A sermon preached on Easter III, April 15, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Click here to read today’s scripture. Click the play button below to listen.
“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?”
In today’s psalm, God asks us a very pointed question: How long we will dishonor the glory of God by worshipping dumb idols and running after false gods?
The glory of God.
We use the word “glory” a lot. We devote the beginning of our Eucharistic liturgy to proclaiming the “glory of God” – when we sing or say the Gloria together.
Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to God’s people on earth.
… we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.
What exactly are we talking about when we use the word, “glory?”
“Glory” is one of the most common words in all of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In the Greek scriptures, the word we translate into “glory” is the word “doxa” which carries the connotation of splendor and brightness, value and wonder.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the word is “kabod” which originally meant “weight” or “heaviness”. In our modern American English tongue, I think this translates to our word: “gravitas” – a dignity or weightiness, a quality that calls forth intrinsic authority and respect. It’s not magnetism or showiness, but more like wisdom, centeredness, and depth.
So, we use the English word glory to articulate splendor, dignity, brightness, and wisdom. These aspects of God that we praise and respect because of their inherent value and wonder. And we intrinsically respond to this glory with our adulation and devotion… our worship.
A few weeks ago, I preached about how God’s glory shines forth in and through us when we are living into our true purpose as creatures of God. That is, when we are giving ourselves to something greater than ourselves. This is the very covenant written on our hearts in the book of Jeremiah, that we are called to give ourselves in love.
When the church is at our best, this is who we are. The Body of Christ, broken open for the world – connecting, inviting, sharing, serving the diversity of God’s creation. And we do this as broken and forgiven creatures of God. Extravagantly and wildly loved by God.
God’s glory shines forth in us as we lift up others in our midst.
The concept of “glory” often gets confused with “vainglory” which is closer to “vanity” or “pride.” Vainglory causes us to boast, seeking victory. It’s arrogant, fame-seeking, and pretentious. Vainglory arises from a misguided need to prove our worth because we have forgotten just how loved we are.
Vainglory is a striving for adulation of ourselves, a striving to be seen, to get what we think we need. A striving to belong.
While glory is a surrender to God that happens when we focus our attention outside of our self – because when we see God out there, we feel seen by God in here. A realization that we already do belong.
So, glory is not about golden chariots and pomp and medals of honor and celebrity – that’s vainglory. Glory is about authenticity and surrender and life-giving shared power in service. Glory is about relationship with others and seeing Christ in one another, the Christ worthy of adulation and praise.
To unpack this a bit more, I want to quote a bit from C.S. Lewis, who is best known for writing the Chronicles of Narnia. He was known as a theologian in England in the first part of the 20th century and wrote a sermon called The Weight of Glory in 1942 in the middle of the horrors of World War II. And here’s what he says:
“I turn next to the idea of glory… Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendour like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all… Glory suggests two ideas to me… either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity.
Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being “noticed” by God. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside—repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored. On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities. Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.
And this brings me to the other sense of glory—glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star… We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
Sometimes, we get a little lost. Because the world is a difficult place. It doesn’t make sense many days. And, lately, it’s hard to make sense of it at all. I have trouble listing all the ways in which the world doesn’t make sense to me.
And this doesn’t begin to speak about the personal concerns we go through – the illness and grief, the pain and fear. It’s ok to get lost sometimes. It is nothing but completely understandable that we find ourselves despairing or depressed from time to time. When we’re in this state, it’s so easy to reject others because we’re so busy thinking that we are rejected.
When we call out to God: Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard-pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
Because, like Lewis says, we long to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off. In other words, we long to belong.
But being lost isn’t the whole of who we are. God’s response to this petition is to stop running after false gods and dishonoring God’s glory. Because the mistakes we make don’t define us. The grief we carry, the ways we have been hurt, the struggles in our lives… this is not who we are. We are so much more.
I’ve been watching this show called Mom lately. It’s about a group of women who are in AA and how they support one another in the program. The oldest character, Marjorie, who has been in recovery the longest, is always reminding her friends of the importance of service, that serving others is not only a good and helpful thing to do, but it lifts us out of our own struggle.
Because when we stop focusing on ourselves, service reminds us of our greater purpose – to give ourselves in love. In other words, to let God’s Glory shine forth though us.
As we move into relationship with others, we stop focusing on what we aren’t getting or how we aren’t seen, on what other people are or aren’t doing. The voices of judgment quiet down. Depressive and dark thoughts drift away. And as this happens, we begin to realize, that not only do people need us, but we love being of service.
There us a mutuality in relationship because relationship is a real and costly love. The cost being that we give up the illusions that keep us locked in stasis.
C.S. Lewis continues:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, [these are worldly]. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses… (s)he is holy in almost the same way, for in her/him also Christ the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
You are no mere mortal. I am no mere mortal. The people who live in this neighborhood are no mere mortals. The undocumented immigrant, the person who receives welfare, a child in Syria, a person who drives us crazy, the addict, the homeless person, the police officer, the young black man who gets shot at by his neighbor for asking directions… None of them are mere mortals.
We are all beloved holy creatures of God, blessed with the desire to be seen by God and therefore, blessed to shine forth God’s glory simply because we are children of God. We are luminous by our very nature.
And when we forget, it’s being in service to one another that helps us to remember.
Today’s second reading from John’s first letter says, “we should be called children of God; and that is what we are… what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Christ is revealed, we will be like Christ, for we will see Christ as Christ is.”
We don’t enter into glory by ourselves. We don’t achieve glory. We enter into glory by bearing witness to Christ in our midst. We enter into glory when we serve Christ in our midst – when we are of service to one another – to our neighbors – to the other in the course of our day. We enter into glory when we take the time to witness glory in another.
Because when we see God out there, we feel seen by God in here. This is when the Kingdom of God is present, when the Reign of God becomes real and tangible.
When the church is at our best, this is who we are. The Body of Christ, broken open for the world – connecting, inviting, sharing, serving the diversity of God’s creation right here, right now.