Sermon for Sunday, May 21, 2023 || Easter 7A || John 17:1-11

A lot of the songs we sing in church talk about God’s glory. And just in case our hymn selections don’t mention God’s glory on a particular Sunday, every service begins with a song we call The Gloria: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.” With these words we echo the angels singing to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. Glory to God…we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.

Today we’re going to talk about glorifying God. This will be a nice, tidy three-point sermon: (1) why we glorify God, (2) how Jesus glorifies God, and (3) how we glorify God. And we’ll throw in some lyrics by Lin-Manual Miranda at the end for good measure. Sound good? OK, let’s go.

Why do we glorify God? Why do we praise God? Do we praise God so God will give us good stuff? Or so God will not give us bad stuff? No. No. God is not like a petty ruler who can be swayed one way or another by the fawning and flattery of their subjects. Put another way: has your kid ever come up to you and, completely unprompted, said, “I love you, Daddy. You look so nice today, Daddy!” What is your immediate response? “Yeah, OK, what do you want?”

This entirely commonplace interaction between parent and child is not how it works with God. So, if praising God, if glorifying God, isn’t about trying to get God to do what we want, then what is praising about?  The Catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer has a really fascinating answer. “We praise God,” the Catechism says, “not to obtain anything, but because God’s Being draws praise from us.”

We’ve all stood in awe of something beautiful and boundless and breathtaking: a sunset over the ocean, a star strewn sky far from city lights, the Grand Canyon, you name it. That natural, instinctive response of awe-filled wonder comes from the same spiritual muscle we use to praise God. God is beautiful and boundless and breath (well…) breath-giving, and so we praise. We glorify God simply because God is.

That’s the why. Now for the how. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” The hour Jesus is talking about is the time of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion – the time of his Passion. Jesus prays these words right before he goes to the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. The cross, then, is how Jesus glorifies God. But here we have to be a little careful. It’s all too easy to step on theological landmines when we say the cross is Jesus’ glory. I’m not saying here that, for some reason, God needed Jesus to suffer to pay a penalty for the sins of humanity. I’m not saying that God revels in the suffering of Jesus. No. 

The glory of the cross is revealed in what Jesus prays next in today’s Gospel: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” By finishing the work. Jesus could have run away from his people. He could have changed tactics by cozying up to those in power. He could have forsaken his peace-filled ways, using violence to overthrow the violent. But he didn’t do any of that. Jesus finished his work of nonviolent solidarity, standing alongside and raising up the people ignored and marginalized by those in power. And finishing the work meant bearing the consequences of an empire and a religious establishment that did not take kindly to his upsetting of the status quo. Jesus’ death on the cross shows the utter lengths to which God goes to stay in relationship with us, and Jesus’ resurrection shows that those lengths transcend the mechanics of life and death.

So the glory of the cross is the glory of eternal relationship with God in the power of the resurrection.* Jesus glorifies God by bringing each and every one of us into the awareness of this eternal relationship, this relationship that God has been sustaining since before the world existed. That’s how Jesus glorifies God, which brings us to our last of the three points. How do we glorify God?

We glorify God by bringing our awareness of God’s presence into every relationship in our lives, every interaction, every moment of seeing, of noticing, of recognizing the movement of God in the smallest of everyday things. We praise God for those epic sunsets over the ocean and star-strewn skies, yes, and we praise God for the slightly burned toast at breakfast and for the shape of our child’s left earlobe and the veins running in perfect geometric patterns through the maple leaf that just sprang open on the tree outside and for the very air we breathe. We praise God for everything, for through everything we are connected to God and to one another and to all that is. And that’s the truth at the center of the universe.

It’s a truth that’s hard to see because of how foundational it is, how woven into the fabric of God’s creation. And that’s why we praise God – so that we will keep noticing the sustaining relationships God calls us into with all things.

In his first Broadway show In the Heights, Lin-Manual Miranda tells this truth with a beautiful song called “Alabanza.” Abuela Claudia is a fixture in her Washington Heights neighborhood, a grandmotherly figure to so many of the cast of characters. An intense heat wave leads to a blackout over Fourth of July weekend, and Claudia dies in her apartment. In response to her death, the cast sings this agonizing and uplifting song:

She was found and pronounced
At the scene
She was already lying in bed
The paramedics said
That her heart gave out
I mean, that’s basically what they said
They said
A combination of the stress and the heat
Why she never took her medicine, I’ll never understand
I’d like to think she went out in peace
With pieces of bread crumbs in her hand
Abuela Claudia had simple pleasures
She sang the praises of things we ignore
Glass Coke bottles, bread crumbs, and a sky full of stars
She cherished these things, she’d say: “Alabanza”
Alabanza means to raise this
Thing to God’s face
And to sing, quite literally: “Praise to this”
When she was here, the path was clear
And she was just here
She was just here
Alabanza a doña Claudia, señor

Alabanza a doña Claudia, señor. Praise for Claudia, O Lord. Alabanza.

We glorify God because God’s Being draws praise from us. And God shines God’s Being through absolutely everything in God’s creation, even death. And so, today, this day, I wonder what you raise to God’s face and sing, “Praise to this?” Where do you see God’s presence today? Whatever it is, sing “Alabanza.”

*Jesus talks about this a few times in John’s Gospel, like here: John 12:27-36

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