We were on a summer vacation when the kids were young and one particularly memorable day, we were in Arches National Park in Utah. It was cloudy and rained off and on, but we soldiered on and hiked up to the famous arch and back. It was later afternoon; the clouds were a thick texture of grays that seemed to touch the ground. We had just driven through a squall of rain on our way out of the park and a prism of sun started to shine through this wall of clouds. Suddenly, we saw this amazing shimmering, glowing manifestation of rainbow light bouncing off and through this wall of clouds, it was a light show for us right by the side of the road. Dan stopped the car and we stared at this wonder of nature in awe. Jacob, who was about 8, said, “that looks like something Jesus would walk out of.”
It did. Jacob did not have the word for it, but he knew it when he saw it. “Glory.” It was the very definition of “glory” as we traditionally think of it. Jesus talks a lot about “glory” in our Gospel lesson today—about being glorified, and God being glorified in him, and being glorified at once. He does not refer to clouds or our traditional idea involving a light-show spectacular when we imagine Jesus coming back in glory. But the most important aspect of glory—especially in the gospel of John—that Jacob did articulate was the visible presence of God. God is present in all of creation, of course, and in that moment by the roadside, we came face to face with this glorious reality. Maybe we forgot, and we thought we had just been looking at rocks, and erosion, and dirt, but no; all day at Arches park, we had been seeing God’s visible presence in creation. Glory.
That’s the glory Jesus is talking about in this passage—making visible God’s presence.
God’s presence—which we see in nature, on mountaintops, in shimmering clouds, in cardinals and butterflies—is also made uniquely visible in the concrete presence here, of Jesus himself, the God made human. We see God’s presence in how Jesus loves, forgives, teaches, heals, and prays—all of it is God’s glory because he shows God’s presence to us.
Now this is the same passage we heard in the Lord’s Supper play on Palm Sunday, and in Holy Week on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus washes the disciple’s feet—even Judas’s feet, who betrays him; even Peter’s feet, who will deny him; even all the other disciples’ feet, who will abandon him. So, what do we make of God’s “glory” here? God’s presence and love have become visible among us in the midst of human brokenness—every one of the disciples is going to flunk—and glory is Jesus making God’s presence visible by loving them, loving them, loving them, loving them.
That’s what Jesus’ ministry had always been about. Recall all the intimate ways Jesus shows up in so many people’s lives—in our lives—and makes God’s presence visible, and not just with the big miraculous healings, but also in so many menial tasks: washing feet, cooking breakfast, feeding people lunch, teaching bible lessons, listening to aches and pains and wants, visiting the grieving, healing wounds, private meetings with those too scared to talk in the open, calming fears, teaching prayer, holding children, always welcoming the rejected and outcast—can you see the shimmering light of God’s visible presence in all these acts of love and call it “glory?”
Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure, by telling them that the visible presence of God will expand in the world through them. Jesus passes the glory baton onto the disciples and to all of us, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When we love as Jesus does—we help make God’s presence visible in the world—to love as Jesus does is to join Jesus in shining God’s glory, to be Christ for one another.
This is the part of faith that first made sense to me when I was in high school. My dad worked for 3M and he was transferred back to the headquarters at the time in St. Paul MN. So, my family moved from beautiful San Jose, California to a small town, Hudson, WI just across the river from St. Paul, MN at the end of my freshman year of high school, and it was a true nightmare. Now Hudson functions as suburb of St. Paul, but in the 70’s this was not true. No one in Hudson in 70’s wanted people from California moving into their small town. In California, I was in high school, wore makeup, nice clothes, carried a purse and so on. In Hudson, I was back at Middle school, and looked like an alien from another planet; I thought I had moved onto the set of Happy Days where girls had pig tales, buck teeth, and saddles shoes, and bought their painters pants at the Fleet Farm. It was worse for my older sister Pam, who was at the end of 11th grade. We ended each school day in tears until summer started
But I did start going to the youth group at the church we joined and this became significant. (I also started buying my painters pants at the Fleet Farm--my mom was mortified, but but I said--you try to fit in with these people--you were the ones moved me here--but I digress!). In the youth group, we could ask questions, struggle, offer and receive support. It did not matter that we were in different grades and hung out with different friend groups in high school—we were church together, and bound by something stronger than I had ever known before. I experienced community, love, acceptance, openness—and it was through that group and our youth leader Joani (who I am still in touch with !) that our faith first started to make sense—others were the light of Christ to me. And I was not a freak from California, I was a little Christ—a small light—we were Christ to each other—we shined the visible presence of God to one another and to others—glory!
This is exactly what Peter learns in his vision in Acts—to love as Jesus loves now means to stop making distinctions based upon human differences of culture, ethnicity, nationality, religious background, and today, we add gender and sexual identity, politics and even vaccine status. Now that Jesus has been raised from the dead, God’s visible presence and Spirit can inhabit everyone, no exceptions! We cannot hinder the power of God’s Spirit! To love as Jesus loves is to look for the shimmering light of God’s visible presence in someone we have deemed unacceptable, and call it, “glory!”
So, the question is not do we as human beings show God’s glory, but how this week are you going to help make God’s presence visible in the world?
It's not just in the grand gestures, the big donations, the heroic moments that come along once in a while, but like Jesus, in the love with which we do the menial tasks of service and caregiving, washing and feeding, interacting with strangers at the grocery store. Jesus has given us his Spirit and filled us with all of his perfect love, so that people can tell by the way you treat them at home, at work and out in public that
• the light of Christ shines through you,
• there is something about you that gives them a sign of the visible presence of God,
• or a palpable experience of love,
• or a renewed feeling of hope,
• something that helps them believe in goodness and God again.
We are all involved in sharing and showing God’s glory—a shimmer of light, the love of Christ, a glimpse and smile of God’s presence, living as a little Christ, for whom no one and nothing is profane.
The morning meditation I sent in the Weekly Word this week is meant to help you consciously start the day filled with light of Christ. I encourage you to make this or another light of Christ meditation a habit to start your day. It’s only 5 minutes. Can you see yourself as one shimmering the light of God’s visible presence for someone else today and this week and call it “glory?”
We may never know the impact that shining our light, and loving as Jesus loves, can have on others. Author, and end-of-life physician, Dr. Ira Byock shares the story of patient in his late 20’s who was close to dying. The patient wrote a letter to his mother and asked her not to open it until after he was gone. After her son died, the mother opened the letter and in it her son told her that this last year had been the best year of his life. Yes, he was dying, but he saw all of his friends, he was surrounded by people he loved, he felt cared for and upheld. He wrote, “People may be wondering if I went to heaven. Tell them I just came from there.”
I can hear Jacob saying, “that sounds like somewhere Jesus was walking.” Glory.