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Receiving the Glory
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
2nd Sunday of Lent -Mar. 4, 2012
Ez. 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 119:73-88; I Thess. 4:1-8; Mt. 15:21-28
Receiving the glory of God.... We often have a problem even discernng the glory of God, let alone receiving it, incorporating it into our lives. We can have experiences of glory, which then fade away, like the sun which is then beclouded, not to be seen again that day. Or that week. Or longer. The spiritual life can be hit and miss that way. We are on a mountain top of clarity and hope, and then in the valley of despond, often without knowning why the back and forth motion. Why can we not stay in that glory which God shines on us? Why can that not be a permanent fixture in our lives.
That issue has been on my mind in a deep and compelling way recently, and so I am taking this 2nd Sunday of Lent to share what I believe to be a word from God which may help you with your spiritual walk with the Lord.
My first inkling of the glory of God was about four or five years old, I think. It was probably a late Christmas Eve service, because it was at night and the church was beautifully lit, probably a Methodist church because my father had been raised Methodist, more or less. His family was not devoutly Christian, but they were at least associated with the Methodist church. I remember only walking in with my family and pausing as I was about to enter the pew, gazing up at the rose window on the wall over the choir and altar table. It had an unearthly beauty which flooded the church. Though I had no idea what it meant then, or that it had any meaning at all, I believe now that God was revealing Himself to me. It was like the presence of someone.
Then when I was seven, I had the experience which I have related before of my father reading to my brother and me from Genesis 1, the creation story. It was the only Bible passage I ever heard him read, but it was my introduction to Biblical faith. I knew that the vision I had as he read of God creating the world was reality. I was too young to know about the secular opposition to the Bible. But the event sealed in my mind the truth of God, our creator. It was a very gentle experience, not overpowering, but I knew that it was the truth, reality. It was not a picture of the world randomly evolving, I knew that God was doing it, and again the sense of a presence. An omnipotent, but very gentle presence. Nothing threatening about the presence of God.
But there was another contrary thread running through my life. My father, in many ways a very good father, was quite distant emotionally, and everything seemed to be a chore. There was little fun in the family life. And then my teen experience with the Christian faith was dominated by pastors who seemed likewise to be all business, all hard work, all toe-the-line, and little sense of joy. They majored in those tough responses of God to the sins of both pagans and Hebrews. The anger of God greatly overshadowed His love and compassion. Even the compassion was phrased often to produce guilt in the hearer. The picture of the crucifixion was presented to say, “Look what you did to me!” rather than, “Here what I am willing to do for you...”
I was never sure that my father liked me. So I strove with might and main to please him with good grades in school, and by doing what he asked. Salvation by works, buying his liking me with my good works. But I did not know how to bridge that gap between what I felt from him and what I felt from God. Trying to please my father felt like demeaning myself. I did not know how to grow up and be his equal, which is what I should have been doing.
All this led to the confusion in my own mind concerning our relationship with God, an issue which I have spoken about before. If we exalt God, we put ourselves down, and if we raise ourselves up, even accept ourselves as real persons, we put God down. That is the dilemma which many Christians have had to face because of their faulty upbringing in the Faith. It is a no-win situation – we lose no matter how we cut it. Exalting God means demeaning ourselves. And having respect for ourselves means demeaning God. There seems no way to have mutual respect, mutual love and acceptance. Asking for such would seem irreverent, if not blasphemous.
But that is not the kind
of relationship into which God is drawing us. The Kingdom of heaven is
mutual love. God is already
loving us, and commmanding/inviting us to love Him and one another. The Father
of Jesus Christ is not a distant father who sees His children as nuisances and
bothers. He loves us out of the abundance of His own eternal security and
substance. He is not merely “putting up with” us. He is devoted to us and to our
welfare. He does not snipe at us because of our sins, He reaches out with truth
(yes, including the hard truth), righteousness (a firm demand for rightousness),
and love – that love which defines
righteousness in the two Great Commandmnts – love, the deepest concern for our
welfare, that we not destroy ourselves by our sinful behavior.
The Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel is something of a turning point in the Hebrew understanding of their relation to God, the principle that we stand on our own sins, and are not guilty for the sins of our fathers or other persons, no matter how close they may be to us in our family life. God treats us each as individuals. We each belong to him independently of our relationships to human beings. That dependency and obedience to God rather than to any human being is our spiritual goal. We become adults in the world by becoming children in God.
What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.
That means that as we grow up, we are no longer spiritually children of our human parents, we become His children, we are “born again” into His family, the Church, the Body of Christ.
That same theme that each must stand for his own sins, not the sins of the father or other family members, had occurred earlier in the Torah, but it tended to get lost again in the cultural chaos, and revert back to vendetta law, that if you insult me, I will retaliate against your whole tribe.
But this history is a good example of how the revelation from God was progressive. The community of revelation, the Hebrew people, had to mature sufficiently to digest the new lessons that were coming from God. Some of them took a long, long time and had to be learned over and over.
