The late professor Raymond Brown in his commentary on the Gospel of John offers a perceptive insight into the word glory. He says if you look at John's Gospel, for example, the book divides neatly into two sections. Part I he calls "The Book of Signs." It runs roughly from the first chapter through the eleventh chapter. In this part Jesus teaches and performs many miracles which John's Gospel calls signs. He changes water into wine, the first sign. He heals the crippled man. He feeds the multitude. He walks on water. He restores the sight of the blind man, and then in maybe the greatest miracle in that section, he raises old Lazarus from the dead. "Lazarus, come forth." "The Book of Signs."
The second part Brown calls "The Book of Glory." For beginning at chapter 12 Jesus begins to speak of glory. He says this is the hour of my glorification. Over and over he speaks of glory from chapters 12 through chapter 17.
GLORY. ?Tis a strange thing, this glory. For chapter 12 really begins the passion of Jesus. In fact, chapters 13 through 17 in John are the last teachings of Jesus at the Last Supper. It is in the context of the Last Supper. It is in the shadow of the cross. It is in the moments of betrayal and denial. It is in the context of abandonment that Jesus speaks of GLORY as he washes the feet of his disciples. Glory. As Judas slithers out of the room. Glory. As Peter turns cowardly. Glory. The old slaves used to sing it this way: "Glory, glory, hallelujah, since I laid my burdens down."
In the world, if you will, glory is when success is yours. Now I don't know about you, but glory is when I've got a crown on my head, not a cross on my shoulders. Glory is when the crowd cheers you on. Glory is when you've graduated, when you've gotten married, had a baby. Glory is when your teenager goes off to school. Glory is when good things happen. Glory is when you win a Super Bowl ring, when you get a promotion. Glory is when the world cheers you on and you're on top of the mountain. Glory is NOT when you're betrayed, glory is NOT when your friends are talking about you. Glory is NOT when they're calling you every name but a child of God. Glory is NOT when they're nailing you to a cross.
Now you wonder what's going on here. Jesus' own words may help. Listen to what he says, "I glorify you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do." This is not Jesus in love with suffering and death. This is not someone who is excited about the possibility of being betrayed. This is someone who discovered glory in being who he was sent here to be, in doing what he was sent here to do, in being who he truly is. Therein was his glory. Therein is his glory. Therein is our glory, when we are who God created us to be, we honor God. We give God glory. "GLORY, GLORY, HALLELUJAH, since I laid my burdens down."
You remember the movie "Chariots of Fire"? It was the story of the 1924 Summer Olympics. A runner named Eric Liddell from Scotland ran for Great Britain in the Paris Olympics. He was fast. This brother was really fast. He was the Michael Johnson of his day. You may remember Michael Johnson from the Atlanta Olympics. He ran, he ran so fast that he left everyone else in the dust. Eric Liddell was like that. He was swift of foot. He was quick. He was able. He ran effortlessly. It almost seemed as though he didn't even sweat. Well, Liddell gained a great deal of notoriety before the Olympics and everyone was looking forward to his running in the great race. But his sister in the movie came to him, they came from a great Scottish Presbyterian family, and they came from a missionary family. They believed that it was important for him to be involved in the mission field. And so his sister asked him if he would forgo running in the Olympics and join the family in China in missionary work. This was a difficult moment for him. He loved to run. He loved to be a missionary and he was torn between the two. Finally, after some soul-searching and great thought he came back to his sister and he told her that it wasn't time for him to go to China yet. And he explained it this way. He says, "God made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure."
My sisters and my brothers, God made you YOU. And when you are YOU, you feel His pleasure. To glorify God. To give God glory. We are called to be who God made and created us to be. Jesus told us that. He taught us that. Listen to his Word, "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven." Notice that your light shines when you glorify God. My light doesn't shine in you. Your light doesn't shine in me. When we glorify God, our light shines. Notice, you let your light shine and you glorify God. When I let my light shine, I glorify God. I can't shine for you. You can't shine for me. But I've got to shine for me and when I truly shine, the real me, when that shines, when I'm the real Michael, then God is glorified.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons once said, "The glory of God is humanity fully alive," or as another singer once said, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." Glory.
