Sunday, June 1, 2014

One Hundred and Sixty Eight Hours

John 17:1-11
June 1, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Have you ever asked someone to offer a prayer, and have them begin by praying for you? That happens to me on occasion, and when it does, I’m always profoundly affected by it. Just knowing that someone is praying for me is great, but listening as someone offers their prayers out loud is even more moving. Jesus, in this 17th chapter of the Gospel of John, is not away somewhere in a garden praying silently. He is sitting at the supper table with his disciples, on that night before he was arrested. And he offers this prayer in their presence, and on their behalf.

Let’s listen as Jesus prays for his disciples – prays for us – in John 17: 1-11 :
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

We’ve come to the last Sunday of the season of Easter. Next week is Pentecost, the day that marks the beginning of the church. You would think we would be at the end of the gospel story. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus gave the disciples the great commission. In Mark, Jesus was raised from the dead and the disciples said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. In Luke he blessed them and ascended bodily into heaven. But in John’s gospel, the end of the story is the beginning of the good news – Jesus tells Peter that he is to feed his sheep, and then the writer says – “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

So, why this text, on this Sunday? Why would we put everything in reverse and go back before the crucifixion? Here we are at the table with Jesus; and in John’s gospel there is no account of the last supper, communion as we know it, only Jesus and the disciples gathered for a meal before his arrest. Jesus talks to them, tells them what is going to happen, begins to say goodbye, and then he prays for them. His prayer is spoken aloud, words to God for them to overhear. He continues that prayer beyond the reading you’ve heard. It is a prayer for glory, for protection, for unity. A prayer for us.

Glory is central to this prayer – this prayer that Jesus Christ will be glorified, as God is glorified. God’s glory exceeds all of our human understanding of that word. We use the word glory to describe honor or fame, or praise. Sometimes we mean it to describe beauty, or splendor. But the glory of God is bigger, more luminous, more beautiful. The glory of God is so inexpressible that God had to shield Moses from it and when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face glowed! He had to put a veil over his face so as not to frighten people.

The glory of God in Jesus Christ is just as indescribable. It shines, brighter than the sun, resplendent in power, magnified by miracles, consummated at the cross, and attested by the resurrection. That’s the glory that Jesus speaks of – and the glory that he desires for us. He prays for that glory, not only for himself, but for you and me. In his life and death and resurrection, Jesus has revealed God to us, and in telling us the name of God he reveals the word, the logos. In teaching us God’s love and calling us to live in that love, Jesus is inviting us – US! – into the glory of God. Toward the end of Chapter 17, Jesus asks again, “that they may all be one.” and then he speaks again of glory, saying, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus wants for us what he asks for himself: glory. 
To be in one’s glory is to be at one’s best, happiest, and most satisfied. 
How many days in the week would you say you are in your glory? 
How many hours a day are you in your glory? in God’s glory? 
How many moments in each hour do you bring glory to God? 
Day in and day out, few of us can identify much more than a moment in which we are bringing glory to God. We seem to have categorized glory as something that can only be experienced in brief shimmering instants, outside of everyday life. So on any given day, we don’t even recognize it. 

We have one hundred and sixty eight hours in every week. Each one of us. 
We have twenty-four hours in every day, seven days in every week, 
one hundred and sixty eight hours to do what Jesus asks of us – 
bring glory to God, and thereby be in our glory.

We can do that for every one of those one hundred sixty eight hours, whether we are working or sleeping or worshiping or on the golf course. What if, this week, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that – what if we lived like that? In the one hundred and sixty-eight hours of the week, to live in obedience to God – that’s glory.

To rise each morning suffused with the light of love – that’s glory!
To worship, work, and serve together as one people in Christ – that’s glory!
To live in the glory of the Lord is to live in the intimate presence of God.

That’s what Jesus wanted. That’s what Jesus prayed for – out loud, so we could hear. Jesus came as the word made flesh, the revelation of God’s love. He came to fulfill God’s intention, to be one with God, with us, and with all creation. And through him, we can know that glory, know that love, know that unity. Through him we can be one people for one hundred sixty eight hours a week.
In his obedience, his life, his death, his resurrection, Jesus Christ completed God’s purpose. In our obedience, in our glory, and most of all in our unity, we fulfill Christ’s purpose – that we may all be one – in discipleship, in witness, and love.

At this table, Christ brings together time and eternity. Here in this place Christ the word made flesh reveals God’s true word. In the bread and the cup, Jesus makes us one, blended together like the many grains into one loaf, like the many grapes into one cup.

At this table, and within each one of us, the glory of God can shine forth. Here at “this point of intersection of the timeless with time”[1] we are gathered into God’s people one body, one people, made for love, made for unity, made for glory. 

[1] T. S. Eliot, “The Four Salvages”

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