"The Glory of God"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 2/11/2018
II Corinthians 4:3-6
“The Glory of God”
February 11, 2018
           “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”
           “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
            “Glory to God in the highest!”
What exactly is glory?  In its fullness, it’s an attribute of God unlike other attributes in an important way.  Most of the time, we want or need those things that pertain to the divine.  God is merciful, and we need mercy.  God is patient, and we ask him to bear with us.  God is love, and we all need that.  But God’s glory is different.  It can be dangerous to experience.
           Paul talks about knowing “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [II Corinthians 4:6]”, and he speaks of that in a positive way, but as I recall, when Jesus appeared to him directly on his way to Damascus, the sight blinded him. “For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” [Acts 9:9]  It sounds to me like that one, short encountered had left him stunned and shocked, and that came to an end only when God sent someone to heal him.
           On the mountaintop where Peter and James and John were given a glimpse, just a glimpse, of Jesus’ glory, it was enough that “they were terrified” [Mark 9:6].  In traditional depictions of the transfiguration, Jesus is shown in a blinding light, with these disciples huddled on the ground, with their faces to the earth.
“Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”
Glory overwhelms one who experiences it.  In the science fiction novel, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes a torture chamber known as the Total Perspective Vortex.  “The prospective victim … is placed within a small chamber wherein is displayed a model of the entire universe – together with a microscopic dot displaying the legend ‘you are here’.  The sense of perspective thereby conveyed destroys the victim’s mind; it was stated that the TPV was the only known method of crushing a man’s soul.”  That actually isn’t too far off from Psalm 8:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?” [Psalm 8:3-4]
That’s just looking at God’s creation, not God’s own self, beside which the universe itself is nothing.  Even so, God shows us his glory, not to crush our souls, as it easily could, but to save them.  That is where Jesus comes into the picture.
            I know this comparison is flawed, so bear with me on it.  Nothing we say or think can adequately describe the Infinite, which is sort of the point here, anyway.  Think, if you will, of a television or computer that is showing a view of the sun.  It already has had to be filtered to avoid burning out the lens, but it jumps out at you with such brilliance and intensity that the only way to look at it is to turn down the brightness on the screen.  The entire picture is there in all its detail, but it has become toned down just to the point that it doesn’t burn out the screen and that a human eye can look at it.  In a similar way, God’s full glory is right there in Jesus all the time, but in such a way that we are not destroyed by that which is too great for us.  Again, even when we cannot stare at the sun, we and the whole world, human or not, still need its light and warmth simply to survive. 
           Shown to us in the person of Jesus, God’s glory builds up our souls the way that sunshine makes the plants grow.  To get to know God in his fullness is what we are made for.  In the words of an early Christian writer, Irenaeus of Lyons,
“The glory of God is a living man, and human life consists in beholding God.”[1]
Or, as a group of English and Scottish Puritans wrote in 1647,
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”[2]
We come alive in God’s glory, by his grace, even when we might find ourselves so totally overwhelmed that we could burst.  I want to go back to a psalm that I quoted earlier, Psalm 8.  After it describes how small a person can feel in the face of all that God has made and the sweep of the universe around us, asking,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
            mortals that you care for them?”
it continues,
“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
            and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands,
            you have put all things under their feet.” [Psalm 8:5-6]
God rescues us from our smallness and powerlessness, simply by counting us in.  By coming to us in Jesus, God entrusts his glory to as mixed-up a species as us.  Can I explain that?  No.  But I can point to the effect of what he has done.
           The glory living in Jesus is also shown in us.  At the transfiguration, the disciples heard God’s voice say,
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [Mark 9:7]
And when people do listen to him and follow his ways, God’s glory shines through, and it remains dangerous to the ways of the world.  There are those who have no interest in God’s ways.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” [II Corinthians 4:4] 
Yet Jesus is the one who, time and time again, brings that kind of blindness to an end.    
“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [II Corinthians 4:6]
When people who hate are met with love and really do get it, when they recognize that it is God acting through the person in front of them, the glory of that moment knocks them back like it bowled over the disciples. 
           That was the power of the Civil Rights Movement, with its insistence on nonviolence.  Like Jesus, it insisted that the enemy is not the person, but the sin within them.  Get that person to see Jesus, to see God’s glory, and life will be transformed.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well.  Every person without exception is
“an upstanding human being whose vision has been impaired by the cataracts of sin and whose soul has been weakened by the virus of pride, but there is sufficient vision for him [or her] to lift his eyes unto the hills, and there remains enough of God’s image for him to turn a weak and sin-battered life toward the Great Physician, the curer of the ravages of sin.”[3]
To offer pardon and not be limited by old hurts and resentment, to forgive as Jesus forgave, that brings life and is part of God’s glory.  Replacing hatred with friendship, as Jesus did, is part of God’s glory.  It is part of God’s glory for people to sing together, as the Bible tells us that Jesus and his disciples did; or, like them, to share a meal.  It is God’s glory when people just go for a walk together, when they pray together, or whenever they go about their daily work with a desire to please God in whatever they do.

[1] Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, IV.20.vii.
[2] from the opening of the Westminster Small Catechism.
[3] from “The Answer to a Perplexing Question” in Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 123.
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