Sermon--The Glory                                      May 15, 2019

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”  This weeks Bible Study spent time chewing on that sentence.  What does it mean to be glorified?

“Glory is a slippery word.  It can mean so many things.  We admire the glory of men such as Alexander the Great, huge personalities who shaped whole civilizations.  Or we sit stunned before the glory of the riches that adorned the tomb of someone like King Tut.  But earthly glory is so ephemeral...  Alexander is said to have drown, weighed down by the weight of his glorious armor, and  Tutankhamons tomb was desecrated by robbers and archeologists seeking his riches.  So much for glory.

The Bible uses the word in another way.  Here it is most often used to describe God, whose glory is like the suns blazing glare on a rippling river, it hides more than it shows, and yet you just know something wonderful is there.  Such glory stabs the eye and heart; you feel it transforming you, forcing you to see the world differently.

When Moses saw God face to face, he covered his eyes, it was just too much to bear.  Caught in such an overwhelming awareness of God’s might and magnificence, all the Psalmist can do is sing of  Gods glorious splendor.”  “Hallelujah!,” he says.

Hallelujah… That’s a word that doesn’t have much of a meaning by itself; it was just an exclamation common in Bible times and southern Baptist churches today.  Sort of like on Antique’s Roadshow when the appraiser tells you your Mom’s candy dish is worth $500,000, you say, “O My God, you’ve got to be kidding.”  The lucky candy dish owner isn’t offering up a prayer to God; it’s just something that jumps out of your mouth when you have been overwhelmed by something.

In the Bible, Hallelujah is always occasioned by an awareness of the overwhelming near presence of God, it’s the glory of it all.  Words just pour out of your mouth; you don’t know what to say.  “Praise him you angels,” says the  Psalm, “praise him sun and moon, praise him you sea-monsters, praise him fire, hail, snow and fog, praise him all the earth.  Hallelujah!” (Ps 148)

When John wrote his gospel, the glory of God was foremost in this thoughts.  He sets the theme for the whole Gospel in this beautiful statement:  “We have seen His glory; the glory of an only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love.(John 1:14, Amplified version)

Youll notice that in the Bible glory and love are often linked.  Thats what Jesus did in todays Gospel lesson.  Unfortunately, we in this world often separate them.

Michael Jackson is a case in point.  He was a man who was at one time crowned king of Pop, Rock and Soul music, all at the same time.  His album Thriller (thats its name) is, the last I heard, still the best the selling recording around the world... in history.  Regardless of  what you think of  him, he is even now glorified by millions of people.  And yet, in the end he cowered and hid in his fear and pain...and perhaps shame.

Some years ago he was interview by Oprah Winfrey, and throughout he was continually apologizing.  Over and over he said Im sorry.  And when he wasnt saying it, his manner was.  Why would Jackson, who basked in the glory of fans around the world, need to apologize for his existence?  The answer is abuse.  He grew up with too little love from an abusive father.  Glory, fame and fortune cannot compensate for love denied.  Neither, can you buy love from children you coax into your bed.

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his colorful career, but before he retired, he grew old and lost much of the agility he had known as a wonder-kid.  Finally traded to the Boston Braves, he was playing one of his last games against the Cincinnati Reds and having a humiliating day.  In one inning alone his errors lead to five Cincinnati runs.  When the inning was mercifully over, Ruth trotted off the field to the jeers and boos of the crowd.  Suddenly, a young boy jumped over the railing on to the field.  With tears in his eyes he ran to Ruth and threw his arms around the aging hero.

Ruth stopped, picked up the young boy, hugged him, set him back down on his feet and patted him on the head.  Almost as on cue the booing stopped and a reverent hush settled over the park.  In those brief moments the crowd saw a different kind of hero-- a man who still had a glory about him, a glory apart from how many home runs he could hit-- a glory that shown forth in a touch of love for a little boy who could not stand to see his hero crucified by a heartless mob.

Pearl Bailey, the popular singer, she’s gone now; she was asked how it felt when she received the adulation of the people who surged around her after a performance.  She replied:  Why do they run to me?  What are they seeking?  Love.  And with outstretched hands, its given.  The young smile and joke; the old look for hope.  Love is so frighteningly beautiful,” she continued.  “I see their souls, and I hold them gently in my hands and, because I love them, they weigh nothing.  God has set them there so gently I can enjoy their love... I also feel a great healing power, so when they run up to the stage and we touch, I am healed and so are they.

Glory and love were never more connected than when Jesus had surrendered his will to God and was ready to reflect the glory of Gods love through a horrific display of love on the cross.

Glory and love are made to go together.  Gods glory is ultimately reflected in every act of real love.  The glory of God is the perfect love forever poured out by the Son and forever manifested by those who receive him into their lives.  Gods glory still shines in this world through the love of one person for another.  Would that we never become so jaded as to not feel overwhelmed whenever it breaks in upon us, whenever we see it in another.  O my God; Hallelujah.

