of grains for Christ. We need to remember that Christians never retire; they are always on a mission in Christ and for Christ.
Today many challenges are tearing away the walls of our churches in different directions. Tragedies of child abuse and trafficking for demonic purposes are fields where a lot is to be done. Immigration issues are hotter than ever before because of the pending bill that criminalizes illegal immigration. Christians might differ in their ideologies, and biblical interpretations, but they ought to keep alert and focused on God's grace to all creation. Jesus promised to take all people to himself, and that includes you, the neighbor, and me.
Like the prophet Jeremiah, in self-examination, Christians must not depend on their knowledge and experience, but on God's steadfast love and abundant mercy. In times of despair, we ought to ask God to create in us a clean heart and to put his right spirit within us. We need to plead humbly for mercy in times of trouble. Only through suffering, was Christ glorified. Let every move of our ministry be a response to God's plan.
As Christians, we might have different schools of thought but at this time of our faith life, we are called to be servants of the most high. Our task is clear: to further the Good News in the world, to extend the invitation to all those who are still starving at the communion table, to wipe the tears and to eradicate the fears of the lonely and the oppressed. Our glory is not that of celebrities, princes and kings, but of humility and self-emptying. Through true love of God and the neighbor, we have access to the Father and live with Christ, for God's promises never fail. The cross is always a time and place of decision, where darkness and evil are unmasked and overcome, but also where faith and life are released.
As we walk together in this Lenten season, let's remember to forgive and serve the Lord with all our heart, mind and energy. We are in unity with Christ not by our "Nature" but by the "ministry."
Despite the disappearance of the old sign LSTC is more centered in the gospel and open to the world than ever before. This chapel alone is a true witness of dedication and faithfulness to God's Word.
Confession is another gate that leads to God's boundless love. Let us ask always for God's sustaining powerful presence in our lives, so that his endless glory abides with us forever. You are the sign of Christ, for he called you by your name at the Baptismal fountain. You are the grain, for in Christ you became a new creature that should bear fruit. As the hour is getting near, let us go into the world and bring forth new grains for Christ. Amen.