Sermon for May 28, 2017: The Power and the Glory (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)

Updated: Aug 5

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“With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, [The nation] mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death, august and royal, sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, There is music in the midst of desolation and a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond [our coastal] foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight to the innermost heart of their own land they are known as the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.”[1]

And so we remember. We remember those who have died in the service of their beliefs – in the service of others; those who have laid down their lives for us. And we wait. We wait to see them again as our faith tells us we will. And as we wait, we pray. We pray for a day when we will be comforted, when we will be fulfilled, when we will live in the light of God’s countenance and when we will have peace.

In this way we are no different than the apostles who met the resurrected Jesus and asked him if they would soon see the day in which the kingdom of God would be restored – the day when their nation, their people would be returned to power and achieve glory. And we receive the same answer as they did, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that God has set.” It is only for you to wait – and to pray.

The truth is, we are not good at waiting. We hear that there is power to be had and we want it. To be sure, we believe that we want it for the right reasons – that we are the ones who can best yield that power for the good of all humanity. “Christian faith,” says Daniel Migliore,”is expectant faith.”[2] But often we expect far more – and far less than we have been promised. Like the original apostles, we see God’s promises to us only through our limited human vision. “God,” we pray, “make us well, save our loved ones, give victory to our country. Give us glory.” And God can – but God doesn’t. Why not? That’s what the apostles wanted to know, “When will you give victory to us? When will our people be given power over our adversaries”? It is the same for many Christians in our country, for whom “’the restoration of the kingdom’ often remains bound to the return of the United States to the pristine ideal of a Christian nation.”[3] These Christians see “power” and “glory” as things to be acquired – as things to be won – as things to die for. But taking power from others is not God’s way. God does not ask us to pray for the glory of a single, narrow, self-serving vision of what is right, of what is strong, of what is proud, of what is great – God asks to pray for “a new reality in which the new order that will be shaped eternally by God’s vision for love and justice and service can also be realized in relationships and communities now.”[4] The truth is that “if God’s creative and redemptive purposes depend [only on the future] of this country, [then] our hopes are as misplaced as those of the original eleven disciples.”[5]

Our hope should not lie on this country, but on the people in it – and on God’s people everywhere. God’s purposes depend on us – to pray “in hope and fear, in faith and doubt, in obedience and wonder,”[6] in war and peace – and to stay together. This was Jesus’s last and most fervent prayer: that we should be one with one another. This seems terribly hard for us, although it shouldn’t really – most of us learned “the buddy system” in preschool. In a hazardous or scary situation – in a situation where someone is likely to get lost – always stay with your buddy. And there is no place in which we are more likely to get spiritually lost than a world in which people believe that the power and glory that is rightfully God’s only can be claimed by any one nation or individual. “No warring serves God’s kingdom, no zealous uprising, not even the expulsion of occupying forces, but simply the communal witness and their preaching of the Gospel,”[7] a gospel that tells us that we cannot rely on our own strength. A gospel in which our savior prays for us.

Today’s gospel passage is taken from what is called “Jesus’s high priestly prayer.” In it, Jesus asks God to protect his beloved people and to allow them to truly know him and to experience her glory. Jesus does not suggest that his followers should seek glory, but simply asks that they learn to experience the glory of God that is already in them. Jesus makes it clear: God’s glory is not something that can be taken. It is something that God shares with us. It is ours when we declare and show our love for God. It is a gift. We know this. We say it every week: For yours – God’sis the kingdom and the power and glory” – not mine, not yours, and not the province of any earthly nation or leader. God is bigger than any one human being’s – any one nation’s experience of God. “[It is only] when we cry out from the pit…when we cry out to God burdened by the cross we are called to carry, [that we] lean into the full [glory] of God’s faithfulness.”[8] God is greater than our pain, our fear, our lives, and our deaths. God is greater than our ideas of right and wrong. God is greater than any power in all the reality that is known to us. To God be praise and glory.

And to God be our loyalty and devotion, for it is for God’s kingdom that we should be willing to die – and for none other. We live in a time and a place in which violence, anger, and hatred have become commonplace – a place in which children feel free to malign one another based on race or creed – a time in which we are encouraged to separate ourselves from those who are somehow deemed less worthy than we are. We live in a time when “we all need God’s protection from our own worst impulses as well as from others whom God also loves.”[9] It is not too many steps from this place to one in which we will be asked to die for our beliefs. So let us be clear about what those beliefs are – what our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and friends and all of our honored dead laid down their lives for: freedom, honor, and community – for the ability to seek wholeness through relationship with other people – for the ability to seek unity with our neighbors – for the ability to love one another as God loves us. It is this way of sacrifice that Jesus showed us in responding to hate with love, by living and dying for his God. Live without fear. Your creator loves you and has always protected you. Follow the good road in peace and you too will share in the free gift of God’s power and glory. AMEN.

[1]Lawrence Binyon (1914), “For the Fallen.”

[2]Sean A. White, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Seventh Sunday of Easter), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 520.

[3]Ibid, 522.