To God Be The Glory
To God be the glory – that’s how I often end my sermons, but today I think it would be best to start there. It’s not a very common phrase, although I think it would be interesting if we started working it in to our conversations. Maybe it would sound something like, “Wow, it’s really cold today – to God be the glory!” That’s a little awkward, I know, but the point is that there is so much that we expect or anticipate to revolve around our own experiences and needs that sometimes we forget how much of life is truly a gift. We forget how important it is to recognize our relationship as creatures with our creator.
Maybe that’s because we don’t always see the direct connection that we have with God. We become like children who have not seen their parents in ages and who forget that they are still, in some way, a reflection of – or a reaction to – the love or neglect they may have received.
Giving glory to God often becomes reduced to silly things we say in time of need like “God never gives you more than you can handle”. Well of course God does. What would you need God for if you can handle everything on your own?
No, giving glory to God requires something more than simple justifications. First off it requires us to realize that glory is not ours to give. Glory is not about giving credit to God for touch downs or bank mergers or anything that we can do by simply believing in ourselves. Glory is instead – according to Isaiah – what God withholds. Glory is the recognition that God is God and we are not.
Now, you fans of the Westminster Confession of Faith may be saying, “I thought that the chief end of humanity – our sole purpose – was to glorify God and enjoy God’s presence forever.” True, but the question is not “can we” but rather “how do we glorify God?” To that our scripture readings seem to say, “Who better to turn to for an example other than Jesus?”
But here’s the problem. To ask that question we have to dive headfirst into the deep waters of the divinity of Jesus. To do that it seems like we either have to separate the man named Jesus from the trinity or decide that God was involved in some serious cosmic narcissism.
Yet, maybe there is a third way. While the prophet Isaiah was speaking about an ideal ruler to unite Israel, we have long since come to understand that his words describe the character of Jesus. He was the one who came to serve, and he was the servant of God’s own choosing. That is why Mathew tells the story of his baptism. That’s why all four gospel accounts include the baptism of Jesus.
Jesus was the one who received God’s Spirit in order to bring about justice for the nations. Jesus was the one who did not come to glorify himself but to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus was the one who would heal or remove the presence of sin and evil and say, “Tell no one,” because he wanted them to glorify God.
Never did he back down from challenges to his testimony, and always he moved toward the covenant of grace and mercy that God would establish through his life and death and resurrection. And while we remember this powerful witness, we must also remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other.”
So, glory is God’s. Great. What does that do for us? Quite a bit, actually. You see, because of Jesus we truly see God’s glory. Because of Jesus we are wrapped up in the covenant God has made with all people. Because of Jesus, we become formed and forged into a light for all nations. Because of Jesus we can see how indiscriminately God chooses to love. God does not care about color or nationality or where you sleep at night. God simply wants us to recognize that we have a specific witness to share.
Maybe it would be easier if we were like Peter and the others who could tell everyone about eating and drinking and traveling with Jesus, but maybe not. You see I think we all have a specific witness to share about our experience of God. We certainly have one as a congregation.
Last night our witness was to open up our fellowship hall for shelter due to the hard freeze. And while that feels good to say, it is also a bit like congratulating yourself for putting on pants. We have beds. It’s dangerously cold. What else would we do? Of course we have those beds to house volunteers that are coming to do flood repair, and that is part of our witness, too.
The thing is, we have to realize that what we have to share is not a metaphor or a symbol of something else. We, like the bread and fruit of the vine, are common things used for a sacred purpose. In the breaking of bread together, Christ is with us – truly.
We have but these two sacraments in the Presbyterian faith – baptism and communion. In baptism we die and rise to ourselves and enter into new life as one of God’s children. In communion we become aware of that which we have already received – the very presence of God – and we prepare for sacramental living.
And here’s the thing that excites me most about all of this; last August we were doing a study on hospitality and wringing our hands about ways to use the education building and whether we need to repair or restore or even rebuild it. Then our community was baptized by the flood.
I don’t say that lightly. There was death and loss and destruction, yet there has been and will be new life as well. All the things that we talked about – housing people, feeding people, even caring for children and the most vulnerable of our community – all of those things are happening and have been every since our conversations about hospitality began last July.
Soon we will house volunteers through the Presbyterian Disaster Response. Our worksite partner is Rebuilding Together Acadiana, and they focus on the elderly, the poor, and those with special needs. Later this month the Extra Mile will hold some parenting classes here that will be open to the community. On January 29 we’re hosting a networking event with the Louisiana Inner church Conference for congregations and non-profits who focus on children in poverty. And tonight we’re opening the Fellowship Hall again as an overflow shelter!
Now it would be ridiculously self centered and cruel to say that God gave us these opportunities because we asked. Instead, what we need to realize is that we have placed ourselves in a position to receive grace upon grace because we know that God is active and present. We know that God is moving in and through us, and we have a story to tell about what God is doing.
Of course, it doesn’t stop here. It can’t stop here. Oh we have a lot more hand wringing to do over what we will do next, and we still have a building to manage. We do have a brilliant witness to share together, but each of us must also recognize where God is active and present with other people and other places, for that is where you must draw your witness from! Each of us has to realize that the truly powerful thing about the baptism of Jesus is not simply to show us what to do but instead to include us in what God is doing. For Jesus looks to you at this table and says, “You are mine. With you I am well pleased.”
Wherever you have been, whatever you have done or left undone, whatever has been done to you – this is the place where you can be received by God’s own choosing. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen!