The First Sunday after Christmas Day: A Sermon (V.2)

Sometimes you plan one sermon and end up giving another one. This was one of those days.


Merry Christmas!

“…and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Glory: that word shows up repeatedly in the Bible and in our liturgy: “Glory to God in the highest…we praise you for your glory…in the glory of God the Father.” What are we talking about?

‘Glory’, we might say, points to what generates awe, the gut-level recognition that things are off the scale, that—recalling that scene from Jaws—“We need a bigger boat.” The Old Testament often uses extreme weather to imagine glory: God’s giving the law at Sinai is accompanied by thunder and lightning. The prophets would have liked Wisconsin’s weather, in which we can sometimes get a snow storm combined with thunder and lightning!

My most profound encounter with this sort of glory occurred while backpacking in the high Sierras in California above tree line. There was a full moon, and the crystals in the exposed granite did wonderful things with the moonlight. So I stood facing one direction, trying to take it all in—unsuccessfully. Then I’d turn 90° and repeat the process. I probably spent over half an hour trying to take it all in. Finally crawled into the sleeping bag; too much glory to take in.

“…and we have seen his glory” John says, and in the Gospel readings throughout the year we get some sense as to what that was like. But Jesus ascended, so where does that leave us? Where does that leave the world?

Paul’s answer is disconcerting: “You are God’s building… God’s temple is holy and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:9, 17). Paul is writing to the Corinthians, of all people! Recalling all the other things he needed to say to them, he nevertheless says this: “you are that temple.” You are where God’s glory is to be visible.

How does that work? Here are two stories from my time in World Vision in Latin America.

For various historical reasons the division between Protestants and Roman Catholics is often very sharp there. It’s common for each to define themselves as not being the other. Throw the Bible into the mix and too often the arguments coalesce around the Pope and the Virgin Mary. Since World Vision’s community development projects tryto bring the faith traditions of the community into the process and since virtually everyone self-identifies as Protestant or Roman Catholic, that’s a challenge.

Now, community development is basically about two things: power and money: how do resources get distributed, and who gets to decide? Who’s at the table; who’s not at the table? And, since as Kissinger observed, power is the most potent aphrodisiac, decisions about how sexuality gets used or exploited can come into the mix as well. Jesus, of course, has a great deal to say about money and power. So we worked at crafting Bible studies that focused on these: how did Jesus handle issues of money and power, and how might this shape our conduct and procedures? Some time later the field directors from the various counties came together (as they periodically did) and observed one of these studies being facilitated in one of the projects. They left the experience flummoxed: they couldn’t figure out if the facilitator was a Protestant or Catholic. Glory! In that admittedly limited time and space there was some healing of a very old wound in Christ’s body, some greater possibility of God’s glory being visible.

At the national office in another country the staff routine included morning and afternoon coffee breaks. In that particular context those coffee breaks were an important marker of being white collar, of having arrived. But this meant that if someone from one of the projects had to travel to the national office for some administrative issue—usually by a multi-hour bus ride—they might have to wait an additional 15 minutes while the staff enjoyed their coffee break. We’d been focusing on what Christian witness meant, that it was a witness we gave whether or not we were intending to witness to anything, and the staff came to the conclusion that making folk from the projects cool their heels was witnessing to some lord other than Jesus. So they reworked individual schedules so that while everyone got their coffee break, there’d always be someone available to attend immediately to folk from the projects. Glory. What’s important about this is that regular coffee breaks were part of the landscape, part of “they way we’ve always done it.” But Jesus’ Spirit was able to do some creative meddling and a little more glory became visible.

“You are that temple.” That’s Paul’s word to the Corinthians, and to Good Shepherd in Sun Prairie. Here is where God wants God’s glory to be visible.

There’s a corollary to that: the past is prologue. God’s process of transforming us so that God’s glory is ever more visible means that things can keep getting better. Another, small, example: this week my wife and I celebrate 43 years of marriage, and it has kept getting better. We’re two garden-variety sinners, but even with our very imperfect discipleship it has kept getting better. And that’s God’s desire for all the communities in Christ’s Body. It can keep getting better; God’s glory can become increasingly visible. That’s God’s desire and passion for Good Shepherd, Sun Prairie.

Merry Christmas.

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