This summer, Steve and I are working through a sermon series on the creeds and confessions our church holds to. The creeds and confessions which we use to answer the question “What do we believe?” that comes just after the sermon in our service. We’re looking into these creeds as part of our story, part of our faith; our hope is that we can know them better and know the scripture that informs them better too. This Sunday we’re looking into the oldest creed we hold to, the Nicene creed, created in the year 325 following the emperor Constantine’s frustrations over the disagreement among his newly found faith, Christianity. He called together the council of Nicea to come together in agreement on what they believe. We’ll look into that but remembering that we hold first and foremost to the scriptures so being informed also by the scripture passage from John 17.
I had a professor in seminary, Dr. Kathy Sakenfeld who when she preached ended each sermon with the scripture reading most preachers read at the beginning of the service. She did this, she said, because the scripture reading was far better and far more important than anything she could say. Today I’m going to take a page out of Dr. Sakenfeld’s book and follow the sermon with the scripture reading that is far better and far more important than anything I could say. So before we read the scripture reading, let us talk and let us pray about it. Will you pray with me?
Gracious God, allow these words and these moments to inform our understanding of your word to us, to encourage us and to inspire us to listen for your will, for your call, and for your movement in the world. Move your spirit among each of us that we may come to know you a little better even if only briefly. And now God I ask that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all those gathered here be pleasing to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Now, lets be honest, our sermon series on the creeds and confessions is nerdy, its not a cool, sexy sermon series, if there even is such a thing. And, I didn’t do myself any favors in making it sound more exciting by throwing the word homoousios into the title. So, since I’m already down 2, I’m just going to keep nerding out, so bear with me. Let’s talk about the word glory, in the passage we are about to read it comes up a lot, 8 times to be exact, you can count them if you’d like in a little bit.
The word glory is translated from the greek word doxa. Doxa, glory, used commonly in the gospel of John reflects the splendor of the Lord, yes, but the way it is used throughout the gospel of John also hints at the intimacy of it, the intimacy that is the glory of the Lord. We tend to think about glory as high, holy, splendor, bigger than us, high great praise. Bu what God’s glory looks like throughout the gospel of John isn’t all high praise from afar. Rather, the word glory appears in the gospel of John in all the times Jesus is seen in deep and intimate relationships with his disciples, the glory of the Lord isn’t far away, the glory of the Lord is realized in close and intimate connection with Jesus.
Jaime Clark-Soles, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary puts it like this: “The glory of the lord is the presence of God” Or “God’s glory in John is more like being at the very heart of a fireworks display rather than watching it on TV. One sees the light, feels the thunder of it, finds oneself breathless, is caught up in the majesty and power and wonder and extraordinary transcendence of it all. She looks around and finds that others have come seeking something of this wonder and so, for a moment, she is connected with other pilgrims who have braved the journey rather than settling for a second-hand account of the thing.” God’s glory isn’t unattainable high praise, it’s the very presence of God in the midst of our lives.
That intimacy, that glory, that is what this passage is all about. It’s all about the glory of the Lord that comes from the closeness of Jesus and the ability he gives us to love and be in union with him and with one another.
John 17 is a prayer for the disciples, a prayer that follows Jesus’ 3 chapter long farewell discourse before his arrest and crucifixion. A prayer for the disciples to know the glory, the intimacy, of God and to be unified together as the children of God.
First of all, Jesus prays this prayer in front of the disciples – so that they can hear every word of his concern and his hope and his love for them. They hear what he asks for them, they know that he prays for them, they know that he cares deeply for them. He does not simply offer his thoughts and prayers quietly and alone in some distant place, he offers them boldly in their presence. A sign of the glory that is found in Jesus, the one who is intimately involved in our lives, praying for us not from afar but in the midst of us all.
This week the congregational care ministry team and I met to talk about some of our work for the year, going through the details of what certain events will look like, dreaming and planning together, and laughing over stories together. At the end of our meeting together we prayed, and when we prayed we did something a little different than what we often do in meetings. We went around the table and asked one another what we needed to pray about. And once we heard the requests, I don’t know who but I know it wasn’t me, someone put their hands on the table, inviting us to all hold hands. So Debbie, Lynda, and I sat at the table in room 116 and held one another’s hands as we took turns praying for one another. And those 2 minutes were the glory of the Lord, the experience of being intimately connected with one another and with the Spirit as we prayed for what was on the hearts of our sisters gathered at that table.
