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Sunday Sermon - 'Glory'

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


There are some words which we use so often as part of our worship that they run the risk of losing their meaning. They just wash over us without our really engaging with how extraordinary they are, and every time that happens, we grow a little more distant from what those words might have meant to Jesus and the first disciples. Reading our lessons for today the one word which shouts to be understood is 'glory'. It's everywhere, either implicit, as it is in the description of Jesus's ascension, or explicit, as it is in our readings from Peter and John.

A few days ago, that same word 'glory' was also everywhere:

'Relive the glory and splendour of King Charles's Coronation with our picture special telling the story of a day we'll never forget' cried the Daily Mail on May 7th...

'Happy and glorious' said the Sunday Express over a picture of the newly crowned king waving from the balcony at Buckingham Palace. But splendid though the images of golden carriages and crowns are they're a pale reflection of the glory we hear about in our Gospel. Because for Peter and John, and those first apostles, glory isn't a matter of clothes made of golden thread or of being cheered by thousands of adoring subjects, or even awe-inspiringly beautiful music echoing around Westminster abbey. The revelation they have had from God through their knowledge of Jesus is that God's glory is something which is freely available to anyone who enters a trusting and loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Today's readings seem to me to be inviting us to discover how we can experience this heavenly form of glory not just occasionally, but every day...

Earlier this week we celebrated Ascension Day and listening to the story of the Ascension might make us think of all those Children's Bible images you might remember, the ones that show Jesus accelerating into the clouds surrounded by great bursts of golden light like a sort of first century rocket ship. This is glory as spectacle and wonder, and wonder is absolutely the right way to respond to the beauty and mystery of God in creation, but if we leave our understanding of glory there, we might conclude that God's glory is something remote and far away, something shared by Jesus and his heavenly father, but far removed from life here on earth. But the angels in their white robes in Acts know differently. 'Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?' they ask. Their message is that the disciples can't just stand wondering at the glory they've witnessed; they've got work to do. They've got to stop staring into space and get on with it! And that work is to enable everyone they meet to share in the glory of God as its been revealed to them through the person of Jesus. I think it's important in this respect that the first thing the apostles do after seeing Jesus depart is pray…prayer is the very first act in the Acts of the Apostles. Through their prayer they enter a relationship with God through Jesus, even though he's no longer with them physically. They trust in his presence and in the truth of their ongoing relationship with him through prayer. Through prayer they discover that they can share in His glory even though they're still earthbound. The challenge for us is just like theirs; we can no longer see Jesus, so we have to work out how to discover his 'glory' for ourselves in the lives we lead here and now. Prayer, as the apostles discover, helps, because it brings us into God's presence…but Peter and John together take us even further in our understanding of glory.

Peter tells us that the spirit of glory is the spirit of God, and that this spirit of glory is something we can all experience as believers, particularly when we feel we're being persecuted. For Peter the experience of God's glory is very human; he tells us that God's glory is expressed through God's readiness to restore, support and strengthen us, whatever tribulations we experience. To Peter glory isn't about awe and spectacle, but about experiencing loving and supportive relationships with one another, he tells us that it's through these God's glory finds its true expression.

We see this sense of glory as being expressed through loving relationships in John's Gospel. Here the relationship is that between Jesus and God, with us included. Rather amazingly John invites us to be a third party in Jesus's petition to the Father. We're present with him as he prays 'Father the hour has come'. This is a very inclusive form of glory, one which welcomes us to be witnesses to the love God Jesus share for all creation. I think we can sense that when Jesus prays to God and says 'Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you' he isn't thinking of glory as power or earthly majesty; we sense the love that is at the heart of this relationship, a love which is for everything that exists. 'Glory' it seems to me here is the boundless love of God for all creation, a love that he shares with the Son and with all of us. God's love is truly glorious because of its infinite capacity to reach out to everyone and everything. John's account of Jesus's prayer makes clear how liberating this knowledge of God's glory is for all who trust and believe in him. The Gospel tells us that central to this sense of liberation is the assurance that we don't have to die to experience eternal life because, as Jesus makes clear, the glory of eternal life is something we can experience now-it is Jesus says, 'to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.' This is a form of glory which says we can have life and have it abundantly now and every day- knowing God through Jesus is to share in a boundless love which is the glory of all creation.

At last Sunday's climate action service, we celebrated the glory of creation as something which we share in as human beings made in God's image. For a long time, human beings acted as if the glories of creation existed for us to exploit and abuse but the glory that Jesus talks of here compels us to acknowledge that we belong to the whole of creation and that understanding this is integral to living a life which is about participation in this glory rather than its exploitation.

The glories of the King's coronation two weeks ago were there for us to gaze on from a distance; the diamond encrusted crowns and ermine robes spoke of an earthbound glory for which we can only be spectators. But our readings today tell us that God's glory is everywhere and that we can experience it in the here and now; we can discover it through prayer, through the Bible and through loving relationships with one another and with Him through Jesus. It's a glory that we can all share in if we're prepared to trust that we are one with all creation and with God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.




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