Another one of my favorite films is the movie "Becket" with Richard Burton. I always love films with Richard Burton. I just loved to hear his voice. I would sometimes give anything to have a voice like Richard Burton. I remember several years ago when he was on the television Today show with Gene Shalit at the time and Shalit invited him--he said, "You know, you have one of those incredible voices. I daresay you could read the Manhattan telephone book and it would be a moment of great oratory." And so he challenged him to do it and Burton actually did it. And he picked up the Manhattan telephone book and he began to read, "John Smith, 452," and a moment of pedantic became a moment of great oratorical invective and power and glory. Burton just had one of those gifts. Well, in this role, Burton played the role of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. He played the role of a man who once was a playboy, a party animal, merely a politician, hardly a statesman, who was suddenly put in the role of serving as Archbishop of Canterbury. Long and short of the story, Becket got religion. He found the Lord or the Lord found him. And before you knew it, Becket was serving God and not the king. And before he knew it, he was in trouble with the king who had placed him in office. Soon before he was to die, by knights probably sent by the king, Becket played by Burton said this: "Once I lived for my own honor and glory. But now I live for His and now I truly live." "GLORY, GLORY, HALLELUJAH, since I laid my burdens down."
The word glory in both its Hebrew and Greek forms sometimes has interesting connotations. One of the connotations is that of light. The other is the connotation of weight. St. Paul uses glory in this way in 2nd Corinthians, chapter, 4, when he says, " For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure." True glory is heavy. Not as a burden but as a liberating load. We sometimes speak of someone being heavy or an idea being heavy. What we mean is that that idea has substance, that there's something really to it. It's not lightweight and frivolous. Being who you are is not a heavy load. It's a new weight. There's incredible power for living when you transfer the burden of life for the weight of glory. "GLORY, GLORY, HALLELUJAH, since I laid my burdens down."
Do you see it? There's a difference between a weight and a burden. A slave knew what a weight was. They were slaves. Slavery was a burden, but the burden of slavery could be overcome by the weight of glory. "GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH, since I laid my burdens down."
You know something? Have you ever watched the Oscars or the Academy Awards or the Tony's and watched the various stars when they receive their awards? One of the reasons we give them awards for those who do their acting with exceptional ability is the fact that acting is hard work. It's work to act. That's why we award those who do it very well. But to just be who you are--that's not any work. That's easy. All you have to do is just BE. And when you ARE the true self that God created you to be, when you ARE the child of God that God made you to be, when you ARE that person that you were sent into this world to be, you don't have to act any more. The burden's off your shoulder. You don't have to act any more. The burden is gone, you can just be who God created you to be. And then you can sing, "GLORY, GLORY, HALLELUJAH, since I laid that burden of pretending-to-be down."
One last movie. It was a movie called "Glory." Came out a few years ago. It was the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first organized unit of escaped slaves during the Civil War. You may remember the movie, it starred Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and many others. I often wondered why they called the movie, "Glory." Well, it was the story of these men who had once been slaves who had escaped and who eventually with great struggle and difficulty were able to be enrolled in the Union army. It was the story of how these men overcame great adversities and eventually fought side-by-side with their comrades in arms. One night, before the last climatic battle, when most of them would die in battle, the group of ex-slaves, now soldiers in the army, gathered round the campfire. And the campfire became a campmeeting. They began to sing, "Lord, Lord, Lord, what shall I do?" One by one different ones stood up. One testified. Another prayed. One stood up and said, "Lord, if tomorrow is my great gittin' up morning, let my kin folk know that I went down standing up." Another one said, "Lord, if I die, let me die a man." The next day most of them did. One might wonder, "Why would you call such a film "Glory?" I think I understand it now. Those men were finally able to be who God created them to be. God didn't make anyone to be a slave. God didn't make anyone to hurt. God made us to be and therein is our glory.
God of grace and God of glory. On thy people pour thy power.
Crown thine ancient church's story, bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.
And one last thing. There's another verse of that song, "Glory, Glory" that says, "I feel better, so much better since I laid my burdens down."
Lord Jesus, you took up the burden when you carried the cross. Teach us to exchange the burdens of life for the weight of glory. And then lead us in the life you would have us to live. This we pray and ask in your name and for your sake. Amen.