As he said, “A new command, I give you, that you love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)




Sermon--Lead me to the Waters of Life       May 12, 2019

A man went into the Unemployment Office in New York City.  When asked his occupation, he told the befuddled clerk, Shepherd.  Where would a shepherd find work in New York City?

Unfortunately todays texts about sheep may not speak to us as forcefully as they should; in our supermarket world weve little opportunity to learn much first hand about sheep and shepherds.

An experiment was conducted in a college class in behavioral science.  Seven pieces of string precisely two feet long were placed side by side on a table.  Next to those seven the experimenter placed and an eighth piece of string six inches shorter than the others.  Six people were brought into the room.  Five of them were plants, the sixth, was the subject of the experiment.

The researcher asked them all several questions, among which was Are all of these pieces of string the same length?”  To this, the first plant answered with an emphatic Yes!  Then each of the other plants did the same.  The subject answered last.  Three out of four times the subject went along with the crowd and answered yes when he clearly knew that was the wrong answer.  And when the experiment was repeated without the plants nine out of ten times the subjects answered no.   Peer influence is very powerful.

Weve probably all attended meetings where something similar happens.  Everyone tends to agree with the first couple of speakers on an issue.  We havent gotten far from our childhood games of  follow the leader.

Human beings can be led and misled... just like sheep.  We even have a herd mentality.  Sometimes we call it style or fashion or trends, but it’s really herd mentality.  Somebody leads and herds of people follow.  We can be panicked into a stampede, free-floating anger can turn us into a mob, and in a peaceful environment we tend to wander without much though for the future.

Thats why a good shepherd is so important.  Human beings need someone who can lead well; who can lead us to, as the second reading says, “springs of the water of life. ”  Good shepherds lead us in directions that are life fulfilling.

Every year or so some pollster takes a survey of historians; asking them list our Presidents from greatest to worst.  The names get shuffled around, but three always seem near the top of the list:  George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt.  And despite all the rampant partisan feelings present today, the general population seems to agree on these three.

They are recognized for leading the nation as it faced enormous challenge:  For Washington, securing the independence of a new nation and providing it with sound political institutions; for Lincoln, preserving the Union and purging it of slavery; for FDR, guiding the country through its greatest economic crisis and its biggest foreign challenge, World War II.

In each instance, what sets them apart is their ability to call a bewildered and straying or scattered people back to the high ideals upon which the country was founded.

But as important as these shepherds were, weve shepherds just as important but much closer to home.  How old were you when you realized youd just said or done something the way your father or mother always did it?  Whether we’re conscious of them or not, we’ve all had several key people who guided us along the ways of life:  spouses, teachers, mentors, pastors, and especially parents.  Its a part of our nature, this need for good leaders.  Blessed are those with good shepherds.

Unfortunately, not everyone has been blessed by their circumstances.  Those who have experienced the guidance of parents who are good shepherds, may not appreciate how exposed and abandoned it can feel without themLikewise, if you’ve had inspiring teachers and good mentors--the kind that will teach you how to examine your own assumptions and how to sift truth from fiction-- if you’ve been blessed by such, you might not appreciate the confusion and bad choices you see in those not so blessed.  And if you were raised within the Body of Christ and continued into adulthood, you might not appreciate how meaningless life becomes for those who were not so blessed.

A little girl was touring Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico for the first time.  Her father was carrying her younger brother as she walked beside him.  That arrangement was fine as long as the path was broad and level.  But the path grew narrow and a bit steep so her father moved ahead.  She said, Daddy, hold my hand!  Her father reassured, Honey, youre just fine.  Im right here with you.

This calmed her for a time but then it go darker and the trail grew rougher, a bit slick with water dripping from the formations.  The little girl again spoke, Daddy, hold my hand!  I cant,” he said.  “Im holding your brother.  Youre all right.  Why dont you believe me?  The girl had an instant reply, Because only my ears know youre ahead of me.  My hand doesnt.

Somehow, we always seem to put more faith in leaders who are hands-on.  Parents to hold us.  Teachers who take care about us.  A church community to welcome us as friends in a common mission.

Thats why God came in person to lead us, to take our hand in his.  Thats why God is our Father and why Jesus is our faithful brother and teacher and why the Holy Spirit is our constant companion.  Only when youve known a good parent, teacher and shepherd can you appreciate how lost and wandering you were before.  Every generation needs the water of life, and must be led to it. 

We say that together we are the Body of Christ and Jesus is the head of that body.  God is our Father and the Holy Spirit gives life to the body.  So the Good Shepherd has grown from one man to become a holy community numbered in the billions.  None of us walks our paths alone.  God, through the community of faith, guides our paths aright.  And collectively we are the Light of the World.

On this Mothers Day it is well to remember with praise and thanksgiving all those who lead each generation to the “water of life”.