Hello Jesus! Who said the Bible doesn’t speak to modern America? And I quote…“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s suffering, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (1 Pe 4:12-13). Amen. Can you give me an Amen…from your living room? Amen! From the choir? Amen!
Do you know what glory means? It was one of those words that, as I reflected on it, I realized I didn’t actually have a good working definition. I mean, I would have given you an answer had you asked me what it meant; but a sermon deserves a bit more reflection; and so, I went to my Bible, the Greek version, and through the power of my cursor (not my linguistic ability) found that glory means: “things that cause the dignity and worth of a person to be manifest.” That is sort of beautiful. Let me say it again. Glory means: “things that cause the dignity and worth of a person to be manifest.” So, something that is glorious is something that shows off your worth and dignity.
I wonder what might that look like in your life? When has your glory been shown off? How is your glory revealed to all of the world? Maybe glory shines when you’ve won an election or got a promotion. Maybe glory glows when you’ve won a race or mastered a chess board. Maybe glory radiates when you’ve become a parent or accomplished a dream you’ve had for a long time. Maybe those things reveal dignity and worth. I think they do; but I also suspect there is more, and it might not always manifest forth from the things we want to brag about.
There is a parishioner here at Epiphany who very often in the course of a conversation says: “And God will be glorified.” It is usually in response to a declarative statement made by her conversation partner. Isn’t that a great response? – “And God will be glorified.” It is disarming, and true, and orienting back to the reality that this is God’s world, that God is king, and if we have something awesome to declare we can trace it back to God.
I don’t see this friend at all now because of the COVID-19, like I don’t see you all either. But upon hearing my words this morning I am sure her response is: “And God will be glorified.” And if she is shouting those words, she ought to be; for even in this time of COVID-19 there is much about which to shout: “And God will be glorified.”
The letter from Peter that I began this sermon with as an onramp to this glory super-highway, has two prominent signposts I want to call your attention to:
- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet 5:6).
- And then: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of grace, who has called you to his eternal glory will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10).
One signpost flashes humility and the other suffering…both stuck in the ground to keep us going down the center of this super highway of glory. Which is sort of a problem, because, well, the words are humility and suffering; probably not on anyone’s top ten list of favorite words. That said, they are front and center in this time of the COVID catastrophe, aren’t they?
Let’s look at these signs. We’ll start with the one that says: suffering. Suffering is something put upon us; not chosen; not sought, like a disease, or a disaster, or a pandemic. I, personally, only know just a little suffering at this stage of life.
As a kid our house use to flood. I suppose there was suffering in that. We’d all have to jump to it and work like crazy sandbagging the windows and sweeping the water out through the garage…all, of course, in the pouring rain. I’ve spent time in the hospital as a kid; and I’ve had pets die; and grandparents in due course; and my mom had cancer. There is suffering in all of that. And I’ve sat with many of you as you have gone through suffering, and I must say some of that has worked its way into my soul as well. “And God will be glorified.”
The Desert Fathers, of whom I am a great fan, as you know, link suffering and humility (our second signpost) together. St. Peter of Damascus writes: “Why do people pursue humility? In order to press forward actively and deliberately to embrace the suffering of Jesus” (Philokalia, vol. III, p. 239).
I think it is statements like this that make the Desert Fathers a little less popular than they might otherwise be…because most of us don’t strive actively and deliberately toward suffering and humility. But it comes, as sure as the rain in springtime, it comes.
Every summer, it seemed, summer after summer as I was growing up, my dad had another plan for diverting the water from reaching our house when the spring rains poured off the hills behind our home. We’d dig trenches and build walls and shore up window wells. Then spring would come. Snow would melt. Confidence would run high, the rain would fall, and all would be well, and then more rain would fall; and our basement, some years, would flood, and in sopped humility we’d sweep it out once again.
In the early years I remembered there being some parental frustration over this reoccurring issue. Maybe it seemed that way because I was little, and this act of God seemed rather big and terrifying. But, as the years went on, and I got older, maybe because I was older, as the efforts to block this disaster eluded us, a dispassionate equanimity took root. We just all set to work, doing what we must do, because our wills were no match for the hills and the snow and the rain.
Suffering reveals the limitation of the human will, and the gift of such suffering is the revelation of humility. St. Peter of Damascus writes that humility ultimately trains us for dispassion, and dispassion is the force that declutters our hearts so as to make room for the Holy Spirit (which is well timed given that next Sunday is Pentecost). Humility gives us the capacity to accept suffering, and in that, acceptance says: And God will be glorified!
Those are words that would have well expressed what was happening in the Conn household as we buckled down and did what needed to be done…holding down the fort, working as a team, all hands on deck. There was even that time when Mom and Dad were out, and we were there with a babysitter, and as the water started to pour in we knew just what do…and got right to it, as Mom and Dad came rushing home, to take up their posts.
Was there glory in that? Did things happen that caused our dignity and worth to be manifest? I think so. When people step up and do what must be done, because it must be done; when people do all the little things to help the family, and care for the neighbor, and serve the community; when people step toward the suffering, not with the power to make it go away, but with the heart to do what they can; when all they can say in the face of the struggle or pain or frustration is…”And God will be glorified”; then our dignity and worth as children of God is ennobled, and the eternal glory of God is revealed.
That is what Peter of Damascus writes about. That is what the Apostle Peter in his first letter is talking about; And it is what Dr. Fauci was saying when he testified before Congress the other day: we are suffering, so be humble. The signposts on the glory super-highway still stand; and they are the same: suffering and humility; and that is a good thing because by them our dignity and worthy is made manifest.
It is humiliating to not be able to bend a microbe to our will, and this humiliation has revealed our limitations…and yet, uncovering and owning these limitations can, if we let it, lead to the revelation of the glory of God; to God’s dignity and worth, which is seen in how we step up and uphold the dignity and worth of our neighbor. How we do what we must, not because we want to, but because is our duty. If we know the drill, we can’t wait around for our parent to get home. Even if we are little kids; even if we are just children; and we are…. because we are all children of God, so, we step up because it is our duty.
We may never beat this virus, but we will never stop stepping up. We will never stop upholding the dignity of our neighbors, seeking to manifest their glory. We will never stop, or get selfish, or shut down, or give up, or go away, or run away; because it is not just about how much we love our neighbor, it is about how much God loves us.
And because God loves us; we say, no matter what we are up against: whether it is water running down the hills, or illness inflaming our bodies; whether it is graduations cancelled, or jobs going away; even if it is an invisible virus running ramped, we wash our hands, and strap on our masks; we step up into whatever task we can do to reveal the dignity and worth of our neighbors; and when we reveal the dignity and worth of our neighbors the eternal glory of God God’s self will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. And to that we say: “And to God be the glory.”