The earlier the history, the more the glory of God tended to be seen in His shear power, His ability to create and to do things with nature, cause earthquakes, storms, floods, lightning, etc. Then as the Law got digested, His glory was associated with that, the goodness of the law, especially compared with pagan laws. Obedience to the law was what was thought to bring holiness into one’s life. Salvation by obedience. And that is, of course, partly true, there is no salvation without obedience, but it tended to be corrupted into salvation by works, earning God’s good will, obligating God to like and approve of one.
I was never quite sure that my father liked me or approved of me except when I got good grades in school. There was always a shadow between myself and him, which became even more painful as that same shadow covered my relationship with God.
So, experiencing the glory of God for me was often not a joyful occasion. It seemed more like a one-ups-manship, the losing of some sort of strange contest. My good works never seemed to make God happy. I wanted God to like me, but I came to understand that that was probably not going to happen. The glory of God seemed more to create a negative contrast with myself than a blessing. I always seemed to come out on the short end of some strange bargain which I never understood. For a good bit of my life, it was nearly impossible for me to receive and rejoice in the glory of God.
When I would read the words of Jesus in John 14:28, “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I”, I would be puzzled and distressed. The disciples were distressed because it seemed that they were losing Jesus, that Jesus was deserting them right at the most crucial time of their lives. But Jesus was preparing them to receive Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit, who could be with the each singlely or severally, any where, any time.
I was puzzled for a quite different reason: Why would Jesus want to go to the Father because the Father was greater than He? Would not one rather to go to those where he himself was the greatest. Having one greater than oneself around seemed to me to be dangerous to one’s own self-respect. It would be that demeaning of myself by being around one who was exalted. I saw the glory of God as dangerous.
But that was because I did not understand “greatness”. I feared the implied judgement against myself by being with one greater than I. It would mean to me that I was less than acceptable. Only the one at the top was really acceptable. So, I had to strive to be at the top. That was the implied judgement of the glory of God which I felt.
And then one day, another of those beautiful times of the presence of God where He showed me that His glory was not at all like I imagined. One does not reject the sunshine because it is glorious. One appreciates it because it warms the earth, bringing forth blessings of food and energy. It gives us the ability to see. I had never thought that the sun was competing with me, outshining me. I realized in a whole new way that the glory of God was like that, not competing with me, but blessing me. The glory of God is not to put us down, but to raise us up, not to compete with us but to love us.
It is impossible to receive a glory that one feels aimed at one’s own self-rejection, a glory that is competing with and undermining one’s own self-respect. But that is how I saw life growing up, and well into my adulthood, first on the human, family level, and then in the spiritual realm.
But there is no competition in God. Everything God does is given freely, abundantly – pressed down, shaken together, and running over. This glory of God can be called the mothering side of God, that which nurtures, nourishes, undergirds, and supports, that which gives substance to our being, stability to our personhood. Like the sunshine, we can bask in it, rejoice in it, absorb and be stabilized by it.
That is a gift which must be in place before we can in a healthy manner
receive and digest the masculine glory of the discipline and law of God.
In the Gospel from Matthew, we have that remarkable meeting of Jesus with the Canaanite woman near Tyre and Sidon, a pagan society. The woman had heard that Jesus was around and came seeking healing for her daughter who, she said, was vexed with a devil. Jesus ignored her, but she persisted so that the disciples asked Him to send her away. He, not sending her away, said to her, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she again persisted, even offering Jesus worship, and cried again, “Lord, help me!” “Kyrie, eleison!” He responded again negatively and a bit roughly, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” ...to which she replied with that beautiful line: “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
What kind of person could hold such a conversation with the Son of God? It would not be a person locked in fear of rejection. It would be a person who had a considerable measure of self-confidance, self-acceptantce, a sureness about herself. And Jesus affirmed all that. He did not think she needed humbling or chastizing for her persistence. He rather found it worthy of reward. “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
That faith included a faith in herself, that she could address Jesus with conviction and persistence. Pagan or not, she was a woman with some solid and substantial qualities, even as measured by God. She did not feel intimidated by Jesus, she was not rude. She pressed her case with grace and truth to a man whom she had probably never met before, but knowing of His reputation. By the grace of God operating incognito, like the centurion, she was an admirable person. And then the glory of God showered upon her and her daughter.
The glory of God is not God bragging, pointing to Himself. One early bishop remarked that the glory of God is man fully alive. Or perhaps better, the glory of God is manifested in us through the life that God produces in us. The glory of God is the spillover of the life of God into the world and into our lives. Competition to be the king of the mountain is what the world does because it is so insecure and lacking in substantial glory. We seek tinsel glory from each other, the worship of each other, but it is temporary and of little substance. God spills over with His glory, which then becomes the blessing, the nurturing, the substance of our lives.
If the Son can say to the disciples that the Father is greater than I, and that is good reason why I want to return to Him, why are you not rejoicing? ...then how much more can we say the same, following Jesus to the Father to live in His abundant, over flowing glory?
This Lent, let us be continually preparing ourselves with God and one another so that we might get glimpses of glory and move in that direction – to be with the Father who is greater than us.
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