That’s the kind of intimacy Jesus gave to us, the kind where you can cling to one another’s hands as you pray for the troubles of your heart and the kind of intimacy where you can feel that the Spirit is present in your work room, even if just for a few brief moments. That’s glory, that’s intimacy!
Again, will you get nerdy with me? This is the last time, I promise. Let’s talk about that creed I mentioned earlier. The Nicene creed, the creed we’re looking at today came about after an early church council at the city of Nicea. That church council was called because believe it or even back in the year 325, Christians did not agree on everything. And in this case they really did not agree on one very specific word, actually one very specific letter – the letter “I” that is missing from our spelling today. That letter “I” represents the distinction between whether God and Jesus where of “similar existence”–with the i— or of “same existence”– without the “I.” I won’t bore you with anymore of the details of that during my sermon but that distinction that one little distinction was the main sticking point that brought together the council of Nicea, now of course they had plenty of other things to disagree about while they were there.
But the big sticking point, the homoosios battle, teaches us a whole awful lot about who God is and how God and Jesus relate and from that how we can relate to one another. The passage from John helps to inform this, helps us to understand that the relationship between Jesus and God is not just a relationship of similarity, it is a relationship of sameness. They are the same – in fact they aren’t even necessarily similar, they are distinct but they are one. They are of the same character and concern but Jesus and God are distinct and unique from one another, while constantly being united as the same.
The council of Nicea, the council which developed the creed we will use to affirm our faith was by no means a council of light theological discussion that ended in perfect blissful unity that came about easily. In fact, it is at the council of Nicea that tradition says Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) popped the heretic Arius in the face in the midst of a theological dispute. So, we can trust that the council of Nicea was rife with disagreements. Disagreements so heated they end in violence, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? With all the disunity we see in the world – how do we even begin to create that unity which Jesus prays for? What does that unity even look like? What does unity look like when we know we are nothing close to being similar, we are quite different in fact, all of us. Here’s what I take it to mean:
- It means being present, being intimate, being in relationship.
- It means not taking sides based on your own self-interest
- It means not passing judgments when you haven’t felt the pain of the person or the other group
- It means not saying “them” because “them” is a part of “us.”
- It means making fighting to know one another, even when it makes us uncomfortable
- It doesn’t mean we have to be similar, it just means we need to be united.
Last year I read a beautiful story about unity, a story about finding unity in the mess of chaos, misunderstanding and fear – the kinds of things that are challenging our society today as we think about terrorism, prejudice, and racism. I filed this story away when I read it and return to it often when I felt dissatisfied with the state of the world, when I need a good honest feel good story that doesn’t reek of insincerity. I think now is the perfect time to share that story. I found the story through a blog written by a man named David Kanigan but the story is written by a woman, Naomi Shibab Nye. I’ll paraphrase Naomi’s story for time and then close with her beautiful words.
Naomi writes about an experience in the Albuquerque airport after a flight delay, a time when chaos generally ensues and the worst of humanity emerges. Naomi writes how she heard an announcement come over the airport “If anyone in the vicinity of gate A4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Knowing Arabic, Naomi went to the gate, gate A4.
When she arrived at gate A4, she found a woman in full traditional Palestinian embroided dress “crumpled on the floor” wailing. You can imagine the scene this would be causing, scenes of fear, confusion, staring, helplessness.
Naomi put her arms around the woman and spoke with her in Arabic, learning what the woman was wailing helplessly on the floor about. She thought her flight had been cancelled and needing to be in El Paso the next day for a major levitra medical treatment. Once Naomi told her that the flight was not cancelled, only delayed, the woman was calmed, restored to peace and calm.
Naomi and the woman went on to call the woman’s son and tell him the news and then they had so much fun doing that, they called her other children, and then they called Naomi’s own father, and some friends.
Then Naomi’s new friend pulled out homemade mamool cookies while telling her about her life and laughing with her. They shared the cookies with everyone at the gate and Naomi says “To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar.” And then the airline shared apple juice with everyone gathered and little girls passed out cups of apple juice while everyone ate mamool cookies covered in powdered sugar.
Naomi closes by saying “And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.”
That’s unity, that’s the unity Jesus prays for in John 17, a unity that binds us together, that calms fears, that renews peace, that maintains character. That is unity.
In his book, the Clown in the Belfry, a dear friend of many in this church and a wonderful theological writer, Frederick Buechner writes, “they are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other’s family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the Church to be. Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace. Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace.”
Let me close by saying, Jesus didn’t just call them his family, he didn’t just pray for them for afar, he went and got to know them, got to know their fears, their pain, their unique stories.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.