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Glorifying Him - Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent 2015

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In which the preacher discovers glory for God in the most unlikely places. 

The text notes I preached from are after the sermon audio for convenience, however, I suggest you listen to the sermon audio, because there were numerous changes during the delivery.  It is in the delivery of a sermon in the midst of the people of God which is where he Holy Spirit is doing the strongest work within me; and there will not only be some changes to the notes but also emphasis and intonations that don't occur in the notes. 

Sermon delivered at United Lutheran Church of Oakland

March 22, 2015  - Fifth Sunday in Lent

"Glorifying Him" - Lectionary text from John  12:20-33.

Listen to sermon audio here




Greetings to you this day my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.

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Some of you know that I engage in volunteer ministry at the California State prison at San Quentin, and am involved in several programs there during the course of the week.  I am, in particular, the outside sponsor for the New Hope Congregation, which meets in the Catholic chapel on Saturday mornings at 9.  Those who attend are from all different places, many different traditions, both Catholic and Protestant...and unlike many other aspects of prison life, these are individuals from different races who are sitting together and worship, sing and discuss scripture as it applies to them.  What is different about these inmates? Most of them are here because of their experiences of rejection from not only prison life in general but also from being prevented from being involved in the protestant chapel or fully expressing themselves in the catholic chapel because they are men who are gay, bisexual or transgender. 

But even though I have myself come to terms with being a member of a gender or sexual minority who is called by God regardless, I still entered into this expecting to find men who were torn apart, victims of childhood abuse or abuse from their fellow prisoners, who needed to experience the love and grace of God, as much as, if not more than other prisoners. I expected to be ready to enter into a more pastoral relationships with them and show them a love that they might not have experienced before in their time there.  Instead I have encountered men who have already spent a good deal of time on that journey, who have already had God touch them in unique and different ways, in Christ, and in the midst of wanting to express that love and live out the amazing grace that He provides to them.  

What happened instead with me is that I have found myself learning about Jesus Christ through them, learning about what it means to live out a cross and resurrection centered life through them. Now while my Lutheran sensibilities can sometimes be touched off by some of the more fundamentalists or evangelical traditions that these inmates come from, I still am able to find the wonder and glory that is Jesus Christ in the conversations that we have, that love of Christ is alive and well in San Quentin, among gay, bisexual and trans prisoners, and not only that, he has come not only despite the often degradating conditions that prison can offer particularly to men of sexual or gender minority but also because of them. Because for men who are, because of the crime that they were convicted of many years ago, have been given sentences like 20 years to life, who have no idea when they'll see the outside of prison walls again, Christ comes to them and comforts them and helps them find meaning in the generally meaningless world they live in, and they were long before I got there able to be the Christ they were meant to be to others, and by doing so, glorifying God's holy name.  And I'm constantly amazed and awed at how I can find his divine love and mercy among people who have to live in the dark deplorable conditions that we find in the California Prison system. 

But Jesus Christ has drawn humanity to him, even when it seems like this world is still under the sway of earthly forces.  It happened even as we saw God's heart most clearly on the event of the crucifixion, in the midst of the suffering of our lord Jesus Christ. Even as he foretold us it would happen, as these Greeks seek him out in today's Gospel reading.   And even as we await anxiously for the cross and resurrection, as we look forward to that wondrous moment when Christ defeats the power of death, we are not there yet in our season. 

Now our reading from John's gospel is just a bit out of order. Christ has just entered Jerusalem, something that we won't be commemorating until next week's Palm Sunday, but we place it here because we find ourselves at that point in this season.  Lent is coming to an end in Holy Week, the signifying event approaches, but it is not quite there yet, and so we are able to look forward to it with great anticipation  but also, no small amount of apprehension. 

In his telling about a grain of wheat that falls to the earth, and does not die but lies fallow, versus the grain of wheat that does die and becomes reborn as a bearer of great fruit, Jesus is telling of what he himself must go through himself. In his telling us about the ones who wish to preserve their lives versus those who would be sacrifices, we are reminded of the struggles that the early Christians went through, while Rome was still empire and while it was still persecuting people of the way.  In talking about a life of service to him and the Father Jesus is not laying the groundwork for the means of living the life that we are meant to live, justified by his righteousness. 

And in all of this, Jesus is foreshadowing what will be happening  to him, to his disciples, as well as to those gathered around him, the crowds that have been following him, these Greeks that were searching him out. 

But also a trait of John's gospel is the perfection of Jesus, which comes so close to making us wonder if he is ever really human at all; however, it is this passage where John reveals to us the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the mystery that must be in place in order that God take the sins of the world on himself. Jesus says, "I am troubled" revealing that he is fully human, as much as any of us. And even as he asks out loud if the Father should take away this burden that he must bear, because that power was within him.  At any one time Jesus might have said, "I must save myself." We begin to understand at that moment that our savior, fully human and fully divine, will be paying the price for us, because he indeed loves us, the whole world, humanity, the creation.  That somewhere along the way we were, faulty human beings that we were, still worth enough for God to save. 

And there it is, in that moment, that divine revelation, that God's glory is truly revealed. Because giving himself up entirely to the passion is by its very nature glorification of God. 

In our readings Last Sunday, a serpent was lifted up in the wilderness.  Today, just as Jesus promised Nicodemus, then, we understand Jesus to be the one lifted up, and with him all of those who would be saved.  It is not just the death of Jesus on the cross, but a means for all of those who follow him to follow the cross and rise up with him. 

And this rising on the cross is the greatest gift from the Father. In giving us that salvation, God has also bestowed upon us, his loving children, the means to glorify his name and be ourselves sanctified in his blood.  We have been given this gift of faith that allows us, his people, who he loves unconditionally, to be stewards of his kingdom, to bring forth his love into the world, as is our calling.

God has empowered us through this mortal sacrifice, that his fully human body would, in fact, die on the cross, in order that we, his beloved sons and daughters, shall live and fulfill his will.  When we lift each other up, when take the unfortunates among us, those who suffer, who go without eating, those who are in the throes of addiction, those who cannot find housing, those who are experiencing oppression, whether it come from society or their own internal demons; when we lift our neighbor up, we glorify God's name. 

When we look at the world around us, that he has given us to hold; and we acknowledge that it is God's creation, and he has merely given it to us to steward, we live out our vocation that he has given us in his grace.  When take time to respect the world around us, to preserve its resources, planting a tree rather than cutting one down, we sing hosanna in the highest that we have been given this kingdom, and we glorify his holy name. 

These gay, bisexual and trans prisoners of New Hope Congregation at San Quentin glorify God's name when they defy prison convention and are willing to speak with each other in the yard, despite the social barriers that are in place dictating that they are better off ignoring each other.  They glorify god's name when they share the good news, reading and relating scripture to their lives, sharing kindness with one another and other prisoners, counseling and blessing them, and being modern-day evangelists of the word of Jesus Christ come near. 

And we glorify God's name, when we give our service to Him. God desires to have us with him, and he honored us when he lifted us with Christ to him, so that we were no longer subject to the ruler of the earth but became subject to his rule. We glorify God's name when we gather together and worship him, knowing that his great sacrifice is coming.  

We glorify God's name when we commune with one another, being intimate with our Lord and savior and bringing his life and mystery into our bodies, while touching each others lives with the light that he shares with us.  

On Christmas God made a promise that a little baby boy born in Bethlehem...the city of David was going to be here on our behalf.  And now this promise is getting ready to be realized.  The Passover feast is being readied for the lamb.  The hour of God's glory is come. 

And that, my sisters and brothers, is good news. 

Amen.   

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on March 29, 2015 5:21 PM.

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